Gulf of Sidra, Cyrenaica and Benghazi
On 19 September, the Washington Post reported that Matthew Olsen, the director of the US National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), told a hearing of the US Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the consulate attack in Benghazi on 11 September was a terrorist attack. Olsen was quoted as stating that while the initial conclusions did not point to a planned assault, the picture that is now emerging is one where a number of different individuals were involved, including localised extremists and affiliates of Al Qaeda.
This week has also seen further tensions within the security apparatus in Benghazi. Following the attack against the US consulate, Interior Minister Fawzi Abdul Aal removal of Waned Al Sharif from his post as Deputy Minister of Interior. In his place Abdul Aal appointed Colonel Salah Al Din Awad Doghman. The police chief responsible for eastern Cyrenaica was also removed from his post. Police in Benghazi subsequently refused to serve under Doghman and threatened to walk out if the leadership switch was forced through. They also accused central government of making local officials scapegoats for its own failures. The HSC chief for Benghazi, Fawzi Al Qadhafi also accused Abdul Aal and the central government of neglecting the needs of Benghazi, including a lack of material support and unpaid salaries.
The Libya Herald reported that thousands of protesters demanding an end to militia rule in Libya, stormed the compound of the Ansar Al-Sharia brigade in Benghazi on the evening of 22 September. Ansar Al-Sharia is one of the Islamist groups suspected of involvement in last week’s storming of the US consulate in the city and the subsequent murder of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other US State Department members. The demonstrators initially protested outside of the Ansar Al-Sharia headquarters on Nasr square, demanding that the brigade leave immediately or the facility would be destroyed. The protesters then entered the facility and set fire to part of the compound and also released four prisoners. The national army was reported to have arrived and took control of the scene. Members of Ansar Al-Sharia were also reported to have been confronted at Al-Jalaa hospital, where they operate as guards, and told either to leave or face the use of force
The events followed an unprecedented demonstration in Benghazi earlier in the day, when an estimated 30,000 people participated in a rally calling for the disbanding of militias and the establishment of a regular army and police force. Protesters were also reported to have targeted the headquarters of the Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade, located at a farm in Hawari district, some 15km from Benghazi. At least four people were reported to have been killed and 40 wounded in clashes at the Rafallah Al-Sahati base, according to AFP, and there are also reports of prisoners being released inside that facility.
Reuter’s news agency reported that five members of the National Army were found dead in Benghazi’s Hawari district on the morning of 22 September. The men were found near the Rafallah Brigade’s compound and were discovered with their hands tied and shots to the head. A sixth man is reportedly alive, but in critical condition. Speculative reports linked the killings to the earlier anti-militia demonstrations.