By Noorah Ibrahim, Ayman Amzien and Muttaz Ahmed
Benghazi, 21 June 2014:
A substantial drugs bust this morning in Benghazi port appears to . . .[restrict]have triggered a major fire fight which has raged for much of the evening leaving at least four dead and 17 injured.
It is being assumed that after the police and customs, acting on a tip off, discovered and immediately burnt on the dockside a large consignment of hashish, the drugs dealers whose shipment it was, responded by launching an attack. The assault, at around 5pm, was focused on the main port gates. Police and forces from the Benghazi Joint Security Room took on the attackers said JSR spokesman Ibrahim Alshara.
It appears that both sides were augmented in the course of the battle. Saiqa special forces came to support the port defenders, while it is being maintained that members of the Libya Shield joined the attackers. At one point a sniper began shooting into the docks, apparently from a high rise that overlooks the port.
Three of the dead were taken to Jalaa Hospital where a spokesman said they were all wearing army uniforms. Their names are to be released tomorrow, though there is an unconfirmed report that one of the dead was a Saiqa commander. The hospital also took in four wounded, who were all said to be in a stable condition. A further body was brought to the Benghazi Medical Centre along with 13 injured, whose condition is unknown.
One eye witness thought that the firing around the port had been every bit as heavy as at the start of Operation Dignity against Islamic militias in the city.
Operation Dignity spokesman Mohammed Hejazi said that the attackers had been trying to seize control of the ship. He also asked members of the public to get off the streets during fighting, rather than coming out to watch what was happening.
According to the head of port security, Ali Elumami, the refrigerated containers in which the drugs were concealed were aboard the Liberian-flagged container ship Jaguar. It had arrived in Benghazi from Malta at 7pm on Thursday. When unloading began this morning, officials examined two containers. In wooden crates loaded with fruit, they discovered the hashish.
Though it has been variously reported that the haul weighed between seven and ten tons, Elumami told the Libya Herald that in fact the drugs were not weighed. Once the public prosecutor arrived to witness the destruction, the hashish had petrol poured over it and was set on fire. A large pall of smoke drifted away from the town and out to sea.
The way in which the drugs were packed and shipped was precisely the same as two consignments discovered earlier this month at Khoms and Benghazi. In each case the vessels concerned had, like the Jaguar, begun their journeys in Senegal and stopped over in Malta.
With additional reporting from Seraj Essul and Ashraf Abdul Wahab in Tripoli [/restrict]