CAIRO -- The family of a slain Libyan human trafficker attacked a group of migrants in a town that recently changed hands amid the fighting over the country's capital, killing 26 Bangladeshi and four African migrants, the Tripoli government said on Thursday.
There was scant information about the attack in the statement issued by the U.N.-supported government in Tripoli. But the U.N. migration agency said the migrants were shot and killed on Wednesday in a smuggling warehouse in the desert town of Mizdah, where a group of migrants were being held.
The slayings underscore the perils that migrants face in Libya, where violence and lawlessness have created a haven for smugglers to operate along the North African country’s coastline.
The government statement said migrants had killed a local trafficker in Mizdah, near Tripoli, allegedly prompting his family to take revenge and kill the 30 migrants. Eleven migrants were wounded in the rampage, it added, and taken to a hospital in the western mountain town of Zintan. Other migrants in critical condition were rushed to clinics in Tripoli, said the International Organization for Migration, adding that some appeared to be victims of abuse.
The Interior Ministry in Tripoli issued an arrest warrant for the suspected attackers, the government also said.
“This senseless crime is bleak reminder of the horrors migrants have to endure at the hands of smugglers and traffickers in Libya,” said IOM's Libya Chief of Mission Federico Soda, urging Libyan authorities to launch an immediate investigation into the killings and hold the perpetrators accountable.
Migrants fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East typically pass through Libya on their way to Europe, departing Tripoli’s rocky coast in inflatable dinghies.
The Libyan coast guard, trained by the EU to keep migrants from reaching European shores, intercepts boats at sea and returns them to Libya, where many migrants land in detention centers rife with torture and abuse.
On Thursday, the coast guard rescued 211 migrants, including women and children, in the Mediterranean Sea and brought them back to Libya’s shore, said Safa Msehli, an IOM spokeswoman.
The number of those fleeing Libya’s conflict has sharply risen in recent weeks, according to the U.N. migration agency, as the battle for control of the capital intensifies. In the past week alone, nearly 700 migrants were stopped and returned to detention facilities.
Militias loosely allied with the Tripoli government have been defending the country's capital from a year-long offensive by eastern-based forces trying to capture it.