Libya: will militia crackdown spark insurgency?

In response to the local uprising against lawless militias in Benghazi, Libya's national authorities are making moves to centralize militias under army command and disband the intransigent. New leadership has been announced for two Benghazi Islamist militias, Rafallah al-Sahati and the February 17 Brigades, while Ansar al-Sharia has been ordered to disband. In Tripoli, the army issued an ultimatum Sept. 24 giving unauthorized militias 48 hours to withdraw from military compounds, public buildings and other property. "The objective is to bring the militia under full control of the government," said Ahmed Shalabi, spokesman for Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur. "We want to see them inside the law, not outside of the law." But in Derna, an Islamist stronghold east of Benghazi, several militia—including Ansar al-Sharia and the Abu Slim Brigade—are reported to have abandoned their camps and slipped into the desert, raising fears that they are preparing an insurgency. (The National, UAE, Sept. 26; CNN Security Clearance blog, Bloomberg, Sept. 25; Libya Herald, Sept. 23)

President Obama spoke Sept. 24 about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, which was apparently led by Ansar al-Sharia but originally reported as part of the spontaneous protest wave against the notorious Islamophobic YouTube clip. "There's no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn't just a mob action," Obama said in an interview on ABC's "The View." "What's clear is that, around the world, there are still a lot of threats out there." But he pointedly did not invoke the word "terrorism." Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney promptly declared the attack an act of "terrorism"—indicating once again that the definition of "terrorism" is often a matter of political convenience. (AP, Sept. 25; LAT, Sept. 24)

There has also been controversy about the fact that about a dozen CIA personnel were evacuated from Libya after the consulate attack. "This is really disgraceful," a nameless "former CIA station chief with three decades of Middle East experience" was quoted by the LA Times. "Why spend billions of dollars a year on the intelligence service and then run away right at the moment when you most need intelligence?" (LAT, Sept. 25)

Tension is also high in Misrata after the death of a rebel from the western city who was credited with capturing Moammar Qaddafi last October. Omran Ben Shaaban, 22, was abducted by armed men in July in the oasis town of Bani Walid, which was a final bastion of Qaddafi loyalists in the 2011 conflict. Shaaban was shot him in the neck and stomach while trying to escape; he was freed 50 days later in critical condition, thanks to a mediation efforts by the General National Congress (GNC), the party that won in the post-Qaddafi elections this year. Shaaban was sent to France for medical treatment after his release, where he died in hospital Sept. 26. The National Congress in a statement praised him as a "dutiful martyr,'' but his family says he never received a promised reward of 1 million Libyan dinars ($775,000) for capturing Qaddafi. His body was greeted at the airport in Misrata by more than 10,000 people for a procession to the sports stadium for funeral prayers. (AP, AFP, Sept. 26)


  1. Franco-Syrian intrigue in Qaddafi kill?
    The UK’s Telegraph says Sept. 30 former Libyan “senior intelligence official”  Rami El Obeidi told the newspaper that French spies operating in Sirte, Moammar Qaddafi’s last refuge, were able to set a trap for the dictator after obtaining his satellite telephone number from the Syrian government. “In exchange for this information, Assad had obtained a promise of a grace period from the French and less political pressure on the regime – which is what happened,” El Obeidi said. This seems to confirm recent comments by ex-interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril that a foreign “agent” was involved in the operation that killed Qaddafi. Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera quoted unnamed Western diplomats in Tripoli as saying that if a foreign agent was involved in the operation “he was almost certainly French.”

    1. HRW: mass killings at Qaddafi death site
      A new report from Human Rights Watch details the final hours of Muammar Gaddafi’s life and the circumstances under which he was killed. It presents evidence that Misrata-based militias captured and disarmed members of the Qaddafi convoy and, after bringing them under their total control, subjected them to brutal beatings. They then executed at least 66 captured members of the convoy at the nearby Mahari Hotel. The evidence indicates that opposition militias took Qaddafi’s wounded son Mutassim from Sirte to Misrata and killed him there.

      Under the laws of war, the killing of captured combatants is a war crime, and Libyan civilian and military authorities have an obligation to investigate war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law. (HRW, Oct. 17)

  2. Jihadis against drones in Benghazi
    Libya closed its air space over Benghazi airport Sept. 14 due to heavy anti-aircraft fire by Islamists attempting to bring down reconnaissance drones flying over the city. “Two American drones flew over Benghazi last night with knowledge of the Libyan authorities,” Deputy Interior Minister, Wanis al-Sharif told Reuters.

  3. Libya: Qaddafi partisans launch counter-revolution?

    Libyan army troops are heading towards the former Qaddafi stronghold of Bani Walid after deadly clashes there, the chief of staff said Oct. 18. At least 10 people were killed and dozens wounded as militias shelled Bani Walid and faced counter-attacks.

    Many of those in the besieging militias were from the rival town of Misrata, which has been enraged by the death of rebel fighter Omran Shaban after two months in detention in Bani Walid. Elders have tried to negotiate a solution as militias have taken up positions around the town, clashing with local fighters. (Reuters, Oct. 19)