|Analysts say that whichever group in Benghazi wins in the struggle for influence will also grab power in tomorrow's Libya.|
Πηγή: USA Today
By Mathieu Galtier
April 23 2013
BENGHAZI, Libya — The city that started the revolution to topple strongman Moammar Gadhafi has become a battleground of competing militias, and the winner will very likely be in control of Libya, analysts say.
Benghazi has been subjected to an endless string of bomb attacks and kidnappings over the past 18 months. The city's security chief was murdered in November, and a police station was bombed.
Foreign installations are being targeted, too: An attack on the U.S. Consulate on Sept. 11 left four Americans dead, and there was an assassination attempt on Italian Consul Guido de Sanctis in January.
"Tripoli has the political power and Misurata the military power," said Abeir Imneina, a professor of political science at Benghazi University. "But those who control Benghazi control Libya. The city has its finger on the pulse of the public mood."
Many worry about an Islamist takeover and blame Muslim radicals for the chaos. Police at Fayyad station say the group Ansar al-Sharia is behind a number of the attacks, including the one Sept. 11.
Ansar is a Salafist group, whose adherents favor strict Islamic rule. It is related to Wahhabism, the sect of Osama bin Laden.
"The Islamists are provoking us," said officer Abdelhafid Awami at the Fayyad police station. "They want to run the country, like in Egypt and in Tunisia."
After the attack on the U.S. Consulate, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Benghazi residents marched on Ansar al-Sharia's Benghazi headquarters and drove the militia out of the city. But unofficially, Ansar al-Sharia never left.
Analysts say the militia isn't made up of hardened terrorists even though Islamist groups abroad provide it with money and training.
"Ansar al-Sharia, like many of the militias (in Libya), is made up of young, unemployed men who have been given power and arms," Imneina said. "They receive financing from abroad — and it's likely that al-Qaeda is behind the money.
"But they're not the only ones: The Martyrs of Feb. 17 (the pro-government force put in charge of securing the U.S. Consulate Sept. 11) is financed by Qatar — everyone knows it," she said.
Politicians close to Ansar al-Sharia reject such accusations.
"My friends in Ansar al-Sharia don't have any links to groups abroad or the Muslim Brotherhood (in Egypt)," said Ahmed Zlitni, a former rebel commander who is spokesman for the Union of Muslims.
Some see that group as the political arm of Ansar al-Sharia. He denies the affiliation but admits to sharing the group's ideology.
"(Ansar al-Sharia members) are just simple Muslims who want the Quran to become law here in Libya," he said. "If they get what they want, they'll stop fighting."
Ansar al-Sharia isn't the only Islamist militia accused of undermining security in Benghazi.
The Supreme Security Committee (SSC) signed an accord with the government and is authorized to participate in law enforcement. The group is decentralized, and some factions of it that are close to religious radicals refuse to pledge allegiance to the government.
Islamists blame the supporters of Gadhafi for the violence.
"Before the revolution, the Islamists were always blamed — it's the same today, and that isn't accidental," said the Union of Muslim's Zlitni, who claimed that pro-Gadhafi forces are killing police officers linked to Gadhafi's regime and framing Islamists for the murders.
Authorities say freed criminals also contribute to the violence. Gadhafi let out 3,000 convicts to try to quell the Benghazi rebellion; two years later, more than two-thirds of them remain on the street, according to Benghazi's police agency.
"Former prisoners could have perpetrated the attacks on police stations in revenge," said Oussama el-Sherif, spokesman for Benghazi's local council.
There have been no major arrests in the attacks, even in the death of the city security chief, Col. Fradj al-Dersi. Col. Mustafa Raqiq, who replaced al-Dersi, was fired three months later in February after police protested that he was not able to improve security. Raqiq blames Islamists for the violence.
"Those who made the homemade bombs are organized," he said, referring to the attacks on police stations. "It's a criminal enterprise that they're involved in. They want to deny us control over security."
The failure to stop the violence may actually lead to a partition of the country, some say. The government's failure to restore security in Benghazi fuels support for autonomy or even independence in eastern Libya, a region called Cyrenaica.
"The government isn't doing anything to help us," said Oussama Buera, a young pro-independence activist who says he's willing to take up arms to free Benghazi from Tripoli's grasp. "Four people were killed at a demonstration (last year), and Tripoli didn't even say sorry."