Libyan Militia Leader Wanted By ICC Assassinated In Benghazi

Mahmoud al-Werfalli, the leader of the Libyan National Army-affiliated Saiqa Brigade militia, was shot dead in Benghazi on Wednesday by unknown assailants.

A car al-Werfalli and his cousin Ayman were in was fired upon near the Benghazi Medical Center. They were taken to the hospital, but are reported to have been pronounced dead on arrival. As of writing, no individuals or groups have taken credit for the assassination. LNA spokespersons have confirmed the death of al-Werfalli, claiming to have arrested two suspects.

Video purportedly of al-Werfalli’s arrival at the hospital after being fatally shot.

The International Criminal Court had issued two arrest warrants for al-Werfalli for the war crime of murder. The first warrant, issued in 2017, was based on videos uploaded by the LNA of him participating in the extrajudicial killings of 33 people in and around Benghazi, the first time open source evidence was used in the issuing of an ICC arrest warrant.

Amateur video capturing gunshots heard as supporters of al-Werfalli gather outside the Benghazi Medical Center

However, the LNA never handed over al-Werfalli, instead making him a senior leader in its “special forces”. al-Werfalli’s power in Benghazi, the base of LNA leader Khalifa Haftar’s control over eastern Libya, steadily grew over the years, as exemplified by a recent video where he and his militia members smash up a Toyota dealership in the city while threatening its owner with brandished weapons.

The assassination is potentially just the latest escalation of infighting between the LNA’s various component militias, after the LNA’s failed bid for Tripoli instead led to renewed attempts at a political solution that culminated in the creation of the Government of National Unity earlier this month. The interim unity government had announced last Friday that it would be investigating the discovery of over a dozen people shot dead in Benghazi. Haneen al-Abdely, the daughter of murdered lawyer and women’s rights activists Hanan al-Barassi, was reportedly kidnapped yesterday in Benghazi as well, with Haftar’s son Saddam suspected of ordering the kidnapping.

These latest incidents come during a visit to Tripoli by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his German and Italian counterparts, Heiko Maas and Luigi Di Maio. Readouts from the meeting call for the departure of foreign fighters from Libya, with little to nothing said about accountability for LNA abuses in Benghazi. Certainly, killing al-Werfalli and perhaps other LNA figures implicated in war crimes would stymie efforts to bring about such accountability, should European countries with interests in Libya change their mind.