AN Islamist militia was driven out of the city of Benghazi yesterday in a surge of protest against the armed groups that control large parts of Libya, more than a year after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
Report by Reuters
A spokesman for Ansar al-Sharia said the group had evacuated its bases in Benghazi “to preserve security in the city”.
In a dramatic sign of Libya’s fragility, after sweeping through the base the crowd went on to attack a pro-government militia, believing them to be Islamists, triggering an armed response in which at least 11 people were killed and more than 60 wounded.
Ansar al-Sharia has been linked to the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi last week in which the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans died, although the group denied involvement.
The invasion of its compound, which met little resistance, appeared to be part of a co-ordinated sweep of militia bases by police, government troops and activists following a mass public demonstration against militia units in Benghazi on Friday.
Demonstrators pulled down militia flags and set a vehicle on fire inside what was once the base of Gaddafi’s security forces who tried to put down the first protests that sparked last year’s uprising.
Hundreds of men waved swords and even a meat cleaver chanting “Libya, Libya”, “No more al Qaeda!” and “The blood we shed for freedom shall not go in vain!”
“After what happened at the American consulate, the people of Benghazi had enough of the extremists,” demonstrator Hassan Ahmed said. “They did not give allegiance to the army. So the people broke in and they fled.
“This place is like the Bastille. This is where Gaddafi controlled Libya from, and then Ansar al-Sharia took it over. This is a turning point for the people of Benghazi.”
Adusalam al-Tarhouni, a government worker who arrived with the first wave of protesters, said several pickup trucks with Ansar fighters had initially confronted the protesters and opened fire. Two protesters were shot in the leg, he said.
“After that, they got into their trucks and drove away,” he said. Protesters had freed four prisoners found inside, he said.
Libya’s government had promised Washington it would find the perpetrators of what appeared to be a well-planned attack on the US consulate, which coincided with protests against an anti-Islam video and the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The consulate attack and the outrage directed at the United States over the video across the Muslim world have raised questions about President Barack Obama’s handling of the so-called Arab Spring.
The latest events in the cradle of Libya’s revolution appeared at least in part to vindicate his faith in Libya’s nascent democracy.
“The killing of the ambassador, and a preceding set of serious security incidents, are a wake-up call to the new government to actually start to improve security,” said Oliver Miles, former British ambassador to Libya.