AVOID MUSLIM LIBYA
African migrants sold in Libya 'slave markets', IOM says
11 April 2017
Africans trying to reach Europe are being sold by their captors in
“slave markets” in Libya, the International Organization for Migration
Victims told IOM that after being detained by people smugglers or
militia groups, they were taken to town squares or car parks to be sold.
Migrants with skills like painting or tiling would fetch higher prices, the head of the IOM in Libya told the BBC.
Libya has been in chaos since the 2011 Nato-backed ousting of Muammar Gaddafi.
Hundreds of young sub-Saharan African men have been caught up in the so-called slave markets, according to the IOM report.
A Senegalese migrant, who was not named to protect his identity, said
that he had been sold at one such market in the southern Libyan city of
Sabha, before being taken to a makeshift prison where more than 100
migrants were being held hostage.
He said that migrants held at the facility were told to call their
families, who would be asked for money to pay for their release, and
some were beaten while on the phone to allow relatives to hear them
He described “dreadful” conditions where migrants were forced to
survive on limited food supplies, with those unable to pay either
killed or left to starve, the report adds.
Another witness, who was able to raise the funds needed for his release
after nine months, was later taken to hospital with severe
malnutrition, weighing just 5.5 stone (35 kg).
Women, too, were bought by private Libyan clients and brought to homes
where they were forced to be sex slaves, the witness said.
The IOM's chief of mission for Libya, Othman Belbeisi, told the BBC
that those sold into slavery found themselves priced according to their
"Apparently they don't have money and their families cannot pay the
ransom, so they are being sold to get at least a minimum benefit from
that," he said.
"The price is definitely different depending on your qualifications,
for example if you can do painting or tiles or some specialised work
then the price gets higher."
An IOM staff member in Niger said they confirmed the reports of auctions in Libya with several other migrants who had escaped.
"They all confirmed the risks of been sold as slaves in squares or
garages in Sabha, either by their drivers or by locals who recruit the
migrants for daily jobs in town, often in construction.
"Later, instead of paying them, [they] sell their victims to new buyers."
Some migrants, mainly Nigerians, Ghanaians and Gambians are forced to
work "as guards in the ransom houses or in the 'market' itself", the
IOM employee added.
The organisation has called the emergence of these markets "a
disturbing new trend in the already dire situation for migrants in
In February, the UN children's agency Unicef released a report
documenting - in sometimes horrific detail - stories of slavery,
violence and sexual abuse experienced by large numbers of vulnerable
children travelling from Libya to Italy.
The report, A Deadly Journey for Children, said that almost 26,000
children - most of them unaccompanied - crossed the Mediterranean in
2016, many of them suffering abuse at the hands of smugglers and
Tens of thousands of migrants arrived in Italy last year by sea,
crossing from North Africa. But before they reach the jumping-off point
in Libya, many migrants will have undertaken a perilous journey of up
to six days across the Sahara in extreme temperatures.
Number of ISIS fighters in Libya doubles
By Nicole Gaouette
April 8, 2016
Washington (CNN) U.S. intelligence estimates now put the number of ISIS
fighters in Libya between 4,000 to 6,000, double the number in the
war-ravaged country last year, according to the top U.S. military
commander in Africa.
Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said the
intelligence community estimates the number of ISIS fighters in Libya
at "around 4 to 6,000." He added that the number has "probably about
doubled in the last 12 to 18 months, based on what their assessments
were last year."
Wracked by violence since the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, Libya has become a haven for militant groups.
From 2014, the country was divided between two rival governments, one
in the capitol of Tripoli and another in the east. A December deal
created a Government of National Accord that the United Nations and
Western governments hope can unite the country's armed factions against
ISIS and set Libya on a more stable course.
How Muhammar Gaddafi’s anti-aircraft missiles are falling into the jihadists' hands
As the militants exploit the chaos in the country, there are fears they could target civilian airliners
Friday 11 March 2016
Deep in the Sahara, in the sun-baked Libyan town of Sabha, a ragtag
group of gunmen agreed to show Timothy Michetti their most prized
Mr Michetti, an experienced investigator for a London-based company
that tracks the sources of small arms in conflict zones, travelled
there on a hunch. Local fighters, he reckoned, may have some of the
shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles that disappeared when rebels
ousted the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
In the sweltering heat, the gunmen unveiled a small arsenal: four
Russian-made SA-7 missiles and two later models of the SA-16 variety.
