Libyan parliamentary speaker hints at military strike after consulate attack

The Guardian reports: The president of Libya’s parliament, Mohamed al-Magariaf, has said military action is being considered against militants blamed for the killing of the US ambassador Chris Stevens.

Magariaf also confirmed reports from Washington that US officials intercepted communications discussing the planned attack on the UN consulate in Benghazi, which he said linked al-Qaida in the Maghreb to an Islamist brigade, Ansar al-Sharia. “Yes, that happened,” he said.

Magariaf said the intercepts matched other evidence indicating members of the brigade took part in Tuesday’s all-night assault on the compound and an accommodation site. “It seems there is a division within Ansar al-Sharia about this attack, some for participation, some against,” he said. “We are in the process of investigation.”

Such transmissions would be powerful evidence linking al-Sharia to the attack, and Magariaf said Libya had been passed the information by the US government. He confirmed that the intercepted communications discussed the timing of last week’s assault. But he urged the US not to act unilaterally, fearing it would antagonise public opinion.

“We will not hesitate to act, to do what is our duty,” Magariaf said. “Let us start first by ourselves and if we are not capable, then whoever can help us. My experience with the Americans, they know what they have to do.”

His comments came as Libya’s interior ministry said that weekend raids had led to the arrest of 50 suspects, but gave no details and did not say whether they were Islamist militants.

Tension is building in Benghazi amid speculation that military action is imminent against the al-Sharia brigade, whose commanders deny responsibility for the consulate attack.

Two US warships equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles are stationed off the coast and a propeller-driven aircraft with no lights, thought to be a drone, has spent hours in the skies above the city for the past two nights.

The Pentagon has dispatched elite marine rapid response teams to Libya and Yemen, but a team deployed to Khartoum on Friday was turned back when the Sudanese government objected.

The US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, said on Sunday the Pentagon had “deployed our forces to a number of areas in the region to be prepared to respond to any requests that we receive to be able to protect our personnel and our American property”.

The al-Sharia brigade remains in its base in Benghazi, and its soldiers are guarding a hospital where medical officials say two wounded militants are being treated. Sharia guards there refused to allow access or comment on the attack.

Magariaf said the attack on the US mission, the fifth on diplomatic targets in Benghazi since April, was part of a wider campaign by militants to destabilise Libya, taking advantage of the disorder of a country still without cohesive government.

“This is a turning point for the country. The confrontation is necessary and inevitable with these elements,” he said. “[It is] either them or Libya being safe and united. Today it is the Americans, tomorrow it is going to be Libyans.”

Magariaf rose to prominence in the 1980s when, having fled to Britain, he led the anti-Gaddafi National Front for the Salvation of Libya. He won a seat in the new parliament in July in an election in which tribal and liberal parties prevailed against the Muslim Brotherhood.

He said he had evidence “foreign countries” were involved in supporting the attack on the consulate but declined to name them. “It’s a deliberate, calculated action by a group working in collaboration with non-Libyan extremists. I would not be surprised if it’s another country, but it’s not Saudi Arabia or Qatar, I’m sure.”

In Benghazi, evidence linking members of the Sharia brigade to the attack is growing. The chief of the city’s supreme security council, Libya’s gendarmerie, said witnesses and mobile phone footage showed members were involved.

This was confirmed by an eyewitness who was among bystanders who turned up to see what began as an anti-US protest on Tuesday night. [Continue reading…]

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