Haftar forces down government warplane

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Forces loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar shot down a Tripoli government warplane purportedly piloted by a foreign mercenary south of Tripoli, the Libyan National Army (LNA) said.

The LNA media unit released photographs of what it said was the pilot receiving medical treatment. One showed an LNA commander, Abdulsalam al-Hassi, behind him.

Video on social media, which an LNA source said was authentic, showed the pilot, looking groggy and wearing a blood-soaked T-shirt and khaki jacket, being questioned in English.

Asked his name, he said what sounded like Jimmy Rees but his answer was not clear. He gave his age as 29 and said he was “from Portugal”.

Asked what he was doing in Libya, he said: “I was requested to destroy roads and bridges”. Asked who sent him, he said it was a civilian contract with someone called Hadi but he did not know his full name.

In Lisbon, the Portuguese Defence Ministry could not confirm the pilot’s nationality.

“For now the only thing we can say is that he is not a Portuguese soldier,” a ministry spokeswoman told Reuters.

Reuters Lisbon correspondents said he did not sound Portuguese.

A spokesman for forces aligned with the internationally recognised government in Tripoli had no immediate comment.

Residents of Gharyan, south of Tripoli, said when the plane was overhead, anti-aircraft fire started. There was an explosion as it was hit.

“The jet was shot down in Al-Hira town and I saw LNA troops capture the pilot,” a Gharyan resident told Reuters.

The eastern-based LNA, led by Haftar and backed principally by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, began an offensive against Tripoli in early April. Its advance has been blocked by forces loyal to Tripoli on the city’s southern outskirts.