TRIPOLI - Western missiles launched overnight destroyed Soviet-made missile carriers at a Libyan navy facility in Tripoli, leaving smouldering rubble and twisted metal, Libyan officials said on Tuesday.
A Reuters reporter taken to the facility by Libyan officials said the missiles appeared to have come through the roof of the warehouse. The charred hulks of at least four missile trucks were visible with craters in the floor where they had been parked. Fifteen hours after the air strike, smoke was still rising above the site.
"Yesterday, six missiles and one bomb from a warplane hit this facility," said Captain Fathi al-Rabti, an officer at the facility in the east of Tripoli. "It was a massive explosion."
Officials said the navy base was evacuated before the air strike and no one was hurt.
"We knew the place was a potential target so we received a warning and evacuated the place. No ships were hit, but maybe tomorrow," said Captain Abdul Baset, a naval officer.
Outside the facility, at a port on the Mediterranean coast, several warships were moored, their masts decorated with green flags flapping in the strong sea breeze.
Supporters of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi danced on the ruins of the warehouse, shaking Kalashnikovs above their heads and shouting slogans. One was holding a framed portrait of Gaddafi.
A coalition of Western governments has been launching air strikes on Libyan targets which it says are intended to protect civilians from attack by government forces, in line with a United Nations resolution.
Libya says the air strikes are killing civilians, although has produced no firm evidence of this, and are part of a "crusade" by the West to invade Libya and take its oil.
Al-Rabti, who received military training in the former Soviet Union and spoke fluent Russian, said the wrecked trucks were part of a Russian missile system known as P-21 Rubezh. He said they were not operational and used only for training purposes.
The trucks did not appear to have missiles attached to them, but in a corner of the building were three intact missiles draped in protective covers. A model of a Cold War-era Soviet missile was on display in another corner.
Some vehicles were intact including several Soviet Zil army trucks. Outside the warehouse was the charred wreckage of a Russian truck-mounted Grad rocket launcher.
"This is wrong. This is just a training facility. I tell you Obama, we thought you were a good man. But now we've seen you are wrong," said a young naval officer, Riad Agil, refering to the U.S. president. "Now I hate Obama."
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