Libya outlaws and raids militia group

Libya outlaws and raids militia group


Financial Times, 4 November 2012

Libyan forces stormed the headquarters of a Tripoli militia hours after they were outlawed by the interior minister on Sunday in the latest sign of official and public frustration with the continuing violent behaviour of unruly armed groups in the country.

The decision to ban and uproot a group called the Eighth Support Company, also known as the Sidi Khalifa militia, followed a harrowing night-long gun battle in downtown Tripoli that continued into Sunday morning. It left multiple injuries and sent bullets flying into a building next to a hospital.
The clash was apparently sparked after security forces attempted to arrest militia members accused of detaining and torturing a local resident.

Later on Sunday, forces led by the newly formed National Mobile Force raided the group’s headquarters in central Tripoli and handed it over to military police. Several militiamen were also arrested, the official Libyan news agency reported.

“The people definitely feel the militias are becoming a bigger problem,” said Essam Ezzobair, a local journalist. “The general public wants the army and police and not the militias. They want them to be the only body of enforcement in the country.”

Since the toppling of Muammer Gaddafi’s regime last year, Libya has been shaken by security woes, many of them driven, or exacerbated, by the very same armed groups that overthrew the previous regime.

One such militia group, Ansar al Sharia, was blamed for the ferocious September 11 attack on the US consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.

The security situation in Benghazi remains uneasy, with a car bomb striking a police station in the city on Sunday morning, injuring four officers, according to the official Libyan news agency. The dawn attack destroyed the entrance of the police station and damaged some nearby homes and motor vehicles.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But Libya’s official uniformed security forces have been under attack from mostly Islamist militias, which demand a greater role in shaping the country and ridding state institutions of Gaddafi loyalists.

Some of the militias act as vigilante forces and answer only nominally to the central government while remaining practically under the sway of radical clerics or local bosses.

Tripoli security official Hashim Bishir told the official Libyan news agency that the Eighth Support Company had been implicated in “repeated past violations, excesses and attacks on others to the extent of causing the death of a person it was detaining under torture”.

Both groups of fighters in the original gun battle were ostensibly operating under the country’s Supreme Security Council, whose spokesman appeared to be in denial about events on the ground and the decision by the interior ministry to disband a militia said to be involved in the clash.

“This has nothing to do with militias; it’s just a personal dispute,” said Yousef Said Yousef, the spokesman for the Supreme Security, refusing to specify what the dispute was about. “These are just criminals involved in private localised fights.”