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Libya: Gunmen storm private TV office

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March 7, 2013 04:49 PM EST | AP

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CAIRO — Dozens of Libyan militiamen stormed the headquarters of a private TV network on Thursday in Tripoli, looting and smashing equipment before abducting staffers, the country's official news agency and witnesses said.

The agency LANA said some staffers were released following the attack on Al-Assama TV network, but that the militia was still holding the network top two managers.

It's unclear what prompted the attack.

Sulieman Abu-Azza, a news editor at the station, said the militiamen locked the staffers in a room, torched offices and then led at least six, including the network's owner, manager and employees, to vehicles and took them to an undisclosed location. Later in the day, they freed all except Joumaa al-Usta, a wealthy businessman who owns the network, and the station's executive manager.

The network is affiliated with Mahmoud Jibril, the country's former war-time prime minister and western-minded political figure leading the largest coalition in parliament.

Mahmoud Shammam, who runs another TV network, told the official Libya TV that he tried unsuccessfully to reach government ministers and security officials to get their help.

Two years after the revolution that ousted and killed Libya's dictator Moammar Gadhafi, militiamen have filled in security vacuum, operating with impunity with the state relying on them as parallel security forces.

It is not known which militia was behind the assault, but Abu-Azza suspected the attack could have been carried out in retaliation to the network's heavy criticism of the unruly militia and its coverage of assaults against the country's National General Congress. Earlier this week, lawmakers at the Congress were under siege for hours and one lawmaker, who tried to flee the building, was beaten up by a militiaman. One of the militiamen pointed his gun at the head of the country's top leader Mohammed el-Megarif, whose car came under fire while on his way home, according to a statement the congress issued on Wednesday.

The lawmakers have been discussing a controversial law that aims to prevent Gadhafi-era officials from holding any political post in new Libya.