Libyan congress seeks answers in attacks on Sufi shrines

The Wall Street Journal reports: Libya’s newly elected congress held an emergency session on Sunday about the destruction over the weekend of two of the country’s most revered Sufi shrines by suspected religious extremists, who some lawmakers allege may have undertaken their actions in collusion with security officials.

The brazen attacks in two cities underscore the shaky nature of the emerging democracy in Libya, where elected officials have little sway over security forces. The destruction has raised fears that conservative religious groups—whose candidates were soundly beaten in the country’s July election—may attempt to sabotage Libya’s transition to a secular, modern state.

At sunrise on Saturday, Libyan adherents of the rigid Salafi school of Islam brought bulldozers into the center of Tripoli and flattened the expansive, centuries-old Sidi Al-Sha’ab shrine. Uniformed members of at least two separate government security divisions that answer to the Interior Ministry barricaded the busy seafront road where the religious complex was located and allowed the daylong demolition to continue, according to witnesses.

That destruction followed vandalism Friday night at Libya’s most revered Sufi mosque in Zlitan, west of the capital, and the burning of an adjoining library that housed hundreds of theological treatises dedicated to the mystical branch of Islam that historically has been practiced across much of North Africa.

Mohamed Almagariaf, head of Libya’s new congress, denounced the violence as crimes against Islam, and demanded answers from the ministers of interior and defense as to why the buildings hadn’t been protected by the forces under their command.

“These kinds of actions are unacceptable and condemned by our religion,” Mr. Magariaf said in a televised statement. “What is truly regrettable and suspicious is that some of those who took part in these destruction activities are supposed to be of the security forces.”

On Sunday evening, Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel A’al announced his resignation in an interview with Arabic news station Al Jazeera, saying he rejected the criticism leveled by lawmakers against his security forces. Mr. A’al told the network that his forces have done an excellent job keeping the nation safe from threats.

No one from the Interior Ministry appeared at Sunday’s closed session of congress, despite demands from Mr. Magariaf for their attendance and a chorus of outraged speeches from numerous lawmakers, some of whom compared the weekend destruction to the desecration by the Taliban of Afghanistan’s giant Buddha statues. An official from the Defense Ministry appeared, but it wasn’t immediately clear what information he provided to the lawmakers.

Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagour said the defense and interior ministers failed to obey his order to protect the shrines. He said those who were responsible for the destruction “would be held accountable.”

It remained unclear on Sunday whether an official investigation had been opened into the violence. [Continue reading…]

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