At least 44 people were killed in Libya Wednesday in Libya after an airstrike flattened a detention center for migrants near the war-torn country’s capital Tripoli.
Footage circulating online following the attack in Tajoura – which also left more than 130 wounded, according to the U.N. -- showed blood and body parts mixed with rubble and migrants' belongings. No one yet has claimed responsibility for the airstrike, which comes as Libya is split between two warring governments, each backed by militias that control different cities and towns.
The north African country has become a major crossing point for migrants to Europe following the overthrow of former ruler Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
At least 6,000 migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and other nations are locked in dozens of detention facilities in Libya run by militias accused of torture and other abuses, the Associated Press says. Most of the migrants were apprehended by European Union-funded and -trained Libyan coast guards while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
The detention centers have limited food and other supplies for the migrants, who often end up there after arduous journeys at the mercy of abusive traffickers who hold them for ransom money from families back home.
The U.N. refugee agency has said that more than 3,000 migrants are in danger because they are held in detention centers close to the front lines, such as the location where the airstrike happened Wednesday.
That strike hit a workshop housing weapons and vehicles and an adjacent hangar where around 150 migrants were being held, mostly Sudanese and Moroccans, according to two migrants who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
The migrants said three or four survived unharmed but the rest were killed, indicating the final death toll could be much higher, as Doctors Without Borders says the detention cell that was destroyed held 126 migrants.
Fathi Bashagha, the interior minister in the Tripoli-based government, claimed foreign countries allied with Khalifa Hifter -- a Libyan general whose forces launched an offensive on Tripoli in April -- were behind the attack. He told The Associated Press that Hifter's foreign backers "went mad" after his forces lost Gharyan last week, a town that served as a key supply route for his self-styled Libyan National Army.
Hifter has said he is determined to restore stability to the North African country. He is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia while his rivals, mainly Islamists, are supported by Turkey and Qatar.
A spokesman for Hifter's forces did not immediately answer phone calls and messages from the AP seeking comment. Local media reported the LNA had launched airstrikes against a militia camp near the detention center in Tajoura.
Hifter's forces boast MiG fighter jets supplied by neighboring Egypt, as well as drones, attack helicopters and mine-resistant vehicles. It was not immediately clear what munitions were used in the airstrike early Wednesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.