Forces loyal to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar have shot down a warplane belonging to the internationally-recognised Government of National Accords (GNA), Haftar’s forces said.
Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) said in a statement on Tuesday it brought down the aircraft in Tripoli’s southern al-Hira district, alongside photos of what it said was the pilot receiving medical treatment.
“The plane’s pilot, who is of Portuguese origin, has been detained,” the statement said without providing any further detail.
Video posted on social media that an LNA source said was authentic showed a bloodied man in a chair being questioned. He gave his name, said he “from Portugal”.
When asked what he was doing in Libya, he replied, “I was requested to destroy roads and bridges.”
He said he was working on a “civilian contract” for someone named el Hadi or al-Hadi, but said he did not know the first name.
A spokesman for forces aligned with the internationally recognised government which is based in Tripoli had no immediate comment on the incident.
In Lisbon, the Portuguese Defence Ministry said they could not confirm the pilot’s nationality.
“For now, the only thing we can say is that he is not a Portuguese soldier,” a ministry spokeswoman told Reuters.
Residents of Gharyan, about 80 km south of Tripoli, said that when the plane was heard overhead, anti-aircraft guns began firing. Witnesses said there was an explosion as it was hit.
“The jet was shot down in Al-Hira town (10km from Gharyan) and I saw LNA troops capturing the pilot,” a Gharyan resident told Reuters News Agency.
The eastern-based LNA, led by Haftar, began an offensive against Tripoli in early April but its advance has been blocked by forces loyal to Tripoli on the city’s southern outskirts.
Late on Sunday, Haftar called on his troops to “uproot” opposing forces from “our beloved country” and “to inflict on the enemy, with your force and determination, an even harder and bigger lesson than before.”
The almost five-week-old battle on the southern outskirts of Tripoli has killed at least 432 people, wounded 2,069 and displaced some 55,000 others, according to the UN.