TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya’s state news agency says that 13 people have been killed and 130 have been wounded in a militia attack on peaceful protesters in the country’s capital, Tripoli.
The LANA news agency quoted officials at two local hospitals who offered the casualty figures.
The attack Friday came when thousands marched from a Tripoli mosque to the headquarters of a militia, demanding it and other militias be disbanded. Footage aired on the privately owned al-Nabaa television network showed protesters running from gunfire while carrying others covered in blood.
Libya’s heavily armed militias, many made up of rebels who fought against former dictator Moammar Gadhafi, have proliferated since the 2011 civil war. Since then, they've grown uncontrollable and have undermined successive transitional governments.
The march in the capital Tripoli by thousands of protesters was the biggest show of public anger at militias in months. Since the 2011 fall of autocrat Moammar Gadhafi, hundreds of militias have run out of control in Libya, carving out zones of power, defying state authority and often engaging in violence.
The protesters marched from a downtown mosque to the headquarters of a militia originally from the city of Misrata that has a powerful presence in Tripoli. They waved Libyan flags and chanted, ‘‘We want an army, we want police,’’ referring to demands that the country’s weak security forces take the place of militias.
When they neared the building, militiamen in civilian clothes and military uniforms came out of the headquarters, opened fire at the protesters with automatic weapons, RPGs and anti-aircraft guns. Footage aired on the privately owned al-Nabaa television network showed protesters running from gunfire while carrying others covered in blood. Heavy gunfire came from a pickup truck mounted with anti-aircraft guns.
The official at Tripoli’s Emergency Hospital says at least seven people were killed and at least 30 wounded. The official, who compiled the casualties list at the hospital, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
Militiamen also beat a reporter and a photographer before protesters ultimately rescued them. After the attack, some protesters marched back to the mosque while others remained close the militias’ headquarters. Many demanded the head of Tripoli city council to use force to expel the armed men.
Libya’s militias originated in the informally created local brigades of rebels who battled Gadhafi’s military. Since his fall and death, the militias have mushroomed in number, size and power. With the army and police still weak, the government has turned to militias to keep security, giving them tasks guarding facilities or districts. But the government pay has not put them under state control, and the armed groups — some of which include Islamic militants — act on their own agendas.
The government has put a December deadline on groups to join state security forces or face losing their government paychecks — though it is not clear if the government will carry out the threat, since it could spark a powerful militia backlash.
Many militias have turned villas and residential compounds of former Gadhafi-era officials into camps where they stash weapons and impose control over certain areas. Over time, some militias allied with politicians and have been used in imposing their political agenda on other lawmakers
Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan himself was briefly kidnapped last month by militiamen.
Friday’s march was prompted by a string of incidents involving militias — most recently, street clashes between the Misrata militia and one from Tripoli. The fight was sparked by the killing of one of the Misrata group’s commanders, and the gunbattles in the street panicked residents.
Al-Sadat al-Badri, the head of the city council, said Thursday that Tripoli residents are ‘‘fed up’’ with militias and called upon people to rally to drive them out of the city.
‘‘We want Tripoli empty of weapons so construction can start,’’ he said. He warned. ‘‘Any assault against the protesters will have consequences and our revolutionaries are ready.’’
The attack raises the risk of further militia violence if groups closely allied to the government retaliate for the bloodshed.
Hashim Bishr — head of the Supreme Security Committee, a security body formed by the government out of former rebels — blamed the local city council for not providing protection for the civilians. The committee is supposed to be a transition for militiamen into the police and is due to be disbanded by the end of the year.
‘‘The bullets won’t stop, because there will be reaction for every action,’’ he told the privately owned TV station Libya al-Ahrar.