'Islamic extremist' gunmen attack government buildings in Benghazi
Saaqa elite military unit claims Islamists responsible for gun, grenade and explosives assaults that killed five soldiers
Associated Press in Tripoli
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 15 June 2013 23.24 AEST
A burned truck is seen at the First Infantry Brigade base in Benghazi. Photograph: Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters
The militias remain a festering sore on the path to Peace in Libya, they are going to have to do something firm and positive about them sooner rather than later, its gone on for far too long already...............
Gunmen staged overnight attacks on at least six security buildings and outposts throughout Libya's eastern city of Benghazi, killing five soldiers, military officials said on Saturday.
The assaults, which included snipers, rocket-propelled grenades and explosives thrown on to rooftops, came after a number of smaller targeted attacks and assassinations of security officials in the city over the past several months. A spokesman for the army's chief of staff, Ali el-Sheikhy, said no group had claimed responsibility for attacks. Officials have not announced any arrests.
An elite military unit known as Saaqa claimed on its Facebook page that Islamic extremists were responsible. It gave no further details.
Security officials said 11 people had been wounded. The figure includes assailants, as well.
Tensions have been boiling in Benghazi over militias, particularly after clashes a week ago killed 31 people, mostly demonstrators, during anti-militia protests. The military has since taken over several militia bases in the city, which was the birthplace of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi from power.
The coordinated assault began just after midnight on Saturday, when dozens of gunmen in civilian clothes assaulted military outposts and the National Security Directorate with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons. The First Infantry Brigade was forced to withdraw from its headquarters when the assailants stormed the building. Two army vehicles were destroyed in the clashes.
The military's chief of staff, Salem Qineydi, in a statement broadcast on Libyan state TV just before dawn, said a security building was burnt.
At least three Saaqa soldiers were among the dead, according to the military unit's Facebook page. It said they had been killed by snipers who shot them directly in the head. The unit also said that in one case, explosives were thrown on to the roof of a security building while soldiers were inside.
"They sacrificed with their lives to defend with honor and full force, valor and the legitimacy of the state," the statement by Saaqa added.
The fighting lasted until late morning, after spilling over to areas around Benghazi's international airport, which officials closed out of concerns for security. Reinforcements have been sent from the capital Tripoli to Benghazi, the country's second largest city.
A security official in Benghazi, who wished not to be named out of fear for his safety, said some of the fighting also took place in residential areas.
Britain To Train 2,000 Libyan Troops
Jul. 9, 2013 - 09:52AM
By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
LONDON — Britain is to train up to 2,000 Libyan troops in a bid to “help them achieve peace and stability across their country,” the British defence ministry announced Tuesday.
“The UK armed forces are to train their Libyan counterparts in basic infantry skills and leadership training with courses beginning later this year,” the ministry said in a statement.
Libya’s authorities are struggling to form a professional army and police, and regularly use the former rebels who battled against late dictator Moamer Kadhafi to secure the borders or to intervene in tribal conflicts.
The Libyan government will pay for the training at an army site in Cambridgeshire, eastern England, the defence ministry said.
“The training of Libyan armed forces personnel in the UK is part of a broader package of defence and security assistance developed with the US, France and Italy,” it added.
“This is aimed at supporting the Libyan government’s efforts to increase the effectiveness and capacity of its security and justice sector institutions, and to ensure the state’s monopoly on security.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron announced at last month’s G8 summit in Northern Ireland that more than 7,000 Libyan troops would be trained in the world’s eight richest nations.
Britain and France led the creation of a NATO no-fly zone in Libya in 2011 at the beginning of the uprising against Kadhafi.
More than 1,000 inmates escape from Libyan prison
Amid protests across the country over killing of an activist, PM blames jailbreak near Benghazi on locals
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 28 July 2013 10.21 AEST
Protesters in Benghazi hold a demonstration against the killing of lawyer and prominent political activist Abdul-Salam Al-Musmari. Photograph: Xinhua/Landov/Barcroft Media
Three North African Arab nations is a row and you have Secularist parties more or less in open combat with Islamic parties.........hmmmmmmmmm
More than 1,000 inmates have escaped from a prison in Libya as protesters stormed political party offices across the country.
It wasn't immediately clear if the jailbreak at al-Kweifiya prison on Saturday was connected to the demonstrations. Protesters had gathered across Libya over the killing of an activist who had been critical of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Inmates started a riot and lit fires after security forces opened fire on three detainees who tried to escape from the facility near Benghazi, a security official at the prison said. Gunmen quickly arrived at the prison after news of the riot spread, opening fire with rifles in a bid to free their imprisoned relatives.
