Turkey will target Eastern Libyan forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar if they do not immediately release six Turkish citizens detained this weekend, top Turkish officials said on Monday.
Presidential adviser and spokesman İbrahim Kalın described the detention of the Turkish citizens as an act of banditry and piracy. “We expect our citizens to be released immediately,” Kalın said on Twitter early Monday. “Otherwise, Haftar elements will become legitimate targets.”
Detention of 6 Turkish citizens by Hafter’s illegal militia in Libya is an act of banditry and piracy. We expect our citizens to be released immediately. Otherwise, Hafter elements will become legitimate targets.
— Ibrahim Kalin (@ikalin1) June 30, 2019
This weekend, after suffering a setback in its efforts to take the capital Tripoli, Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) threatened to attack Turkish interests in the country and banned flights from Libya to Turkey. The LNA accuses Ankara of arming Islamist factions fighting for the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli.
Turkey on Sunday said that six of its citizens were being held by the LNA and warned that Haftar’s forces would pay a heavy price for any attacks on Turkish interests. No further detail has been reported on the detained Turkish nationals.
Vice President Fuat Oktay reiterated this threat on early Monday. “If our citizens are not released immediately, those responsible will become a legitimate target and the consequences will be severe,” he said, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.
The Turkish Embassy in Tripoli advised its citizens to avoid any steps that would jeopardise their security in areas under the control of militias loyal to Haftar.
The LNA’s offensive against the capital Tripoli began in April, though the country has suffered unrest since 2011, when long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed after more than four decades in power.
Turkey’s regional rivals Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates back Haftar’s forces.