2019 Tajoura migrant center airstrike

Last updated

2019 Tajoura migrant center airstrike
Part of Libyan Civil War (2014–present), European migrant crisis
Libya relief location map.jpg
Red pog.svg
2019 Tajoura migrant center airstrike (Libya)
Location Tajoura, Libya
Coordinates 32°50′05″N13°23′05″E / 32.83472°N 13.38472°E / 32.83472; 13.38472 Coordinates: 32°50′05″N13°23′05″E / 32.83472°N 13.38472°E / 32.83472; 13.38472
Date2 July 2019 [1] [2]
23:30 [1]
TargetWeapons storage warehouse/Nearby military base
Attack type
Deaths53 [3]
Injured130+ [4] [5]
PerpetratorsUN member state (per United Nations investigators) [6]
Flag of Libya.svg Libyan National Army (per Government of National Accord; denied by Libyan National Army)

On 2 July 2019 at 23:30, [1] [2] during the 2019–20 Western Libya offensive, an airstrike hit the Tajoura Detention Center outside Tripoli, Libya, while hundreds of people were inside the facility. [7] The detention center was being used as a holding facility for migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe when a storage hangar that it used as a residential facility was destroyed in an aerial bombing. The United Nations Human Rights Council stated that "It was known that there were 600 people living inside" the facility. [4] [8]


At least 53 people were killed and 130 were wounded. [3] The LNA, which reportedly committed the strike targeting unarmed civilians, was condemned by several countries. The airstrike also raised scrutiny of the European Union's policy of cooperating with militias to detain migrants, and funding and training the Libyan Coast Guard which apprehended most of the migrants and refugees. [4] [7]

The Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) initially claimed that the airstrike was conducted by the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Khalifa Haftar [7] but later attributed the attack to a United Arab Emirates (UAE) aircraft. In November 2019, United Nations investigators suspected that a non-Libyan Mirage 2000-9 jet had bombed the center. [6] A January 2020 report by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated that the strike was likely to have been carried out with a guided bomb fired from a non-Libyan aircraft, again suggesting that a foreign Mirage 2000-9 had been used. [9]


The Tajoura Detention Center is located 16 kilometres (10 mi) east of the Libyan capital of Tripoli. It is part of a network of 34 migrant detention centers across northwestern Libya which house at least 5,000 people. The centers are operated by the Government of National Accord (GNA) and are used to detain migrants attempting to reach Europe. [10]

In April 2019, the Libyan National Army, under Haftar's command, began a major offensive to capture western Libya and the capital Tripoli. After an airstrike hit a target less than 100 metres (330 ft) from the detention center in May, the UN Refugee Agency called for the evacuation of refugees and migrants in detention centers in conflict areas of Tripoli. [10] [11] On 1 July 2019, the LNA said it had begun an air campaign. [4] The LNA's spokesman said that the air campaign destroyed the main control room for drones at Mitiga International Airport, which led to the airport—Tripoli's only functioning airport—suspending civilian flights. [4]


Near midnight on 2 July an airstrike directly struck Tajoura Detention Center's residential hangar as migrant families were sleeping or listening to the conflict outside. [1] A Doctors Without Borders medical coordinator counted 126 migrants living inside of the center's hangar unit shortly before it was hit by the strike. [8] Aerial photos from the scene show that the explosion caved in the roof and blew out the walls of the section of the hangar where it struck. [12] Reports were made to the UN that guards shot at refugees and migrants trying to flee from the air strike. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said there were two air strikes, one hitting an unoccupied garage and one hitting a hangar containing around 120 refugees and migrants. OCHA also agreed with reports that escaping refugees and migrants were fired upon by guards. The Tripoli-based interior ministry denied firing at fleeing refugees and migrants categorically. [13] [14] [15] [16] A media advisor to the Tripoli-based Ministry of Health said in the aftermath that "there was blood and body parts all over the place" and the Tripoli-based government described it as a "massacre". Hospitals worked at above-average capacities as they attempted to treat a flood of injured patients from the attack. [17] According to the United Nations, at least 53 people were killed in the airstrike and 130 were injured.

