The last seven days have seen a number of repercussions in the wake of the 11 September attack against the US consulate in Benghazi. At the government level, the consulate attack has resulted in a crackdown on ‘rebel’ militia groups and a concerted effort to bring all militia units under government control or disband them. At the street level, the 22 September witnessed mass protests in Benghazi directed against Islamist groups, culminating in the expulsions of the Ansar Al-Sharia group from its compound in Benghazi. The group, one of several implicated in the US consulate attacks later claimed to have disbanded and handed over its heavy weapons to authorities. While the main focus remains on the east of the country, armed clashes continue to be reported at various locations across Tripolitania, including ongoing fighting in Brak. The National Army was also reported to have conducted a number of operations in and around the capital as part of the ongoing crackdown against rebel militia groups.
On 23 September, Prime Minister-elect, Mustafa Abu Shagur issued a 48 hour ultimatum for militias to withdraw from government installations in Tripoli, or face forceful ejection. Al Jazeera also reported that the National Assembly Speaker Mohammed Magarief announced the disbanding all armed groups that do not fall under the authority of the government, banning the carriage of weapons in public places and the setting up of ‘illegal’ checkpoints. Magarief stated that the appropriate government agencies had been tasked to ensure that these directives were implemented. A later report claimed that Magarief also stated that all government-aligned militias must now report through official military channels.
The attack against the US consulate appears to have been the catalyst at both government and ‘street level’ for definitive action to control the disparate militias. While the 48 hour deadline passed without major incident; the issues of bringing militia’s under government control remains in the balance. While the initial backlash against the more radical groups has been seen as positive, other groups may see the latest attempts to bring them into line as a direct threat to their power and influence. Public opinion will be a key factor in the coming months.