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Libyan Islamists Cornered, Not Quietened

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CAIRO, Sep 24 2012 (IPS) - It could be premature to believe that the storming of Islamist militia bases by Benghazi citizens on Friday could spell the end for Libya’s Islamist militants. Just as it was premature to claim when moderate Libyan political parties took the majority of votes during the July elections that Libya had bucked the Islamist trend sweeping the region.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi from the Middle East Forum says the election results should not lead to complacency. Attacks by Islamist fanatics have rocked Libya in the last few months, and show no signs of abating. Libya has also become a major exporter of both weapons and Salafist fighters to regional conflicts.

Fourteen people were left dead and more than 70 injured following the storming of militia bases Friday  by Libyans angered by government inaction over continuing security chaos and over the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Many Libyans are fed up with Islamic fundamentalists threatening their hard-won revolution.

The Ansar Al Sharia militia base, which was set ablaze, was one of the main targets of Benghazi’s collective anger. Ansar Al Sharia members were allegedly behind the murder of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Three other consular staff were also killed, during what is now believed to have been a pre-planned attack around the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Benghazi’s denizens have endured months of assassinations, kidnappings and bombings. Security in the city has continued to deteriorate since the revolution. The killing of the popular and charismatic Stevens was the final straw.

While secular Libyans rejoiced over the attacks on the militia, and international media coverage waxed lyrical about moderates having gained the upper hand, there are already disturbing signs following Friday night’s violent protests.

Several milita bases not associated with the extremists supposedly behind the storming of the consulate were also attacked, in another example of just how quickly indiscriminate violence can erupt in Libya.

Furthermore, on Saturday morning five soldiers with no ties to the extremist groups were found dead on the outskirts of Benghazi. They had bullet holes in their heads, and their hands were tied behind their backs. They appear to have been executed.

It is believed that members of militias targeted by the angry crowds carried out the killings of the soldiers, in one of the first acts of revenge. They accused members of the security forces of helping orchestrate the violent protests. There were also unconfirmed reports of several officers and non-commissioned officers being arrested by militia men. The Libyan government is now concerned about further reprisals.

An urgent cabinet meeting which started late Friday night and went on into the early hours of Saturday morning decided that all militias not sanctioned by the state would have two days to disband.

“The objective is to bring the militias under full control of the government,” said Ahmed Shalabi, official spokesman for Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur. “We want to see them inside the law, not outside of the law.”

But this may be easier to do on paper. Many milita members are said to be angry at their rejection after fighting for liberation of their country. This anger among thousands of unemployed, bitter and heavily armed militia, with an uncompromising ideology at odds with that of many other Libyans, is a recipe for unrest.

The inability of the government to unite the powerful militias has further destabilised the country. Some parliamentarians are afraid of a military confrontation with the powerful militias who are better equipped and often able to mobilise more rapidly than the weak and nascent police and army forces.

The Supreme Security Committee (SSC), an amalgamation of some militias and other security forces, has been heavily infiltrated by Salafist members. IPS witnessed members of the SSC blocking journalists from reporting on a group of Salafi gunmen destroying a Sufi mosque in Tripoli last month.

This was one of a number of attacks on Sufi mosques, graves and shrines in Libya. Some of the attackers are said to be serving members of the SSC.

The interior ministry has also come under scrutiny for its failure to provide better security for the U.S. consulate and the slow reaction of its members following the attack. Many believe that what the Islamists failed to achieve in the elections they are now trying to achieve on the ground.

 
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