Islamist militias kicked out of their bases by Benghazi protesters

The Libya Herald reports: Hundreds of protesters demanding an end to militia rule in Libya have stormed the compound of the Ansar Al-Sharia brigade, the Islamist group suspected of involvement in last week’s murder of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

The demonstrators arrived at the Ansar Al-Sharia headquarters on Nasr square yesterday evening (formerly Kish square), and demanded the brigade leave immediately or the facility would be destroyed.

The brigadesmen initially pleaded that they were comparatively few in number, firing warning shots into the air, but were evicted in clashes that left several people wounded.

It has been reported that the demonstrators released four prisoners inside the base and carried away weapons found inside whilst chanting “Libya, Libya” and “No more Al-Qaeda”.

Part of the compound was set alight by the demonstrators before the national army arrived and took control of the scene.

Members of Ansar Al-Sharia were also confronted at Al-Jalaa hospital, where they operate as guards, and told either to leave or face the use of force.

An administrator at the hospital subsequently told the Libya Herald that all of the Ansar Al-Sharia brigadesmen had fled.

Ansar Al-Sharia have reportedly put out a statement accusing those involved of being drunk and on drugs, a claim that has been likened by local people to one formally issued by Muammar Qaddafi against the revolutionaries as a means of discrediting them.

Protesters also took control of a base belonging to the Abu Salim Brigade in Benghazi as well as the headquarters of the Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade, located at a farm in Hawari district, some 15 kilometres from Benghazi’s city centre.

At least four people were reported to have been killed and 40 wounded in clashes at the Rafallah Al-Sahati base, according to AFP, and there are also reports of prisoners being released inside that facility.

Leaders of the Islamist brigade, which is notionally under the control of the Ministry of Defence, accused Qaddafi loyalists of instigating the violence and said they had video evidence to prove it.

The events follow an unprecedented demonstration in Benghazi earlier in the day, when an estimated 30,000 people participated in a rally calling for the disbanding of militias and the establishment of a regular army and police force.

Time magazine adds: The militia and Islamist phenomenon exists in other parts of the country. But Libyans there will find it harder to replicate Benghazi’s example. The city of Misrata with its dozens of militias is a state onto itself, running several prisons and preventing foreigners from entering. The city of Zintan has equally powerful brigades and has refused to turn over Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam to the national government. In both towns the brigades are admired for their role in the revolution and do not suffer from the militia backlash that has become widespread in Benghazi in the wake of the consulate attack. And as long as such brigades retain their societal support, it will be a long time before the scenes in Benghazi will be repeated in other parts of Libya.

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