Those who escaped either faced or were convicted of serious charges, the prison official said.
Special forces later arrested 18 of the escapees, while some returned on their own, according to Mohammed Hejazi, a government security official in Benghazi. The three inmates wounded in the initial escape attempt were taken to a local hospital, he said.
At a news conference, the prime minister, Ali Zidan, blamed the jailbreak on those living around the prison. "The prison was [attacked] by the citizens who live nearby because they don't want a prison in their region" he said. "Special forces were present and could have got the situation under control by using their arms but they had received orders not [to use] their weapons on citizens ... so the citizens opened the doors to the prisoners."
Zidan said an alert would be sent to border posts about the jailbreak and officers would receive a list of the escapees' names.
Benghazi's security is among the most precarious in post-revolution Libya. Last year, US ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans were killed in an attack on a US diplomatic mission in the city.
Meanwhile on Saturday, hundreds gathered in the capital, Tripoli, after dawn prayers, denouncing the Friday shooting death of Abdul-Salam Al-Musmari. They set fire to tyres in the street and demanded the dissolution of Islamist parties.
The two incidents highlighted Libya's deteriorating security situation and the challenges the north African country faces as it tries to restore calm nearly two years after the ousting and death of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
U.S. charges Libyan militia leader in Benghazi attack
ESAM OMRAN AL-FETORI/REUTERS - The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames after the deadly attack on Sept. 11, 2012.
By Sari Horwitz,
Justice Department officials have filed criminal charges against the leader of a Libyan militia in connection with the deadly attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, according to two law enforcement officials.
The criminal complaint charging Ahmed Abu Khattalah in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack is under seal at a federal court in Washington, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The officials declined to specify the nature of the charges, but they mark the first known case in which the Obama administration has formally brought charges in the attack.
The FBI and the Justice Department declined to comment.
“The department’s investigation is ongoing,” said Justice Department spokesman Andy Ames. “It has been, and remains, a top priority. We have no further comment.”
Republican legislators have criticized the Justice Department for moving slowly on the investigation into the attack in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
Justice officials, however, have hinted in recent months that investigators are making progress. When Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. testified in May before the House Judiciary Committee, he was asked for an update on the probe, then eight months old, by Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.).
“I can’t be definitive other than to say that the investigation is ongoing, that we are at a point where we have taken steps that I would say are definitive, concrete, and we are — we will be prepared shortly, I think, to reveal all that we have done,” Holder said.
In an answer to another congressman, Holder added, “We have made very, very, very substantial progress in that investigation.”
The charges against Khattalah were first reported by CNN on Tuesday.
The federal investigation into the Benghazi attacks, led by FBI agents from the New York field office and some from the Washington field office, was hampered from the start. Security concerns delayed the arrival of FBI agents in Benghazi for weeks. By the time they arrived, the scene had been looted by militants.
Republican lawmakers have spent months pressing for answers in the Benghazi attack. Their probe centered on whether the Obama administration had provided sufficient security for U.S. personnel there and whether officials had deliberately misled the public about the nature of the assault in an attempt to avoid political repercussions in the midst of a presidential campaign.
Law enforcement officials said the charges against Khattalah were filed some time ago. The revelation of the charges comes as the United States has closed 19 U.S. embassies across the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere in response to a threat from al-Qaeda.
Libyans fear standoff between Muslim Brotherhood and opposition forces
Tripoli is braced for armed confrontation and threat of a coup as rebels mobilise across the country and blockade key oil ports
Chris Stephen in Tripoli
theguardian.com, Tuesday 20 August 2013 18.56 AEST
Gunmen in Benghazi, Libya, celebrate the second anniversary of the revolution that ousted Muammar Gaddafi. Photograph: Mohammad Hannon/AP
Fears are growing in Libya of an Egypt-style standoff between the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and opposition forces, with rebels blockading key oil ports and the capital, Tripoli, braced for armed confrontation.
Leaders in the provinces of Cyrenaica and Fezzan are considering breaking away from the centre with rebel militias mobilising across the country.
With oil exports plunging 70%, the government has threatened to use force to capture oil terminals held by armed protesters, raising the risk of civil war.
The capital is tense, with nightly exchanges of gunfire. Diplomats, along with many ordinary Libyans, observe a self-imposed dusk-to-dawn curfew. The president of congress, Nuri Abu Sahmain, has summoned militias allied to the Brotherhood to the capital, deploying troops across the city to forestall what his commanders say is the threat of a coup.