The heat-seeking missiles are capable of shooting down a civilian
The fighters said they acquired the weapons from nomadic smugglers on
their way to illicit weapons bazaars in neighbouring Chad. But after
comparing the missiles’ serial numbers to those in his company’s
database, Mr Michetti confirmed his hunch: these had been Gaddafi’s
The missiles had no grip stocks or launchers, which rendered them
unusable, but that wasn’t much of a relief. Hundreds, perhaps
thousands, of working Libyan shoulder-held missiles remain unaccounted
for, American and UN officials say; some have probably fallen into the
hands of Isis jihadists, US intelligence sources say. They add that as
Isis continues to exploit Libya’s four-year civil war between two main
rival factions, the group is likely to use these weapons as it fights
to widen its strategic foothold in Libya to include the country’s oil
fields. There’s some evidence the group has already succeeded.
No one has downed a passenger plane using stolen Libyan missiles, known
in military parlance as “manpads” or man-portable air defence systems,
yet the likelihood that Isis now has these weapons in Libya means the
group or its affiliates could be well-equipped to strike at civilian
aircraft in Africa or Europe, US officials say. “These missiles are
very portable and easily smuggled,” says a senior State Department
official who leads a special team given the job of securing the Libyan
missiles. “All it takes is for one to get through.”
Despite the dangers these Libyan missiles pose, the Obama
administration has effectively stopped trying to locate and destroy
them, State Department officials say. The main reason is that it’s too
dangerous to go looking for them in Libya.
It’s unclear how many missiles remain at large. According to both US
and UN officials, Gaddafi accumulated an estimated 20,000 shoulder-held
manpads during his four decades in power. Yet these officials stress
that attrition, poor maintenance and the Nato bombing campaign during
the 2011 revolution reduced that number by the time the dictator was
Not long after Gaddafi’s fall, President Barack Obama dispatched the
special US team to Libya, which located and destroyed about 5,000
missiles. But the team leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to
discuss a sensitive security issue, acknowledges he has no idea how
many manpads are missing.
“There’s a large number still there in Libya, where some of the larger
militia groups still maintain the stocks that they originally took
control of back in 2011,” he says. Others are in the hands of Libya’s
smaller fighting groups, and arms traffickers have smuggled some out of
the country to feed the conflicts in Syria, the Sinai, Nigeria and
Mali. “We might never know where they went,” the team leader adds.
On 11 September 2012, the manpads team suffered a major setback.
Islamic militants attacked a secret CIA station in Benghazi, killing
four Americans, including the US ambassador Christopher Stevens. The
loss of the CIA post, which had been tracking the whereabouts of
Gaddafi’s looted weapons, eliminated one of the team’s critical sources
of intelligence. The team pulled out of Libya less than two years
later, when the US embassy in Tripoli closed because of the
deteriorating security situation.
“Because it’s an active conflict zone, the US team has no ability to go
into Libya to locate and secure manpads,” says another team member.
“Frankly, we have no leverage in a conflict to ask people to give up
These days, team members work from a State Department annex in
Washington, helping other governments in North Africa and the Sahel
secure their weapons stocks. In an odd turn of events, the State
Department has turned to several European-based private groups to carry
out one of its other long-standing missions in Libya: locating and
destroying mines left over from the Second World War.
Some observers suggest the administration gradually shifted its
attention from finding the missing manpads to the war in Syria and the
nuclear deal with Iran. “There was a huge flurry about the missiles
right after the fall of Gaddafi,” recalls Rachel Stohl, an expert on
small arms at the Stimson Centre, a Washington think-tank.
“Then it was quiet for about two years. When we began seeing evidence
that the missiles were showing up in Mali and other countries, the buzz
returned. But since then, it’s fallen off the radar because of other,
higher priority issues. And that’s troubling. These weapons can cause
catastrophic damage to a civilian or military aircraft, killing
hundreds of people.”
It’s unclear why no Libyan combatants have used the looted missiles to
target a civilian airliner. “That’s the million-dollar question,” says
Matthew Schroeder, a researcher for the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey,
another organisation that traces the source of weapons. Some analysts
note that many of the country’s armed groups have no military training
and don’t know how to operate the missiles. More important, they add,
the men who control Libya’s two biggest militias and aspire to lead the
country aren’t interested in downing a civilian plane, which would be
likely to halt flights in and out of the country.
