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'Unarmed' helicopter carrying military officers shot down in Libya

A Libyan helicopter has crashed into the sea near Tripoli after being shot down by rival militants. Senior officers of the Fajr Libya militia have reportedly died in the crash.

A Libyan helicopter carrying 23 people was shot down by anti aircraft fire and crashed into the sea on Tuesday. The attack left at least one dozen passengers dead, while the search for bodies continues.

"We think that all the passengers are dead," reported Colonel Mustafa Sharkasi, an air force spokesman for Libya's Islamist-backed Tripoli government. "We have so far recovered nine bodies, including the body of Colonel Hussein Abudaia," a senior officer in the Fajr Libya militia that controls the capital city of Tripoli, he added. Colonel Salem Saqr, the military commander of Libya's western area, was also killed in the crash.

Three crew members and "employees, including bank employees who were carrying funds for state employees" were also on board the helicopter.

The helicopter was allegedly "unarmed," with Sharkasi placing blame on groups allied with the internationally recognized government for causing this "criminal" act.

Naval forces are still combing through the wreckage, according Colonel Ayoub Gassim, a Tripoli-allied navy spokesman. Parts of the debris contained bullet holes, he reported. "When we first went by boat to retrieve the bodies, we were attacked from the coast near the Almaya area," he said, adding that Tripoli-allied groups then stopped the fire.

The area around the crash site contains numerous rogue militias, armed human trafficking gangs and Islamist fighters. The groups often act according to tribal or regional loyalties.

Since the ousting and killing of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, Libya has been stuck in a conflict between two rival governments - one of which is based in Tripoli. The Libyan capital was overtaken in August 2014 by the Islamist-backed Fajr Libya militia alliance.

rs/ng (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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