Six soldiers were killed in clashes between Libyan special forces and armed gunmen outside a special forces’ base in the eastern city of Benghazi, an military official said on Saturday.
Residents in the area said heavy gunfire and explosions were heard during the fighting and hours earlier a group of men had forced their way into a different army compound to steal weapons.
“The clashes lasted from 2:00 am until 6:00 am but are over now,” Colonel Mohammed Sharif, of the special forces in Benghazi, told Reuters.
It was not immediately clear who the gunmen were and if any had been killed.
Last week at least 31 people were killed and 100 injured in clashes between armed protesters, eventually backed by special forces, and a militia in the city.
The protesters had been demanding the disbanding of militias, and clashed with members of the Libya Shield brigade, which fought to oust former leader Muammar Gaddafi and now says it is aligned with the defense ministry.
The interim leader of Libya’s army warned of the danger of a “bloodbath” as the unrest in Benghazi flared.
Benghazi, the cradle of the uprising that ousted Gaddafi in 2011, has become increasingly marred by clashes between militias made up of former rebels who fought the late dictator’s forces and the still infant regular forces of the new authorities.
Militias with different tribal and ideological links now control parts of Benghazi, where there has been a wave of attacks on army and police officers and facilities.
Islamists have often been blamed for attacks in Benghazi, but some observers say militias in general have launched attacks in a bid to stop regular security forces from regaining control of the city, despite local opposition.
The latest clashes came just hours after dozens of protesters forced a brigade of former rebel fighters from their base in Benghazi on Friday evening.
The protesters had burned two vehicles belonging to the First Infantry Brigade, before moving on the barracks, said a Libyan army officer.
The brigade was forced to quit its headquarters as the protesters took it over.
A witness on site said the protesters, some of whom were armed, had fired in the air and launched a rocket-propelled grenade at an external wall of the barracks, though nobody was hurt.
The attackers later attacked a police station, the offices of border guards and facilities and another office building of the First Infantry Brigade, witnesses said.
Following that first attack, Salem al-Konidi, the interim head of the army warned “there will be a bloodbath” if the special forces are targeted.
“There could be a catastrophe in Benghazi. If they have demands, they can wait until (Saturday). We can discuss with them.”
In last week’s violence, armed demonstrators opposed to the city’s militias attacked the pro-Islamist “Shield of Libya” brigade at its barracks.
The Shield of Libya is mostly made up of rebels who battled Gaddafi in 2011, and is also under defense ministry control.
The new authorities, who are struggling to form a professional army and police, regularly use these former rebels to secure the borders or to intervene in tribal conflicts.
The new government has failed to disarm and disband the former rebel groups who implement the law the country and are trying to legitimize some of them despite the opposition of a majority of the population.