Libya’s criminal gangs don’t want the airports closed because they
depend on them for smuggling. And with missiles fetching as much as
$12,000 (£8,400) on the black market, the militias prefer to sell them
when they need cash, notes Savannah de Tessières, a member of a UN
panel that is also investigating the whereabouts of the looted weapons.
In Egypt, however, anti-government jihadists haven’t shown such
restraint. In January 2014, Islamic fighters belonging to a group
called Ansar Bait al-Maqdis used what Egyptian and Israeli officials
say was a looted Libyan shoulder-held missile to shoot down an Egyptian
military helicopter in the Sinai, killing five soldiers. Later that
year, the group pledged its obedience to Isis. In November, Isis’s
Egyptian affiliate took credit for planting a bomb aboard a Russian
passenger jet, killing all 224 passengers and crew. The attack marked
the affiliate’s shift to Isis’s indiscriminate killing of civilians.
US, European and Arab officials now fear the Libyan civil war may lead
to Isis missile attacks against civilian planes in North and West
Africa, as well as in Europe. The chaos in Libya has allowed Isis to
carve out a 150-mile enclave along the country’s central Mediterranean
coast, with the city of Sirte at its centre. The Pentagon says the
group has as many as 6,500 fighters in the country, but other
intelligence sources say the group’s ranks are swelling rapidly,
putting the number of Isis combatants in Libya at 10,000.
Intelligence officials say the group’s growing presence in Libya is
part of a larger strategic plan. As Isis loses territory and oil
revenue to coalition forces in Syria and Iraq, its leaders view Libya
as a redoubt on which it can fall back, a new source of oil money and a
base from which to spread its influence across North and sub-Saharan
Africa. From Libya, these sources say, Isis can also piggyback on the
refugee flow across the Mediterranean to strike at Europe.
For more than a month, President Obama has been under pressure from his
military and national security aides to launch a major bombing campaign
in Libya against Isis. So far, he’s resisted, opting instead to conduct
targeted air strikes on the group’s commanders and one of its training
camps along the Tunisian border. There are reports, however, that a
multinational force, made up of troops from Italy, Britain, France and
Spain, is poised to take on Isis on the ground in Libya, with the US
providing special operations troops, as well as logistical and air
support. But the Americans and the Europeans won’t agree to the
operation until Libya’s rival factions form a unity government.
In the meantime, some of the more unsettling predictions about Isis in
Libya may prove prescient. In February, Isis said it shot down a Libyan
government MiG-23 fighter jet west of Benghazi as it bombed an
unaffiliated Islamist militia. The group released a video of the
attack, which the internationally recognised government in Tobruk
confirmed. After analysing the video, US intelligence officials say it
appears Isis used a missile to bring down the aircraft. Isis claims it
has downed two other Libyan warplanes with missiles since January, but
the government insists both crashed because of “technical problems”. If
the next plane is a civilian airliner, that excuse may not fly.
U.S. Scrambles to Contain Growing ISIS Threat in Libya
By ERIC SCHMITT
FEB. 21, 2016
The New York Times
THIES, Senegal — The Islamic State’s branch in Libya is deepening its
reach across a wide area of Africa, attracting new recruits from
countries like Senegal that had been largely immune to the jihadist
propaganda — and forcing the African authorities and their Western
allies to increase efforts to combat the fast-moving threat.
The American airstrikes in northwestern Libya on Friday, which
demolished an Islamic State training camp and were aimed at a top
Tunisian operative, underscore the problem, Western officials said. The
more than three dozen suspected Islamic State fighters killed in the
bombing were recruited from Tunisia and other African countries,
officials said, and were believed to be rehearsing an attack against
Even as American intelligence agencies say the number of Islamic State
fighters in Iraq and Syria has dropped to about 25,000 from a high of
about 31,500, partly because of the United States-led air campaign
there, the group’s ranks in Libya have roughly doubled in the same
period, to about 6,500 fighters. More than a dozen American and allied
officials spoke of their growing concern about the militant
organization’s expanding reach from Libya and across Africa on rules of
anonymity because the discussions involved intelligence and military
Islamic State leaders in Syria are telling recruits traveling north
from West African nations like Senegal and Chad, as well as others
streaming up through Sudan in eastern Africa, not to press on to the
Middle East. Instead, they are being told to stay put in Libya.
