Libya to dissolve militias as Islamist strongholds fall

Libyan demonstrators hold a sign reading "People don't want militias" as thousands of people march in Benghazi during a protest against militias on September 21, 2012 (AFP Photo / Abdulah Doma)
Libyan authorities have given armed militias which are not controlled by the government 48 hours to vacate Tripoli or be ejected by force. This comes after pro-government activists stormed the HQ of a radical Salafist group in Benghazi.

The government urged the army to impose its authority by putting its own officers at the head of armed brigades that sprang up during the last year’s uprising against Muammar Gaddafi rule, AFP reports.

“The army chief Yussef al-Mangoush and (national assembly leader) Mohammed Magarief have ordered all illegitimate militias should be removed from compounds and hand over their weapons to the national army,” Defense Ministry spokesman Adel Othman al-Barasi said in a statement.

The groups were given 48 hours to comply, but Barasi advised the militias to start moving out immediately.

The violent takeover of the Benghazi stronghold of Ansar al-Sharia militia by local residents on Friday claimed at least 11 lives and left some 70 wounded.  Six of them were militiamen, apparently executed, whose bodies were found at the outskirts of the city.

The government decided to put in place “operation rooms” in the eastern city, bringing together the military, forces of interior and defense ministries and brigades comprising former rebels.

Following the events in Benghazi – the hotbed of the last year’s revolution – two Islamist militias in another city announced that they will disband.

The Abu Slim and Ansar al-Sharia militias based in Derna, a city in eastern Libya, known as an Islamist stronghold, withdrew from their bases on Saturday, Reuters reports.

Local residents believe the announcements by the militias were motivated by the recent violence in Benghazi.

"The militia in Derna saw what happened last night and they decided: we will not kill our brothers. So they disbanded," Siraj Shennib, a 29-year-old linguistics professor who had been part of protests against the militia, told Reuters. "They said they no longer exist as militias in Derna. They will go home and leave security to the interior ministry and army."

Abu al-Shalali, 27, an Abu Slim fighter told the news agency that fighters decided to disband following a non-violent confrontation with protesters.

Anti-militia anger has swept parts of Libya since the deadly attack on an American diplomatic mission on September 11, which killed US ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Libyan authorities have been struggling to secure control over the numerous, but not always allied, militias and other groups that brought about Gaddafi's downfall in 2011.The widespread proliferation of weapons became one the biggest threats to security in the whole region.