TRIPOLI, Libya — Gunmen ambushed a Libyan bank van and made away with over $50 million on a highway east of Tripoli, officials said Tuesday. The heist underscores the weakness of the central government in the North African country, where authorities are struggling to control unruly militias.
A security official said that the Central Bank van had no guards accompanying it when it was ambushed near the city of Sirte late Monday. The official news agency LANA, quoting a bank official who was with the van, said that a single carload of guards was escorting the money on its way from Sirte’s airport to the local bank branch, but they were unable to resist the 10 attackers.
The money was a mix of foreign currency and Libyan dinars. LANA said that $40 million was in dinars and at least $12 million in foreign currency, without specifying which.
The official said the foreign currency consisted of $10 million in US dollars and between 2 and 5 million euros ($2.7 to $7 million).
The two accounts could not immediately be reconciled. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
LANA quoted Colonel Khaled al-Akari, a security official in Sirte, as saying troops had closed the entries and exits of the city to try to apprehend the thieves. Sirte was a main support base for longtime dictator Moammar Khadafy, and he made his final stand there before he was captured and killed in October 2011.
Libya lacks a centralized police force and a strong national army, so the government has to rely on militias that were part of the war against Khadafy. But they often have conflicting political loyalties.
Assassinations and revenge killings are commonplace,
fueled by longstanding grudges dating to Khadafy’s rule, regional and tribal conflicts, and tensions between hard-line Islamists and other groups.