American intelligence officials, who described the recent orders from
Islamic State leaders, say the organization’s immediate goal is to
carve out a new caliphate in Libya, and there are signs the affiliate
is trying to establish statelike institutions there.
“Libya has become a magnet for individuals not only inside of Libya,
but from the African continent as well as from outside,” John O.
Brennan, the director of the C.I.A., told a Senate panel this month.
The rising threat from Libya comes as President Obama is being asked by
many of his top military and intelligence advisers to approve the
broader use of American military force in Libya to open another front
against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
While administration officials have disclosed that Mr. Obama is mulling
over how large of a military campaign to order for Libya, the new
intelligence reports and the analysis on the spread of the Islamic
State are energizing the high-level debate in Washington and allied
“The jihadist threat emanating from Syria and Iraq cannot be defused
without addressing the growing danger posed by the terror groups’
co-conspirators in Libya,” Representative Devin Nunes, a California
Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday.
Before resorting to any wider military action, however, the White House
and Western allies like Britain, Italy and France are trying to help
create a unity government in Libya. The goal is to use such a new
central authority to rally dozens of fractious militias to fight
against a common enemy — the Islamic State. American and European
Special Operations forces could help advise and assist those militias,
“Our strong preference, as has always been the case, is to train
Libyans to fight,” Mr. Obama said last week at a news conference in
California. “There’s a whole bunch of constituencies who are hardened
fighters and don’t ascribe to ISIS or their perverted ideology. But
they have to be organized and can’t be fighting each other.”
As a result, the administration and its allies are taking several steps
to prepare to train Libyan troops, should a newly formed unity
government request such aid. They are also rushing to bolster pivotal
African allies outside of Libya as a bulwark against Islamic State
expansion on the continent.
The Pentagon has proposed spending $200 million this year to help train
and equip the armies and security forces of North and West African
countries. The United States is about to break ground on a new $50
million drone base in Agadez, Niger, that will allow Reaper
surveillance aircraft to fly hundreds of miles closer to southern Libya.
Col. Mahamane Laminou Sani, Niger’s top intelligence officer, said in
an interview that his country had increased its border patrols against
the threat in neighboring Libya, and French troops stationed in Niger’s
far north are doing the same.
“It’s a global threat that is not restricted by borders,” said Lt. Col.
Moussa Mboup, a Senegalese Army operations officer who had trained in
the United States and France. He spoke here during the Pentagon’s
annual Flintlock military exercise with 1,800 African troops, United
States Army Special Forces and other Western commando trainers, which
ends later this month.
The Islamic State in Libya is now the most dangerous of the group’s
eight affiliates, counterterrorism officials say. About half a dozen
senior Islamic State lieutenants have arrived from Syria in recent
months to build up the franchise, these officials say.
New United States and allied intelligence assessments say that Islamic
State commanders in Libya are seizing territory there, starting to tax
its residents and setting up quasi-government institutions — mirroring
the Islamic State playbook in Syria and Iraq.
“They’re trying to establish a statewide structure,” Brett McGurk, Mr.
Obama’s envoy to the United States-led coalition fighting the Islamic
State, told American lawmakers this month.
The militant group is also starting to move in on the lucrative African
migrant-smuggling operations that have been thriving in lawless Libya,
developing a new source of revenue for the terror group.
American officials caution that while the Islamic State’s Libya branch
is trying to act like its parent organization in Syria, the affiliate
faces some inherent limitations.
The Libya branch, unlike its Syria headquarters, does not control any
oil fields that can generate revenue, although it has attacked some of
the fields in eastern Libya.
The banks the franchise has seized in its stronghold of Surt were not
as flush as the banks in Mosul — having around $500 million, by some
accounts — when the Islamic State conquered that northern Iraqi city in
American officials say the main source of revenue for the Libya branch
is taxation and extorting fees from residents who live or businesses
that operate in the 150-mile swath of territory they control in and
The Islamic State in Libya is swelling its ranks through one of the
main means its parent in Syria uses: a savvy social media campaign
aimed at enticing disaffected young people who are facing few education
options and bleak economic futures in their countries.
