LIBYA – WHAT IS GOING ON IN BENGHAZI? (UPDATED 29TH JUNE 2016)
Muammar Gaddafi did not like Benghazi much. The city was ruled for some time by his henchwoman Huda Ben Amer. She had first come to his attention as he sat in his Tripoli bunker watching a TV relay of a public hanging in Benghazi. The victim was slow to die and thrashed about on the end of the rope, so she hurried his demise by hanging onto his legs. Gadaffi was impressed and appointed her mayor of Benghazi where seh was called Huda the Executioner. She fled to Tripoli soon after the events that followed 17th February 2011 uprising and her villa in Benghazi has been razed to the ground.
This helps to explain, but does not excuse, the recent killing of 14 high ranking officers who served in Gadaffi’s military but changed sides and were deployed to Benghazi by the new Transitional Government. No one has been arrested for these assassinations. The view that the Libyan military should purge itself of the remnants of Gadaffi’s regime is not without adherents in Benghazi.
The most pressing of the many problems facing Libya’s new government is the large number of ant-Gaddafi militias which are still bearing arms. They have been particularly active in Benghazi which has been badly hit by violence. Amongst the organisations which have been attacked are the United Nations, the Red Cross, a convoy carrying the British Ambassador and the Tunisian Consulate.
Global attention has been focused on Benghazi since 11th September when the U.S. consulate was stormed. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens died of smoke inhalation while trapped alone inside the villa, and three other Americans were killed in the attack and during a rescue attempt that followed. The US has responded. US drones have been conducting reconnaissance missions over Benghazi, and a counter-terrorist unit has also been sent to Libya. Two American warships, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers the USS Laboon and the USS McFaul, have also been deployed off the Libyan coast. FBI agents are waiting to go to Benghazi to find out who killed Ambassador Stevens but appear to be stuck in Tripoli.
On 12th September, just hours after Ambassador Stevens was killed, the Libyan cabinet dismissed Wanis Sharif as Deputy Interior Minister with responsibility for the Eastern region. Also dismissed was Hussein Abu Humaida, the head of the Security Directorate in Benghazi. On 16th September Interior Minister, Fawzi Abdulal, appointed in their place veteran police chief Colonel Salah Al-Din Awad Doghman with the title of Assistant Undersecretary at the Interior Ministry with responsibility for eastern Libya. Libyan police in Benghazi have so far refused to serve under Colonel Doghman. He told Reuters “When you go to police headquarters, you will find there are no police. The people in charge are not at their desks. They have refused to let me take up my job.”
There has been a predicable response to the US reaction by the Libyan Salafist militia, Ansar al Sharia, which is thought to have been responsible for the deadly assault on the American consulate in Benghazi. An Ansar al Sharia spokesman has said that “If one U.S. soldier arrives, not for the purpose of defending the embassy, but to repeat what happened in Iraq or Afghanistan, be sure that all battalions in Libya and all Libyans will put aside all their differences and rally behind one goal of hitting America and Americans,”
At least Colonel Doghman seems determined to sort things out – when he gets some police officers to work for him. He told Reuters that ‘America, Libya, the world, should know that in this situation they should have the right person in place. Libyans should know that there is firm leadership. If there had been wise leadership, this attack could not have happened.’ We will see.
Added Friday 21st September …see ‘Save Benghazi’ http://www.facebook.com/BenghaziFriday
Later Friday 21st September… AP reports –(AP)- Around 30,000 Libyans marched through the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday in an unprecedented protest to demand the disbanding of powerful militias in the wake of last week’s attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans……..
Update – Saturday 22nd September…….a summary of Libya Herald, The Telegraph and Time reports;
Following the ‘Save Benghazi’ rally on Friday 21st September hundreds of demonstrators arrived at the Salafist ‘Ansar Al-Sharia’ Militia headquarters on Nasr square demanding the brigade leave immediately. Members of Ansar Al-Sharia who were acting as guards at Al-Jalaa hospital were also removed by protesters.
Around 80 or so protesters also took control of the headquarters of the Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade, located at a farm in Hawari district, some 15 kilometres from Benghazi’s city centre. The Ukba bin Nafi’a brigade stronghold was also cleared of militiamen. Reports of injuries and probable fatalities during these clashes are yet to be verified. The Libyan police moved in quickly to occupy the bases.