This emergency measure has prompted the main opposition party, the centre-right National Forces Alliance, to desert congress, followed by several smaller ethnic parties, leaving the Brotherhood's Justice and Construction party heading a government with crumbling authority. "Congress has basically collapsed," said one diplomat in Tripoli.
On Sunday, the interior minister, Mohamed Khalifa al Sheikh, resigned, accusing the prime minister, Ali Zaidan, of failing to support him. His resignation, following that of the deputy prime minister, Awadh al Barasi, has further weakened the government's authority.
Zaidan has taken a hard line with protesters, threatening to storm the two biggest oil ports by force and warning international oil companies that their ships will be attacked if they buy oil from the rebels. "Any vessel not under contract to the National Oil Company that approaches the terminals will be bombed from the air and the sea," he said.
The rebel guards blockading the ports in the eastern province of Cyrenaica, home to the bulk of Libya's oil, say they will resist if attacked. But the threats to bomb oil tankers has sent a shudder through the international shipping industry. John Hamilton, a London oil analyst, said: "It's deeply disturbing for [international] companies, that's the problem."
The civil standoff stems from a demand for autonomy by the Cyrenaica Transitional Council, headed by a relative of Libya's former king, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Senussi. The province's MPs have already left the capital. Libya faces the prospect of a blockade of its remaining oil reserves after leaders of the southern province of Fezzan met in solidarity with Cyrenaica.
Ethnic Berbers in the western mountains last week cut one of three pipelines bringing oil and gas north, and Fezzan leaders, who claim that they are starved of funds by central government, are considering a complete shutdown.
"We don't want anything to do with a government that is now Muslim Brotherhood," said an ethnic Tobu delegate in the Fezzan meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We are forming an alliance with Cyrenaica, we have something in common with them – which is that we have nothing."
Critics of the Justice and Construction party accuse it of building up the Libya Shield, a militia organisation, as a parallel force to the army.
Much of Libya is resisting the so-called Isolation Law, which was directed at purging Gaddafi-era officials from the army, police and government, amid accusations that Brotherhood officials will replace them. Even the loyalty of Libya's small army is uncertain: its leaders are unlikely to accept dismissal. Amid these heightened civil tensions, the reach of the government's authority now stretches to the capital and the port city of Misrata, 100 miles west, but little further.
As Tripoli's nightly gun battles roll on, residents are growing weary.
Ali Tarhuni, a former US-based dissident who headed the rebel oil ministry during the Arab spring, is trying to mediate between the two sides. "We have a crisis," he said. "The security issue is the only priority that this government should have."
Financial analysts warn that Libya's government is grappling not just with the management of the country but the creation of a ruling structure, which must be built from scratch after 40 years of dictatorship.
Duncan Bullivant, chief executive of London security consultancy Henderson Risk, said: "Civil society is weak, dictatorships don't encourage it. So finding mechanisms to engage with and manage society is hard."
The current crisis comes on the second anniversary of the end of the 2011 revolution, when Tripoli fell to rebel forces aided by Nato bombing. The intervening 24 months have seen successive governments fail to tackle Libya's militia violence, stagnant economy or jihadist attacks against foreign embassies.
With unemployment soaring, frustration is building across the country, above all because the Muslim Brotherhood and National Forces Alliance have proved unable to work together. The promised constitution has failed to materialise, amid disputes about the power regions should wield and the role of Sharia law.
Libyan Troops To Train at Joint US-Bulgarian Bases
Sep. 12, 2013 - 03:20PM
By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
SOFIA — Up to 8,000 Libyan soldiers are expected to train at two joint US-Bulgarian military bases in Bulgaria as part of post-war efforts to rebuild Libya, Defence Minister Angel Naydenov said Thursday.
Naydenov said he had approved Washington’s proposal to train the troops but Bulgaria and the United States still had to work out the details.
“This is a bilateral proposal but it is also being discussed within NATO and could be expected to become part of NATO’s mission for post-war reconstruction of Libya,” said the minister.
The proposal envisages the training of between 150 soldiers and 200 soldiers at a time on a rotational basis over a period of between five and eight years, the minister added.
