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)