June 5, 2012 - 16:26 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Libyan authorities wrested back control of Tripoli International Airport from ex-rebels who seized the runway, surrounding planes and grounding all flights after their leader's apparent arrest, officials said, according to AFP.
It took until evening for the authorities to regain control of the airport when loyalist forces stormed it after negotiations with the militiamen broke down, deputy interior minister Omar al-Khadrawi told journalists.
Flights were not expected to resume for at least 24 hours because of the damage caused to the airport's infrastructure.
The assault by the militiamen on the Libyan capital's main gateway to the outside world underlined the massive task facing the authorities in reintegrating the disparate armed groups that took part in the overthrow of now slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi's regime last year.
The raid was carried out by gunmen who fired into the air and slightly wounded an airport employee, causing panic among travellers, according to the official LANA news agency.
The motive of the gunmen was to pressure the government to explain the whereabouts of their leader, Abu Ajila al-Habshi, according to LANA.
Tripoli's security commission, which answers to the interior ministry, said it had nothing to do with "the disappearance and abduction of Colonel Abu Ajila al-Habshi" and that it was still tracking those responsible.
The attack forced the diversion to Tripoli's Matiga military air base of some flights, including to and from Amman, Istanbul, Rome and Vienna, according to officials and flight monitoring websites.