‘Free Libya’ Crowds in Benghazi rally against Militias, Drive al-Qaeda out of City

The attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11 was seen by many observers as a sign of Libyan radicalism or instability rather than the work of a small, violent and unrepresentative group.

It is a little hard to understand this point of view, since Libyans had just voted in what observers felt were free and fair, transparent elections, and they had elected moderate, mainstream politicians. Even the Muslim Brotherhood lost in the elections. When I was in Benghazi in late May, I found people enormously proud of their municipal and then-planned national elections, and relieved finally to have escaped the nightmare of Qaddafi rule. The US ambassador killed in the consulate attack, Chris Stevens, was wildly popular among Libyans, and I, as an American, was warmly greeted wherever I went.

On Friday during the day, the people of Benghazi demonstrated in their tens of thousands for peace and against al-Qaeda-style radicalism. Many placards called Chris Stevens “a friend,” though sources on the ground cautioned that the rally was not primarily about foreign affairs. The crowds were angered by continued poor security, and by the affront to the honor of their city, the leading municipality in the revolution against Muammar Qaddafi (Gaddafi) in 2011, committed by radical Muslim groups when they attacked the US consulate. The demonstrations were an affirmation of Free Libya and a signal that the people did not overthrow the mercurial Qaddafi just to be dominated by pro-al-Qaeda thugs.

Then on Friday night, their frustration with the militiamen of the “Ansar al-Shariah” and other lawless groups boiled over, and they attacked three of their headquarters and drove them out of the city. One of the groups they attacked, the Rafullah Sahati Brigade, has Muslim fundamentalist tendencies and is rumored to be connected somehow to hard line fundamentalist elements in the Libyan Ministry of the interior, according to al-Hayat the attackers had some armed men among them. The battle lasted two hours, and in the end the militia decided to withdraw from the city.

The rumored connection of the Sahati Brigade, headquartered 15 km outside the city at a farm, to the Ministry of the Interior, suggests that Friday night’s events may in part have been a power struggle within the Libyan government. Regular army troops occupied the militia’s camp in the aftermath of the crowd action. (I.e. did a more secular Ministry of Defense strike at a fundamentalist-leaning Interior Ministry, using the angered Benghazi crowds?)

Earlier, crowds had also driven the Ansar al-Shariah, a hard line fundamentalist group, out of Benghazi. Ansar al-Shariah is alleged to be the group behind the consulate attack, though its leaders deny it.

Four were killed in the clashes, and a dozen wounded.

France 24 reports:

9 Responses

  1. This may be the first real win in the so-called “war on terror.”

    The Ambassador was popular. The US was seen as aiding rather than occupying the country. The Islamist militia was seen as an obstacle to liberty and peace. The people took their fate into their own hands and risked their own lives to get rid of the threat.

    In the end, that’s what this is about: getting people to take charge of their own fate, providing help around the edges, but respecting their right to do whatever they want. It’s how we, the American people, won our freedom.

    The only other recent precedent is the so-called (and misnamed) Iraq “surge,” in which the Sunnis realized that AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) was a problem and teamed up with the US to expel them. But in that incident, the US was still an occupier and provided financial incentives, leaving the basic problems in place when the battle was over.

    In any case, working with the population sure beats working against them.

  2. “The attack… was seen by many observers as a sign of Libyan radicalism or instability rather than the work of a small, violent and unrepresentative group.”

    Unfortunately, the Obama Administration, itself, was the primary public instrument of validating that belief. For more than a week, everyone from Jay Carney to Susan Rice vehemently insisted that a mob of Libyans just went berzerk over the Nakoula video. They completely ignored Libyan President Megarif’s own stark disagreement in the process.

    • You have swallowed the FOX distortions hook, line and sinker. The administration initially said that the attack on Libyan consulate was likely done by extremist group, the only point of contention was whether the attack was organized quickly or planned in advance. Their best initial information indicated it was not highly planned. This is hardly a “stark disagreement” with the Libyan President’s best guess.

      If you read Susan Rice’s remarks on the Sunday news shows, she emphasizes all the facts were not in, and she did not close on the door on any possibility.

      John McCain is out misrepresenting that the administration “categorically rejected a terrorist attack.” This is a lie. We’re seeing a manufactured controversy by desperate Republicans.

  3. That the crowds this time were not firing in our direction is welcome news. Our ability and commitment to continue to see further down this road is important and required. Romney’s immediate response and continued belief that the colonialist attitude towards the world other than his “America” is the right way to move forward is a real threat to any progressive movement, anywhere, in the world.
    Continuing the post WW2 strategy and tactics will not provide the backdrop for those who have to overcome and erase centuries or at minimum decades of experience without a legal system that provides for individual rights or a governing organization that allows for direct citizen involvement.This is not an overnight process, or one to be measured by corporate quarterly expectation reports. It will take time, continued breaths of fresh air and nurturing internally and externally. Not any rush to judgments by the US or anyone else that will inspire and demand rash and self serving actions. Catering to and being guided by the requirements of the 24 hour news behemoths is not a sound basis from which to create diplomacy nor a sustainable global society and economy.

  4. Doctor Cole – please delve further into this: “Ansar al-Shariah is alleged to be the group behind the consulate attack, though its leaders deny it”.

    This would seem like an interesting new development to me, since historically these radical groups are usually fighting to TAKE credit for any damage inflicted upon the U.S.

  5. I’m confused, Mr. Cole.

    During the war that won Libya’s freedom, you described these militias as enlightened, democracy-seeking, human-rights minded, violence-averse freedom fighters.

    Aren’t they the same ones who saved the people of Benghazi from certain genocide?

    If so, the mobs who attacked them must be anti-freedom.

    • Why are you declaring that these particular Islamist militias, as opposed to the much larger number of people in other, competing militias who drove them out of Benghazi, were “the ones who saved the people of Benghazi form certain genocide?”

      The right and the far left both make the same mistake: the look at the most violent, most anti-American faction in any country and, no matter how small and despised it is by the populace of that country, proclaim it to be the truest, most legitimate representative of the people.

  6. In regards to Libya we have a country that was ruled by a “mad man” “terrorist leader of unequaled importance”, etc. When the people of this country rise up and put their lives, their families and their survival on the line to take action it is not analogous to sitting at home watching your home team play wretchedly or suspect for 3 quarters and to transmit your dissatisfaction or armchair quarterback exhortations via shouts at the tube. There is real blood, real danger and the immediate fog of real war.
    It would be expected that anyone not shooting at you would be hailed at that moment as friends of extreme importance.
    See World War 2 for further examples.
    When the smoke settles and the killing abates, reasoning, logic, thought, returns to the forefront and the next set of strategies and tactics, friend and foe thinking , compromise and accommodation begins.
    What we all need to learn is that a hundred years of behavior and real incidents with real consequences are not overcome nor forgotten in one or a week of modern news cycles. If history has taught us anything it is that today’s rubric is tomorrows mistake and academic topic.
    The identity of those who are moving block to block with you or parallel to you change as you and they progress, sometimes block to block, but most certainly once the smoke clears and the bullets diminish.
    An entire region of the world, containing artificial borders and political states, century old tribes, clans, sects and distinct religions, is engulfed in a period of change driven from the ground up. Not imposed by outside states, or directed by the internal powers that are. Those of us not on the ground living with the day to day need to reserve our judgements and try to relive the moment if we have had the experience or imagine the reality of making your way day by day in that reality before looking for the answers. Take a breath and then make the decision to stick your head up and put one’s two cents in the game. Shit happens and happens, and happens.

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