Indeed, intelligence officials said there was emerging evidence that
the Islamic State had turned to its affiliate in Nigeria — the Islamic
militant organization called Boko Haram, which was formerly aligned
with Al Qaeda — to poach young commanders and fighters from Al Qaeda’s
affiliate in northwest Africa and from its Shabab franchise in Somalia.
Previous attempts by senior Islamic State leaders to reach out directly
to those Qaeda groups received the silent treatment, the officials
said. But the new approach, while still in its early stages, seems to
be gaining traction.
The Senegalese authorities recently reported that 30 men had gone to
Libya to fight with the Islamic State there, trends that officials in
Niger, Nigeria and Mali have also noticed.
As the Islamic State pushes closer to some of the poorer countries of
the Sahel region, like Niger and Mauritania, the authorities here
believe there will be no shortage of unemployed young men who are eager
to join the fight.
To help fight that trend, Special Forces from 30 African and Western
countries are participating in a three-week counterterrorism training
exercise here on this sprawling army encampment 35 miles outside Dakar
that is also home to Senegal’s military academy.
On several shooting ranges, dotted with massive baobab trees, American,
Canadian, Dutch and Belgian trainers worked with soldiers from Niger
Some troops were practicing first aid; others were shooting at
close-range targets. The Belgians were leading a more difficult
training exercise in which the African soldiers approached fortified
targets from afar, and then assaulted the targets from several
different directions — as they would in an actual raid.
With help from Dutch Marines and American Special Forces, Senegal is
also training a new force to patrol its watery northern border with
Mauritania, and it is deploying troops to neighboring Mali to help a
United Nations force stymie Qaeda and other militant fighters there.
“ISIS is spreading even to here,” said Col. Guirane Ndiaye, a
Senegalese zone commander. “If we do not have a multinational effort,
ISIS will spread even more.”
Libya Truck Bombing Kills at Least 60 Policemen, Wounds 200
By ESSAM MOHAMED
Libya — Jan 8, 2016
A massive truck bomb exploded near a police base in the western Libyan
town of Zliten on Thursday, killing at least 60 policemen and wounding
around 200 others, officials said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but a local
Islamic State affiliate has been trying to gain a foothold in Zliten,
spreading westward from its central stronghold in the city of Sirte
along the North African country's coast.
The U.N. special envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, denounced the attack
and urged Libyans to "put their differences aside and unite to confront
the scourge of terrorism." U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned
the attack as well as ongoing attacks by the Islamic State group on oil
facilities near Sidra and called for a national unity government as
"the best way for Libyans to confront terrorism in all its forms."
The bombing was yet another reminder for Libyans that "urgent progress
is required" toward empowering a new unity government and rebuilding
state bodies, Kobler said in a statement.
Hours after the blast, rescue crews at the scene had only managed to
extract 60 bodies out of the wreckage, said a hospital spokesman,
Moamar Kaddi. Libyan officials said they believed there might be dozens
The police base, where about 400 recruits were training, was used by
Libya's border police, a Zliten security official said. Border police
foiled numerous human smuggling attempts off the coast of Zliten last
year. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not
authorized to speak to the media.
In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday that
the U.S. has not yet determined who is responsible for carrying out a
"cowardly act of terrorism" and extended condolences to the victims and
the families of those who were killed, and to the Libyan people.
Earnest said the U.S. remains "deeply concerned" about Islamic
State-inspired militants carrying out acts of violence in Libya.
Smugglers operating in Libya are notorious for responding with violence
to any attempt to disrupt their lucrative operations, but there have
been no reported incidents in which they used car bombs, suggesting
that Islamic militants are more likely to have been behind Thursday's
attack. Also, it was not immediately clear whether the attack was a
suicide bombing, a hallmark method of Islamic militants.
In recent years, thousands of migrants seeking a better life in Europe
sailed from Libya on rickety, overcrowded boats. Hundreds have drowned
in those crossings.
Libya slid into chaos following the 2011 toppling and killing of
longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The oil-rich country is torn between
an Islamist government based in the capital, Tripoli, and a rival,
internationally recognized administration in the east. Meanwhile, a
U.N.-supported unity government sits in neighboring Tunisia.