Violence still proliferates in Libya, with the country’s new rulers struggling to re-establish order and form a professional police force and army since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Gunmen attack Russian embassy in Libya's capital Tripoli
Embassy came under fire after Russian woman was accused of killing senior military official Mohamed Alsusi
Chris Stephen in Tripoli
theguardian.com, Thursday 3 October 2013 06.59 AEST
Unknown attackers attempted to break into the Russian embassy grounds in Tripoli. Photograph: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images
Gunmen attacked the Russian embassy in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Wednesday hours after news broke that a Russian woman was arrested and accused of killing a senior military official.
The Russian foreign ministry said diplomats were safe and had been evacuated after unknown attackers attempted to break into the embassy grounds. Four Libyans were wounded in the attack local media reported.
Gun and rocket fire echoed through the streets around the compound, as police and army units deployed around the building in pick-up trucks mounting anti-aircraft guns.
The attack came hours after Libyan authorities arrested a 24-year-old Russian woman accused of the murder of the official in his apartment in Tripoli.
The woman, named only as Katerine, is suspected of using a machine gun to kill air force engineering official Mohamed Alsusi, said Hashim Bishar, head of the Tripoli Supreme Security Committee, the government's gendarmerie.
Bishar told the Guardian that the woman had also shot and stabbed the victim's mother, then used the dead man's blood to write Death to Rats in English on the wall of his home. He said he had interrogated her for six hours before handing her to judicial authorities.
"She entered Libya as a journalist, she is now in the custody of the attorney general's office," he said.
The embassy assault follows last month's attack on an escort vehicle of the European Union ambassador, and comes amid an upsurge of violence across Libya.
Earlier in the day, foreign officials at the capital's central Corinthia hotel were put on lockdown after gunfire erupted outside. Battles between rival militias saw Libya's main coastal highway closed both east and west of the capital at the weekend.
Italian, French and United Arab Emirates diplomatic missions have been attacked over the past six months, and diplomats are coping with an upsurge in car-jackings.
The prime minister, Ali Zidan, earlier this month secured promises from Britain and the United States of military training and aid for Libya's fledgling army, after admitting he faces numerous security threats.
Libya's government is already struggling with the worst crisis since the end of the 2011 Arab Spring revolution, with a blockade of most of the country's oil ports by striking troops and tribal militias entering its fourth month.
"There are a lot of security problems in the capital," said Bishar. "If we want to continue in security we need to have training."
US Firms Eye Late Entry Into Libyan Defense Market
Oct. 7, 2013 - 11:30AM
By ZACHARY FRYER-BIGGS
Border Security: Libyan soldiers stand on trucks during a graduation ceremony for new border guards. Libya is seeking ways to improve its border security. (AFP)
WASHINGTON — The Libyan government, which may offer a prime opportunity for US contractors as a country rich in natural resources and with limited military equipment, is reaching out to companies in a bid to attract them to a nation that is still taboo to many US politicians.
Speaking at an American Chamber of Commerce in Libya event in Washington on Oct. 3, Col. Ibrahim El Fortia, the defense attaché from the Libyan Embassy, said the country wants to work with American companies, partially because of the US role in helping to topple the Gadhafi regime.
“We would like to see priority go to the American companies,” El Fortia, speaking through a translator, told the audience at the event hosted by the Patton Boggs law firm. “I was a deputy defense minister in 2011. There were a lot of defense companies coming from all over the world giving their offers to the Libyan government and the defense ministry. We were sorry not to see the American companies coming at that time.”
Some companies, particularly those based in Europe, have been aggressive on the Libyan market, but US companies are not only navigating complex laws but also an ongoing stigma due to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that left four Americans dead.
Thus far, the market opportunity has been pretty small. There have been 15 letters of request from the Libyan government for foreign military sales. Those have led to a deal for 287 AM General Humvees, with 24 shipped, 30 due by the end of the month and the rest due by the end of 2014. Lockheed Martin C-130 cargo planes and Boeing CH-47 helicopters have also been discussed. There was discussion of a deal for fast-response cutters that fell through.
Right now the US is offering only limited financial support, in the form of $1 million in foreign military financing and $15 million from the joint State Department/DoD Global Security Contingency fund.
“One of the questions from a congressional standpoint is how much is available from [foreign military financing],” said Mary Beth Long, CEO of Askari Defense and former assistant secretary of defense. “There is the sentiment on the Hill that, post-conflict, that Libya has such tremendous natural resources, mostly its talented people, but also access to gas and oil, that there will be very few funds from the US government programs.”
Part of the reason for the limited sales has been general government reticence to sell equipment to an unstable government. Defense News previously reported on disagreements between the Defense and State departments on deals with the country.