Haftar's forces, who are backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, have said they were targeting a nearby military site. [4] According to Amnesty International, there was a weapons storage warehouse in the same compound as the detention center; GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha denied that weapons were stored at the compound. [4]

Calls for investigations

Foreign nations and international bodies like the UN and African Union collectively called for an investigation, condemning the airstrike and lamenting the loss of life. A spokesman for the United Nations Refugee Agency stated that the detention center's close proximity to a weapons warehouse made it a target by association. [4] Michelle Bachelet, the UN's Human Rights Chief, said the airstrike might constitute a "war crime." [5] In an official statement, Secretary-General António Guterres demanded a probe into "how this happened and who was responsible and to bring those individuals to account." [18] The Middle East and North African director for Amnesty International, too, demanded that the International Criminal Court investigate the bombing as a war crime, highlighting the disaster as a "consequences of Libya and Europe's callous migration policies". [4]

UNSMIL/OHCHR Jan 2020 report

In January 2020, UNSMIL and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a report on the pair of airstrikes. [9]

During 3–6 July 2019, United Nations personnel visited the Daman building complex, which includes both the Daman brigade, a pro-GNA militia, and the Tajoura Detention Center, holding 616 migrants and refugees at the time of the hit, of which 126 were in the part of the hangar that was hit by one of the airstrikes. The investigators carried out interviews, documented the site for analysis of the munitions used and obtained video recording from surveillance cameras. On 3 November survivors of the attack, relocated to a new building, were again interviewed by UNSMIL. The investigators found that the first bomb hit a workshop used by the Daman Brigade, and the second hit the detention center. Both were followed by the sound of a fighter jet and a drone was heard after the second attack. Detention centre officials claimed that all the deaths were the result of the airstrikes; migrant and refugee interviewees said that three deaths were from gunfire. [9]

The bomb that hit the hangar with the migrants and refugees hit at 23:39, making a crater on the ground about 4.2 metres (14 ft) in diameter and 2.7 metres (8.9 ft) deep. Both bombs appear to have been guided bombs, which, according to UNSMIL/OHCHR, neither the Libyan Army (GNA), the LNA nor other Libyan armed groups had available. [9]

Interviewees stated that between the first and second strikes, the head of the detention centre shot dead three men who were trying to escape from the hangar. The head of the detention center denied the claim. [9]

On 3 July, the LNA claimed to have carried out the first bombing but not the second. UNSMIL/OHCHR judged the airstrikes to probably have been carried out by a state other than Libya, either under LNA command or under the command of the foreign state aiming to support the LNA. UNSMIL/OHCHR cited page 126 [9] of report S/2019/914 of the UN Panel of Experts on Libya, where the Panel argued that LNA military assets were incompatible with the precision guided missiles that appeared to have been used, and stated that Mirage 2000-9 fighters were present at the time at al-Khadim and Jufra air bases and could not have been maintained and supported by the LNA. [19]

UNSMIL/OHCHR stated concerns that the airstrike that hit the detention center may have been illegal under international humanitarian law. They also stated that the Daman Brigade's responsibility in the close colocation a military target and the detention center, and detention center guards' failure to help the detainees flee to safety following the first strike, could constitute violations of international humanitarian law. [9]

UNSMIL/OHCHR summarised their report by making recommendations to the GNA, the LNA, third parties supporting the two, and to the international community, for implementing international humanitarian law. [9]



The Government of National Accord (GNA) blamed the attack on air forces associated with General Haftar of the Libyan National Army (LNA). Haftar had been waging an offensive against the UN-backed GNA in Tripoli since April, and the airstrike had occurred two days after the general threatened bombings in the area after announcing "traditional means" of war were insufficient. [4] [7] Although the LNA had announced plans for airstrikes in response to losing control of Gharyan, [20] a spokesman for Haftar told The Independent that the allegations that the LNA was behind the bombing were "incorrect" because "the LNA has no air operations." [17]

GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha announced on 4 July that the government was considering closing detention centers and releasing all migrants as the government cannot ensure their protection. [21] The next day, Bashagha accused the United Arab Emirates of bombing the migrant center with a US-made F-16 jet. When asked if the GNA had any proof that an Emirati jet conducted the attack, the Minister said: "The sound of the jet was identified by technicians and pilots who heard it. The destructive power [of the bombs] is very big and is similar to the destructive power [of the bombs dropped] in 2014." [22]


The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration made a joint statement: "Our two organizations strongly condemn this and any attack on civilian life. We also call for an immediate end to detention of migrants and refugees." [7] The UN Security Council considered a resolution drafted by the United Kingdom which would have condemned the attack and called for a ceasefire, which didn't pass after not being endorsed by the United States. [16] [23] The African Union issued a statement via Commission Chair Moussa Faki reiterating its call for an immediate ceasefire and demanding that "an independent investigation be conducted to ensure that those responsible for this horrific crime [against] innocent civilians be brought to account." Faki also emphasized the need for humanitarian relief from the international community to protect migrant populations. [24]