Residents in Libyan coastal cities have long expressed fears of the
variety of smugglers and traffickers who run lucrative operations along
the Mediterranean Sea. Authorities have echoed the same concerns,
claiming they are unable to fully tackle these networks without
Western Officials Alarmed as ISIS Expands Territory in Libya
By SULIMAN ALI ZWAY and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
MAY 31, 2015
The New York Times
Libya — The branch of the Islamic State that controls Surt has expanded
its territory and pushed back the militia from the neighboring city of
Misurata, militia leaders acknowledged Sunday.
the group’s latest attack, a suicide bomber killed at least four
fighters on Sunday at a checkpoint west of Misurata on the coastal road
to Tripoli, according to local officials and Libyan news reports.
continued expansion inside Libya of the group, also known as ISIS or
ISIL, has alarmed Western officials because of its proximity to Europe,
across the Mediterranean.
years after the removal of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the near collapse
of the Libyan government has left no central authority to check the
group’s advance or even partner with Western military efforts against
armed factions, each with its own paper government, are fighting for
control, and each has focused more on internal quarrels than on
defeating the Islamic State.
group’s expanding turf in Libya also gives it an alternative base of
operations even as it appears to be gaining ground in other regions —
in Palmyra in Syria and in Ramadi in Iraq.
Foreigners arrested for trying to spread Christianity in Libya
February 17, 2013
(REUTERS) - Four foreigners have been arrested in the eastern Libyan
city of Benghazi on suspicion of being Christian missionaries and
printing books about Christianity, a security official said on Saturday.
"They were arrested
on Tuesday at a publishing house where they were printing thousands of
books that called for conversion to Christianity," security official
Hussein Bin Hmeid said.
forbidden in Libya. We are a 100 per cent Muslim country and this kind
of action affects our national security." Mr Hmeid said the
government-affiliated security apparatus called the Preventative
Security, for which he is a spokesman, had arrested an Egyptian, a
South African, a Korean and a Swede who was travelling on a US passport.
"We are still
holding interrogations and will hand them over to the Libyan
intelligence authorities in a couple of days," Mr Hmeid said, without
giving further details.
As Muslim terrorists threaten attacks in Benghazi, Westerners flee
Great Britain, Germany, the
Netherlands and Australia urge their citizens to leave the Libyan city
because of possible reprisals over French action in Mali. Various
Jihadists groups have formed an alliance in North Africa with bases in
southern Libya and Mali.
Benghazi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Great
Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia have urged their
citizens to leave the Libyan city of Benghazi due to a "specific,
imminent threat to Westerners", linked to French action in Mali and the
danger of new kidnappings by Muslim extremists.
According to British diplomatic
sources, Islamists have threatened to carry out attacks against Western
targets like the one on the US consulate on 11 September 2011 in which
US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans
Over the past two years since the
anti-Gaddafi war, Benghazi has been one of the main recruiting centres
for Islamic extremists and al-Qaeda fighters.
A senior Algerian officer claimed
that the organisers of the Benghazi consulate attack are the same who
seized the gas Tigantourine field in (in In Amenas, south-eastern
Algeria) that left 38 hostages and 29 Muslim extremists dead.
The group recruited by Mokhtar Belmokhtar included several Egyptian jihadists active in Libya.
Sources in Algiers said that
Mohamed-Lamine Bouchneb, the militant leading the attack at the site,
had purchased arms for the assault in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
The kidnappers gathered,
undisturbed, at the southern Libyan town of Ghat, just across the
border from Algeria, before their attack.
It is becoming clear that al Qaeda
is spreading in the Sahara. On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton spoke to Congress about the events in Benghazi, warning that
Jihadist groups have formed a complex alliance in North Africa with
southern Libya and Mali as their main bases.
Indeed, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the
veteran militant who claimed overall responsibility for the
Tigantourine attack, is believed to be based in Mali.
US State Department officials have
said that some members of Ansar al-Shariah, the group that carried out
the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, had connections to al
Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, one of the militant groups now holding
Libya Attack Brings Challenges for U.S.
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and STEVEN LEE MYERS
Published: September 12, 2012
The New York Times
CAIRO — Islamist militants armed
with antiaircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades stormed a
lightly defended United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya,
late Tuesday, killing the American ambassador and three members of his
staff and raising fresh questions about the radicalization of countries
swept up in the Arab Spring.