But that environment has changed, a defense official said.
“As a whole, the inner agency is very supportive of US companies doing business in Libya,” the official said. “I won’t say the same for our Congress as a whole. There are definitely reservations, and most of those reservations in my opinion are tied to Benghazi and the incident that happened last year. That tends to come up as we try to do congressional notifications, and it may be completely unrelated to what we’re doing.”
The pace of sales may soon pick up. The US is helping to train 10,000 Libyans for the military at a cost of about $600 million over eight years.
“Something we haven’t looked at is that we’re going to have all these troops, and at the end, where are these troops going to go, and what equipment and what facilities will they use?” the official said.
In particular, Libya is looking for help securing its border. Representatives from most major defense companies attending the conference, and nearly every executive, mentioned border security offerings.
“It is true that we can say that Libya is not in control of its borders,” El Fortia said. “The security of the Libyan border is one of our top priorities. Libya has very, very long borders. Our borders are open.”
Report: Libyan Troops Occupy Prime Minister's Office To Demand Pay
Oct. 7, 2013 - 03:10PM
By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
TRIPOLI — Dozens of unarmed Libyan soldiers occupied the prime minister’s office in Tripoli on Monday to demand unpaid wages, the privately-owned Alnabaa television reported.
The channel said the soldiers had been protesting against the “non-payment of their salaries for months.”
The troops were not armed but forced their way into the building, preventing anyone else from entering or leaving, Alnabaa reported.
“They say that they are waiting for an official to negotiate with,” the broadcaster said.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was not present when the incident took place, as he started a three-day state visit to Morocco on Sunday.
The headquarters of the prime minister and the interim government has often been the scene of protests demanding unpaid wages by former rebels who helped overthrow dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
In April and May, groups of ex-rebels laid siege to the justice and foreign ministries in Tripoli for nearly two weeks, demanding a law be passed excluding officials from the Gadhafi regime from office.
When Gadhafi was overthrown and killed in 2011, the rebels were hailed as heroes for bringing an end to more than four decades of dictatorship.
But since then, they have formed militias with different ideologies and motivations. Today they stand accused of many of the country’s ills, notably the instability that still plagues parts of the North African nation.
Many of the militias have refused the government’s demands that they hand over their weapons or join the national security forces, and a patchwork of armed groups effectively control much of the country.
Libyan prime minister kidnapped
Ali Zeidan taken from hotel in Tripoli by gunmen and driven away to an undisclosed location, government confirms
Staff and agencies
theguardian.com, Thursday 10 October 2013 17.20 AEST
Ali Zeidan, the Libyan prime minister. Photograph: Abdeljalil Bounhar/AP
Armed men have kidnapped the Libyan prime minister, Ali Zeidan, from the hotel in Tripoli where he lives.
"The head of the transitional government, Ali Zeidan, was taken to an unknown destination for unknown reasons," the Libyan government said on its website, attributing the kidnapping to a group of men believed to be former rebels.
The abduction early Thursday comes amid anger among Libya's powerful Islamic militant groups over the US special forces raid on Saturday that seized a Libyan al-Qaida suspect known as Abu Anas al-Libi. Several groups accused the government of colluding in or allowing the raid, though the government denied having any prior knowledge of the operation.
Hours before the abduction Zeidan had met with al-Libi's family, the Associated Press said.
Abu Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia quoted Libyan security sources as saying that Zeidan was seized from the hotel and taken to an unknown destination. Dubai-based al-Arabiya carried a similar report.
According to CNN, armed rebels escorted Zeidan from the Corinthian Hotel in Tripol and took him away in a car. The news service quoted a hotel clerk as saying there was no gunfire and the gunmen "caused no trouble".
Zeidan's office initially denied the abduction on Facebook but later stated the denial was made at the order of the kidnappers.
The Libyan cabinet held an emergency meeting on Thursday morning, headed by Zidan's deputy, Abdel-Salam al-Qadi.
Reflecting the divided and chaotic state of Libya's government, Zidan's seizure was depicted by different sources as either an "arrest" or an abduction
Abdel-Moneim al-Hour, an official with the country's Anti-Crime Committee, told the Associated Press that Zidan had been arrested on accusations of harming state security and corruption. But the public prosecutor's office said it had issued no warrant for Zidan's arrest.
A government official said two guards abducted with Zidan were beaten but later released.
US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, travelling in Brunei with the secretary of state, John Kerry, said: "We are looking into these reports and we are in close touch with senior US and Libyan officials on the ground."