Foreign affairs ministries for regional neighbors of Libya and the United Arab Emirates similarly called for changes to international migrant-holding policies and condemned the strike as a war crime. [25] The Minister for Foreign Affairs for Malta Carmelo Abdella emphasized that migrants and refugees in dangerous situations should be "swiftly transferred to safe places under the supervision and protections of the United Nation," [26] and on 7 July Malta's government allowed 65 migrants rescued while sailing from Libya to Europe to stay in Malta to await relocation to the European Union. [27] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Qatar, a regional neighbor to the accused United Arab Emirates, called for an "urgent international investigation" into the airstrike. Algeria's government similarly condemned the airstrike for the wanton deaths of civilians, and insisted on the "immediate return to the process of inclusive dialogue between all Libyan parties." [28]

Representatives of nations outside of regions affected by the European migrant crisis stated their outrage while demanding investigations and policy changes. The U.S. State Department made an official statement for conflicting Libyan parties to "de-escalate fighting in Tripoli and return to the political process," and Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the attack a "crime against humanity" and blamed Haftar's forces for the airstrike. [29] The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs similarly issued a similar statement emphasizing the need for a "comprehensive and credible investigation of this crime" and called for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire in order to prevent new casualties." [30]


In the week following the airstrike, the remaining detainees at the facility were either released or transferred to other detention centers. A migrant processing facility run by the UN Refugee Agency which seeks to evacuate refugees and asylum seekers received over 400 migrants from the Tajoura migrant center. [31] However, days later, the Tajoura migrant center began receiving new detainees. [31] By July 16, the migrant center housed around 200 migrants – including refugees recently intercepted by the Libyan coast guard, people transferred from other migrant facilities in Libya, and re-captured detainees who had escaped the facility during the airstrike. [32]

Related Research Articles

Libyan Air Force Air warfare branch of Libyas armed forces

The Libyan Air Force is the branch of the Libyan military responsible for aerial warfare. In 2010, before the Libyan Civil War, the Libyan Air Force personnel strength was estimated at 18,000, with an inventory of 374 combat capable aircraft operating from 13 military airbases in Libya. Since the 2011 civil war and the ongoing conflict, multiple factions fighting in Libya are in possession of military aircraft. As of 2019 the Libyan Air Force is nominally under the control of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord in Tripoli, though the rival Libyan National Army of Marshal Khalifa Haftar also has a significant air force.

Khalifa Haftar Libyan Field Marshal leader of LNA

Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar is a dual Libyan-American citizen who is the Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), which, under Haftar's leadership, replaced nine elected municipal councils by military administrators, and as of May 2019, was engaged in the Second Libyan Civil War. On 2 March 2015, he was appointed commander of the armed forces loyal to the elected legislative body, the Libyan House of Representatives.

The Libyan Armed Forces are, in principle, the state organisation responsible for the military defence of Libya, including ground, air and naval forces.

Libyan Army land warfare branch of Libyas military since 2016

The Libyan Army is the land warfare branch of the military of Libya, which since December 2015 has been nominally subordinated to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli. Due to the instability in the country in 2011 civil war and the outbreak of a new conflict in 2014, the Libyan ground forces remain highly divided, with major components constituting the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of Khalifa Haftar. The forces loyal to the GNA have been fighting against various other factions in Libya, as well as terrorists groups like the Islamic State. Some efforts have been made to create a truly national army, but most of the forces under the Tripoli government's command consist of various militia groups, such as the Tripoli Protection Force, and local factions from cities like Misrata and Zintan.

Libyan Civil War (2014–present) conflict among rival groups seeking to control of the territory of Libya

The Second Libyan Civil War is an ongoing conflict among rival factions seeking control of Libya. After erupting in 2014, the conflict is mostly between :

Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries

The Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries is a military coalition in Benghazi composed of Islamist and jihadist militias, including Ansar al-Sharia, Libya Shield 1, and several other groups.

The following lists events that happened in 2014 in Libya.

