The report saying that security was inadequate at the compound that the US had adopted as its ad hoc consulate in Benghazi, Libya, dominates today’s headlines. That conclusion is obvious. The “consulate” was just a private residence taken over for this purpose by the US in the city. It was not constructed to be a US government building in a potentially hostile city.
I met a person who worked there when I was in Benghazi in June, and she told me that it wasn’t even clear if the consulate would be retained after the first of this year. It was possibly temporary, depending on Congressional funding. (The Tea Party House hasn’t been good on meeting requests for embassy security funds).
The more interesting question than why ad hoc arrangements should have been made for a consulate during and after the Libyan revolution (the answer to which seems fairly obvious) is, who is responsible for the string of assassinations and acts of violence in the city, of which the RPG attack on the consulate on September 11 was only one? Benghazi, with a population of over one million in a country of 6.5 million, is Libya’s second largest city and was the epicenter of the revolution against the government of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
On November 22, Benghazi police chief Farej Darssi was assassinated. In October a police colonel barely avoided death– his car was wired to explode. A Libyan intelligence officer was killed in September. A general was assassinated in August. Some of these figures had worked for Qaddafi but had defected to the revolution. Qaddafi’s security forces were responsible for the 1996 massacre of hardline fundamentalists at Abu Salim prison, and for making others just disappear. Likely the same shadowy cells that attacked the US consulate are behind the attacks on Benghazi police and army officers.
There may have been a break in the case. Last Saturday, Benghazi security forces loyal to the elected government in Tripoli, captured a man they suspected of being involved with the groups behind the violence. And, he appears to have been willing to spill the beans. So let’s call him the Libyan Deep Throat.
Deep Throat is so knowledgeable about the conspiracies facing the city and so dangerous to those hatching them that the latter immediately attempted to spring him from jail.
On Sunday morning, militants attacked the police facility next to the holding cell where the man is being detained. A policeman at that station died in a hail of bullets from the attackers, and they called for back-up. The police car that sped to the scene was ambushed and three policemen in it were killed.
Still, the police stood their ground and fought off the assault, and they kept their valuable suspect in custody, with all his valuable testimony.
Shortly after midnight, on Monday morning, small explosives were set off at the Garyounis police station in Benghazi, damaging a couple of automobiles but otherwise doing little damage. Then explosives were set off at al-Uruba police station, which also took sniper fire, but neither resulted in casualties.
The police became vigilant, and they apprehended a shady-looking man skulking around near the al-Hadaeq police station, finding him to have two rocket propelled grenades in his possession, which he was apparently intending to fire at the station.
In other words, the capture of Libyan Deep Throat has set off a gang war on the police, who are being informed by bombings and shootings that they must let their informant go or risk their safety.
So what is Deep Throat saying? According to local journalist Mohamed Bujenah of the Libyan Herald, a senior figure in the Benghazi police told him that the informant had fingered as many as 7 prominent Muslim fundamentalist leaders in connection with these attacks, of whom the police named 6 explicitly:
1 Sufyan Ben Qumu, from the notoriously radical town of Derna, and a former prisoner at Guantanamo
2. Ahmad Bukatela, leader of the Ubaida Militia
3. Muhammad al-Zahawi, head of the Ansar al-Sharia militia
4. Muhammad al-Gharabi, a leader of the Rafallah al-Sahati Militia
5. Ismail Sallabi, another leader of Rafallah al-Sahati
6. Salim Nabous, head of the Zawiya Martyrs’ Brigade
It is just a newspaper article. We don’t know if the informant actually named these individuals or if he did so to escape torture, in which case we can’t trust what he said. But if the allegations are true, there is collusion among several hardline militias in the city to create instability in hopes of taking it over.
The new, elected, prime minister Ali Zeidan, has started asserting himself militarily. He closed the country’s southern borders against instability in the Sahel. He may well have some risky house cleaning to do in Benghazi.