30 Arrested After Libyan Airport Standoff

By: CNN Posted By Doug Brown
By: CNN Posted By Doug Brown

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Libyan authorities arrested 30 militia members Monday after the group stormed Tripoli's airport, demanding the release of a detained rebel leader, the nation's labor minister said.

The government deployed 5,000 security forces to the airport area and had regained complete control of the facility, Mustafa A. Rugibani said later in the day.

After Tarhouna militia forces had seized part of the airport, armed militia members escorted passengers to cars, describing it as an evacuation of the terminal, according to local journalists who have worked with CNN in the past.

Black smoke rose from fires set in the runway area, and sporadic gunfire could be heard in the area.

Government security checkpoints sprang up around the city Monday amid high tension over the airport standoff.

The whereabouts of the militia leader whose release the group demanded were unclear.

Officials at a Cabinet meeting determined that the militia leader had not been detained by the government, Rugibani said, and questioned whether word of his disappearance was a ruse by the militia to create a pretext for the airport standoff.

But militia members at the airport earlier Monday countered that claim, saying they would withdraw forces after government officials released the rebel leader.

Two platoons of the Tarhouna militia had moved into the airport overnight because of an ongoing dispute with the national government, sparked by the disappearance of the militia leader on the airport road Sunday, a security source said.

The Libyan government sent emissaries to meet with the militia group Sunday night, Deputy Foreign Minister Abdul Karim Ahmed Bazama said.

At the time, the deputy foreign minister said he did not know where the militia leader was or the circumstances of his disappearance.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.

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