Sep 22, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
1. BENGHAZI, Libya —Three people were killed and dozens injured when protesters tried to overrun the base of a powerful militia in Benghazi early Saturday morning, according to Libyan state television.
The clashes followed a protest Friday in which thousands of Libyans marched through the city demanding the dissolution of militias that have ruled the country’s streets since a revolution ended the 42-year rule of Moammar Gaddafi.
Many Libyans have blamed extremist groups for the attack on the U.S. consulate here last week that left four Americans dead. The groups have operated with relative impunity in the security vacuum that has prevailed since Gaddafi’s ouster and death last year.
After nightfall Friday, hundreds of protesters stormed the base of Ansar al-Sharia, the extremist militia that many have accused of leading the consulate attack, forcing the retreat of Ansar al-Sharia fighters.
The protesters then turned their rage on other militias, storming the base of Rafallah al-Sahati, an influential Benghazi militia with conservative Islamist leanings, which until recently had controlled the city’s airport. The confrontation sparked a firefight, and Libyan television broadcast footage of injured men being rushed to hospital emergency rooms.
The group’s leader, Ismail Salabi, was lightly injured, according to his brother-in-law.
It was unclear whether Libya’s weak police force had regained control of the militia bases Saturday morning. Rumors circulated that Rafallah al-Sahati had retaken its base.
2. BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – An Islamist militia was driven out of the city of Benghazi early on Saturday in a surge of anger against the armed groups that control large parts of Libya more than a year after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
A spokesman for Ansar al-Sharia, which some U.S. and Libya officials blame for the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last week in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed, said it had evacuated its bases “to preserve security in the city”.
In a dramatic sign of Libya’s fragility, after sweeping through Ansar’s bases 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.
The invasion of Ansar al-Sharia’s compounds, which met little resistance, appeared to be part of a sweep of militia bases by police, troops and activists following a large 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.
Hundreds of men waving swords and even a meat cleaver chanted “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.
Libya’s government had promised Washington it would find the perpetrators of what appeared to be a well planned attack on the U.S. consulate, which coincided with protests against an anti-Islam video and the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.