Libya starts crackdown on militias to ease fears
Supporters of the Ansar al-Sharia shout slogans while holding al-Qaeda-affiliated flags to counter a demonstration by thousands of people against militias in Benghazi. AFP PhotoThe Libyan authorities have vowed to eliminate all militias and armed groups that do not come under state authority, in an attempt to recover from the recent violence that shook the nation.
The move, a day after Benghazi residents rebelled against the militias in violence that killed at least 11 people and wounded over 70, was announced by Mohammed al-Megaryef, head of the national assembly. The protesters first attacked a group based in a security building in central Benghazi, before turning their wrath on the headquarters of Ansar al-Sharia, a radical Salafi militia and the main paramilitary group in the city.
Ansar al-Sharia has been accused of involvement in the murder of the four Americans in the U.S. consulate, which it denies. The group earlier withdrew from all its bases in the city late Sept. 21 amid mass demonstrations. Another group called Abu Slim also withdrew from their five bases. The authorities also decided to put in place an “operations room” in Benghazi bringing together the army with the forces of the interior and defense ministry brigades comprising of former rebels.
They also called on the army to impose its authority by placing its own officers at the head of brigades born out of the 2011 revolt, which escalated into civil war and toppled the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. The move came 10 days after an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi - sparked by a U.S.-made film mocking Islam - left four Americans, including ambassador Chris Stevens, dead on the anniversary of 9/11.
The measures were the outcome of meetings including de facto Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagur, army chief Yussef al-Mangush, and intelligence services head Salem al-Hassi, as well as national assembly and local council members. Meanwhile, the army ordered “all individuals and armed groups occupying military barracks, public buildings or property belonging to members of the former regime or (Gadhafi’s children) to evacuate these sites within 48 hours,” the official LANA news agency reported. Critics say militias in the eastern city have put themselves above the law, particularly those that have refused to be placed under the authority of the defense ministry after the fall of the regime.
In a separate development, U.S State Department spokesman Philippe Reines has sharply criticized CNN for its reporting on the diary of Chris Stevens after his death, despite the objections of his family. CNN broke a pledge to the late ambassador’s family that it would not report on the diary, according to State Department spokesman Philippe Reines. The channel said in the online story that it took “newsworthy tips” from Stevens’ diary and confirmed them with other sources. CNN said the ambassador was concerned about security threats in Benghazi and a “rise in Islamic extremism.”