Approximately 40 people were killed and 70 more were wounded in an attack on a migrant detention centre in a suburb of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, late on Tuesday, according to Reuters and Libyan media.
“This is a preliminary assessment and the toll could rise,” emergency service spokesperson, Osama Ali, told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency.
The centre in the eastern suburb of Tajoura housed around 120 people in a hangar.
Pictures from the scene showed several bodies strewn among rubble on the ground and African migrants undergoing emergency surgery after the strike.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the Tuesday strike, but the Tripoli government and the centre officials blamed General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
In a statement, the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli condemned the “horrific crime.”
“We ask the international community through the African Union (AU), European Union (EU) and [other] organisations to take a firm and clear stance against these continued violations,” the statement said.
On Monday, the LNA said it would start heavy bombing of targets in Tripoli because “traditional means” of war had been exhausted. However, the LNA denied hitting the migrant detention centre on Tuesday evening and instead, accused the militias allied to Tripoli of shelling it.
Libya is the main starting point for African migrants, fleeing conflict or poverty at home, attempting to sail across the Mediterranean and reach the EU. Libya’s coast guard often intercepts boats heading toward Italy and detains the passengers.
Thousands of illegal migrants and asylum seekers are housed in detention centres such as the one in Tajoura, with many activists reporting that occupants are forced to endure dangerous and inhumane conditions.
The UN Refugee Agency posted on its official Twitter page that it was “extremely concerned” about the news of the airstrikes targeting the Tajoura detention centre.