The army Chief of Staff Yousef Mangoush, Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur and Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelal urged the protesters to remain calm. “I call for restraint on all sides, and I also call on the chief of staff to take all necessary measures to control the situation and secure the lives and safety of our citizens” said National Congress Speaker Mohammed Magarief.
Update 24rd September.
The Libyan National Army’s First Infantry brigade’s commander, Colonel Hamid Buheir has confirmed in Benghazi that the Ansar al Sharia militia has been disbanded. There are clearly militiamen still at large. The colonel was kidnapped by masked men from outside his house on Saturday morning. The Salafist kidnappers accused him of being a Kuffer and threatened his life. His kidnappers received a phone call from someone instructing them not to kill him. He was released by being thrown from a car on to a roundabout. It would be interesting to find out who made the telephone call. Five soldiers from Colonel Buheir’s First Infantry Brigade were found dead. They had been shot through the head with their arms tied behind their backs in the Hawiya district of Benghazi.
There are other significant questions which remain unanswered. How did the group who killed the US ambassador on 11th September know his travel plans? He was on a brief visit to Benghazi and his travel plans were said to be secret as was the location of the safe house in which he was to stay.
The Benghazi militias which are to brought under formal military control appear to be the Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade, the Sidi Hussein Martyrs brigade, and the Abu Salim brigade. The Ansar Al-Sharia brigade has apparently agreed to disband. The Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade is to be merged with the 17 February brigade which has for some time submitted to government control as has the Libya Shield brigade.
Updated 27th September 2012
According to the Libya Herald today the Human Rights Watch has called for a change to Libyan Law 38 of 2012 which grants immunity for any acts “made necessary by the 17 February revolution”. It also calls for the abolition of Article 2 of Law 38, which, it argues, legalises interrogations by armed militias and other bodies.
Update 27th September
An interesting time line from the Washington Post…..
Update 28th September
Posts on my Facebook and reports from the Libya Herald are suggesting that the Congress for Benghazi has noted the progress made since last Friday in bringing the militias into the government fold and re-establishing the role of the National Army and police. The Congress has called for all revolutionaries to join the organs of the state or otherwise disband. Facebook posts, as far as I am able to translate them, suggest that ordinary citizens of Benghazi want a peaceful future without interference from militant militias or from the US or Europe. They clearly want to order their own lives and are aware that they fought for, and voted for, a democracy. However, a bomb exploded early yesterday outside the Security Directorate. There are rumours of another ‘Save Benghazi’ street demonstration today. There were 11 deaths after the clashes with militias last Friday.
Later from my Facebook;The statement issued by the organizers of Juma Save Benghazi 2012.09.21…..” we publish this statement …
To assure you that we have decided to postpone our demonstration … After the National Conference resolution. And members of the National Congress of Benghazi…. they promoted our demands … They pledged to implement them …”
Update 30th Seprember
This interesting background piece from the New York Times suggests that the CIA had a listening post in Bengahzi…
Update 5th November 2012
I missed this about the tribal leaders meeting in Benghazi in September 2012. It is hard to read but important.
Update 10th November 2012.
The Boston Herald carries an ATP reporrt about the US response to the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. It makes a number of things clear and is worth reading;
Update 18th November 2012
The David Petraeus story becomes very intersting for Libyans. He has given evidence before a US Congressional Committe and the LIbyan Herald carried this yestarady.
Update 21st November 2012
This is the 18th assassination of high level security officials in Benghazi since the revolution. They were all sometime senior officials of the Gadaffi regime.
Update 23rd November 2012
More on Benhgazi’s top policeman.
Update 10th December 2012
The long delay in finding the killers of Ambassador Stevens is making the US restive. See this in the Libya Herald:
Update 19th December 3012
This from Al Jazeera today sheds more light on the killing of Ambassador Stevens.
and Libya’s new Minister of the Interior and Defence set out their priorities, putting the security situation in Benghazi first.
Update 9th January 2012
An interesting piece – worth following up;
Update 19th January 2013
The continued killings in Benghazi has led to speculation that it might be declared a military zone;
Update 23rd January 2013
In which Mrs Clinton expresses her views before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the killing of Ambassador Stevens:
Update 25th January 2013
UK citizens are told to leave Benghazi immediately:
….and the killing continues
Update 29th June 2016
This in the British newspaper The Guardian tells us much about the response in the USA to the killing of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi.