A Libyan Aero L-39 Albatros light ground attack aircraft with a full complement of bombs onboard landed on a rural road in southern Tunisia on Monday, Tunisia’s TAP news agency has reported, with eyewitnesses sharing photos and videos of the plane.
The plane made an emergency landing outside the city of Medenin, about 100 km from Tunisia’s border with Libya, and roughly 250 km from the scene of intense fighting in Tripoli.
The plane’s lone pilot was detained, with authorities cordoning the area off as a security precaution. According to the Tunisian Defence Ministry, the pilot informed authorities that his plane had suffered damage, forcing him to land. Other unconfirmed reports suggested that the plane ran out of fuel.
Video footage showed the plane surrounded by police tape and spectators gathered to observe it.
According to Tunisia’s TAP news agency, the Tunisian air force planned to intercept the jet after it violated the country’s airspace, but it landed before they could do so.
The western Libya-based Government of National Accord (GNA) denied that the plane belonged to them, with Marshal Khaftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which serves as the armed forces of the eastern Libyan government based in Tobruk, yet to comment on the incident. Both factions have access to Aero L-39s, a Czechoslovak aircraft which Libya originally purchased in 1978.
In early July, LNA forces reported shooting down a GNA L-39, with Tripoli acknowledging that it lost contact with one of its aircraft.
The United Nations Security Council has called for an immediate halt to the fighting in Tripoli, urging all parties to the conflict to respect the existing arms embargo and to abstain from any actions which could aggravate the situation.
On July 11, the LNA announced that it had “successfully completed” the first stage of its operation to take the GNA capital, with the second stage aimed at exhausting the adversary.
The LNA began an offensive against Tripoli and the GNA in April after the breakdown of negotiations, with leaders from the two factions calling one another “terrorists” and “renegades.” Before the Tripoli offensive, the LNA had taken control of a number of settlements and crushed several terrorist groups operating in Libya. According to the World Health Organisation, recent fighting has killed over 1,000 people and left over 5,500 injured.
Once one of the richest countries in Africa and the Middle East, Libya was plunged into civil strife in 2011, when armed militants supported by NATO warplanes successfully defeated government forces and executed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Libya subsequently became a failed state, with competing militias, armed gangs and terrorist groups, including Daesh (ISIS)* taking over the country.
The country also became a major hub for the flow of refugees from Africa to Europe, with the Italian government recently taking steps to try to stem this flow, including enlisting the support of the Libyan coast guard.