Government of National Accord

The Government of National Accord is an interim government for Libya that was formed under the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement, a United Nations-led initiative, signed on 17 December 2015. The agreement was unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, which welcomed the formation of a Presidency Council for Libya and recognized the Government of National Accord as the sole legitimate executive authority in Libya. On 31 December 2015, Chairman of the Libyan House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh Issa declared his support for the Libyan Political Agreement. During 2015–2017, the General National Congress criticized the unity government on multiple fronts as biased in favor of its rivals, the House of Representatives.

This is a detailed timeline of the Second Libyan Civil War (2014–present).

Clashes have been ongoing in West Libya since 14 October 2016. A coup d'état attempt was conducted by the former head of the National Salvation Government Khalifa al-Ghawil against Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Libya's GNA Government.

Gulf of Sidra Offensive (2017)

The Gulf of Sidra Offensive was an offensive of the Second Libyan Civil War. It was launched by the Benghazi Defense Brigades on 3 March 2017, and has so far resulted in them taking control of a strip of coastal territory between the towns of Nofaliya and Ras Lanuf, which was then handed over to the Government of National Accord. A number of significant oil ports are located in this area, sometimes referred to as the Oil Crescent. The loss of the Oil Crescent has been perceived by analysts as a major blow to the power of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

Battle of Derna (2018–19) Battle in Libya fought from 2018 to 2019

The Battle of Derna was a military campaign by the Libyan National Army to recapture the city of Derna from the Shura Council of Mujahideen in Derna, which lasted from 7 May 2018 until 12 February 2019. The majority of military operations concluded by 28 June 2018, with the Libyan National Army declaring control of the entire city on that day, despite continued clashes in the old city. During the early stages of the battle, the Shura Council was dissolved and replaced with the Derna Protection Force, which continued operations after the LNA declared victory in June 2018, before surrendering themselves at the end of the battle.

Battle of Tripoli (2018)

The Battle of Tripoli was a month long series of clashes in Tripoli, the capital of Libya and the centre of the Government of National Accord, during the Libyan Civil War. 115 people were confirmed killed by the time the ceasefire was signed.

2019 Southern Libya offensive

In late January 2019, the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to take control of the city of Sabha and the rest of southern Libya from the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and local factions. Officially the LNA announced that the reason for the operation was to remove terrorists, Chadian rebel groups, and to secure the border, but it has expanded Haftar's territorial control and acquired him oil fields near Sabha. It has also restarted some interethnic conflicts as the LNA has allied with local Arab tribes, while the Tuareg and Toubou tribal militias are loyal to the GNA.

2019–20 Western Libya offensive A Military Campaign in Western Libya

The 2019 Western Libya offensive, code-named Operation Flood of Dignity, is a military campaign by the Libyan National Army under Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, which represents the Libyan House of Representatives, to capture the western region of Libya and eventually the capital Tripoli held by the UN Security Council-recognised Government of National Accord.

The International Criminal Court investigation in Libya or the Situation in Libya is an investigation started in March 2011 by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into war crimes and crimes against humanity claimed to have occurred in Libya since 15 February 2011. The initial context of the investigation was the 2011 Libyan Civil War and the time frame of the investigation continued to include the 2019 Western Libya offensive.

Seham Sergiwa is a Libyan psychologist elected to the Libyan parliament in 2014. She was abducted by a Libyan National Army militia loyal to Khalifa Haftar on 17 July 2019. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya expressed its deep concern and stated that "silencing the voices of women in decision-making positions [would] not be tolerated." As of 17 October 2019, Sergiwa's location was unknown and the "authorities in eastern Libya" had not published the results of any investigation.

Libyan peace process

The Libyan peace process is a series of meetings, agreements and actions that aim to resolve the Second Libyan Civil War. Among these are the Skhirat agreement of December 2015 and the plans for the Libyan National Conference in April 2019 that were delayed because of the 2019–20 Western Libya offensive.

This is the order of battle for the 2019–20 Western Libya offensive, codenamed "Operation Flood of Dignity" by forces under Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The forces supporting Haftar and the House of Representatives, mainly the Libyan National Army, are opposed by the armed forces of the forces loyal to the Government of National Accord, including the Libyan Army and the Tripoli Protection Force.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Murdock, Heather (3 July 2019). "Deadly Libya Bombing May Be War Crime". Voice of America. Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  2. 1 2 Hill, Evan; Khavin, Dimitry; Triebert, Christiaan; Brown, Malachy; Botti, David (10 July 2019). Europe Shut These Migrants Out, Libyan Rebels Bombed Them. New York Times. Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  3. 1 2 "Libya migrants 'fired on after fleeing attack'". BBC. 4 July 2019. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Musa, Rami; Magdy, Samy (3 July 2019). "Airstrike kills 44 migrants in Libyan detention center". Associated Press. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  5. 1 2 "UN says Libya migrant attack could be war crime". BBC. 3 July 2019. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  6. 1 2 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-50302602
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Romo, Vanessa; Chappell, Bill (3 July 2019). "Airstrike On Migrant Detention Center In Libya Kills At Least 44 People". NPR. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  8. 1 2 "MSF RESPONSE: Deadly airstrikes on Tajoura detention centre". Médecins Sans Frontières UK. 3 July 2019. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "The airstrikes on the Daman building complex, including the Tajoura Detention Centre, 2 July 2019" (PDF). UNSMIL . 27 January 2020. Archived (PDF) from the original on 28 January 2020. Retrieved 28 January 2020.
  10. 1 2 Walsh, Declan (3 July 2019). "Airstrike Kills Dozens of Migrants at Detention Center in Libya". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  11. "Move refugees in Tripoli out of harm's way, urges UNHCR". The UN Refugee Agency. 8 May 2019. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  12. Thornton, Chandler; Elshamy, Mohammed; Westcott, Ben; Paget, Sharif. "At least 40 killed after airstrike targets migrant center in Libya". CNN. Retrieved 4 July 2019.
  13. "UN says Libyan guards reportedly shot at migrants fleeing air strikes". Japan Times. 5 July 2019.
  14. "Survivors of strike on Libyan migrant centre say they were made to work in weapons factory". The Telegraph. 4 July 2019. ISSN   0307-1235 . Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  15. "Libyan migrants 'fired upon after fleeing air strikes'". BBC. 5 July 2019. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
  16. 1 2 "Libyan guards shot at fleeing migrants, UN says". France24. 4 July 2019. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
  17. 1 2 Daragahi, Borzou; Bel, Trew (3 July 2019). "Libya airstrike: Up to 80 killed in attack on migrant detention centre in Tripoli". The Independent. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  18. Guterres, António (3 July 2019). "Libya detention centre airstrike could amount to a war crime says UN, as Guterres calls for independent investigation". UN News. United Nations. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  19. Majumdar Roy Choudhury, Lipika; de Alburquerque Bacardit, Luis Antonio; Kadlec, Amanda; Kartas, Moncef; Marjane, Yassine; Wilkinson, Adrian (29 November 2019). "Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to Security Council resolution 1973 (2011)" (PDF). United Nations Security Council . Archived (PDF) from the original on 28 January 2020. Retrieved 28 January 2020.
  20. "Libya airstrike hits migrant detention center in Tripoli, killing scores". CBS News. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  21. Assad, Abdulkader (4 July 2019). "Libyan Interior Minister says government mulling releasing all migrants". The Libya Observer. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  22. Ghazi Balkiz. "Libya claims UAE bombed migrant center with US-made jet". CNN. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  23. Assad, Abdulkader. "US prevents Security Council resolution condemning airstrike on migrants center in Libya". The Libya Observer. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  24. Tadesse, Addis Getachew (3 July 2019). "Pan-African body condemns deadly Libya airstrike". www.aa.com.tr. Anadolu Agency . Retrieved 7 July 2019.
  25. "Qatar condemns Haftar's attack on Libya migrant detention centre". Middle East Monitor. 4 July 2019. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  26. AfricaNews (4 July 2019). "Statement by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion Carmelo Abela, following an airstrike on a migrant detention centre in Tajoura". Africa News. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  27. "EU to take migrants from rescue ship". BBC. 7 July 2019. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  28. "Algeria condemns attack on migrant detention center in Libya - Xinhua | English.news.cn". www.xinhuanet.com. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
  29. Guler, Sena (3 July 2019). "Migrant camp attack in Libya 'crime against humanity': Turkey". Anadolu Agency. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  30. "Ministry of Foreign Affairs comment on air strike on Detention Center for migrants in Tajura, Libya". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. 3 July 2019. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  31. 1 2 Lewis, Aidan (13 July 2019). "New migrants brought to Libya centre hit by deadly air strike". Reuters. Retrieved 10 November 2019.
  32. Hinnant, Lori; Magdy, Sam (16 July 2019). "Officials: Migrants return to bombed Libya detention center". Associated Press. Retrieved 10 November 2019.