The ambassador, J. Christopher
Stevens, was missing almost immediately after the start of an intense,
four-hour firefight for control of the mission, and his body was not
located until Wednesday morning at dawn, when he was found dead at a
Benghazi hospital, American and Libyan officials said. It was the first
time since 1979 that an American ambassador had died in a violent
American and European officials said
that while many details about the attack remained unclear, the
assailants seemed organized, well trained and heavily armed and
appeared to have at least some level of advanced planning. But
the officials cautioned that it was too soon to tell whether the attack
was related to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Fighters involved in the assault,
which was spearheaded by a Islamist brigade formed during last year’s
uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, said in interviews during the
battle that they were moved to attack the mission by anger over a
14-minute, American-made video that depicted the Prophet Muhammad,
Islam’s founder, as a villainous, homosexual and child-molesting
buffoon. Their attack followed by just a few hours the storming of the
compound surrounding the United States Embassy in Cairo by an unarmed
mob protesting the same video. On Wednesday, new crowds of protesters
gathered outside the United States Embassies in Tunis and in Cairo.
The wave of unrest set off by the
video, posted online in the United States two months ago and dubbed
into Arabic for the first time eight days ago, has further underscored
the instability of the countries that cast off their longtime dictators
in the Arab Spring revolts. It also cast doubt on the adequacy of
security preparations at American diplomatic outposts in the volatile
Benghazi, awash in guns, has
recently witnessed a string of assassinations as well as attacks on
international missions, including a bomb said to be planted by another
Islamist group that exploded near the United States Consulate there as
recently as June. But a Libyan politician who had breakfast with Mr.
Stevens at the mission the morning before he was killed described
security as sorely inadequate for an American ambassador in such a
tumultuous environment, consisting primarily of four video cameras and
as few as four Libyan guards.
“This country is still in transition, and everybody knows the extremists are out there,” said Fathi Baja, the Libyan politician.
Obama Vows Justice
President Obama condemned the
killings, promised to bring the assailants to justice, and ordered
tighter security at all American diplomatic installations. The
administration also sent 50 Marines to the Libyan capital, Tripoli, to
help with security at the American Embassy there, and ordered all
nonemergency personnel to leave Libya and warned Americans not to
travel there. A senior defense official said Wednesday night that the
Pentagon was moving two warships toward the Libyan coast as a
“These four Americans stood up for
freedom and human dignity,” Mr. Obama said in a televised statement
from the White House Rose Garden, where he stood with Secretary of
State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Make no mistake, we will work with the
Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our
In Tripoli, Libyans leaders also vowed to track down the attackers and stressed their unity with Washington.
Yussef Magariaf, president of the
newly elected Libyan National Congress, offered “an apology to the
United States and the Arab people, if not the whole world, for what
happened.” He pledged new measures to ensure the security of foreign
diplomats and companies. “We together with the United States government
are on the same side, standing in a united front in the face of these
Obama administration officials and
regional officials scrambled to sort out conflicting reports about the
nature of the attack and the motivation of the attackers on Wednesday.
A senior Obama administration officials told reporters during a
conference call that “it was clearly a complex attack,” but offered no
Col. Wolfgang Pusztai, who until
early August was Austria’s defense attaché to Libya and visited the
country every month, said in an e-mail that he believed the attack was
“deliberately planned and executed” by about a core group of 30 to 40
assailants who were “well trained and organized.” But he said the
reports from some terrorism experts that the attack may be linked to
the recent death in drone strikes of senior Qaeda leaders, including
Abu Yahya al-Libi, were so far unsupported.
A translated version of the video
that set off the uprising arrived first in Egypt before reaching the
rest of the Islamic world. Its author, whose identity is now a mystery,
devoted the video’s prologue to caricatured depictions of Egyptian
Muslims abusing Egyptian Coptic Christians while Egyptian police
officers stood by. It was publicized last week by an American Coptic
Christian activist, Morris Sadek, well known here for his scathing
attacks on Islam.
Mr. Sadek promoted the video in
tandem with a declaration by Terry Jones — a Florida pastor best known
for burning the Koran and promoting what he called “International Judge
Muhammad Day” on Sept. 11.
The video began attracting attention
in the Egyptian news media, including the broadcast of offensive scenes
on Egyptian television last week. At that point, American diplomats in
Cairo informed the State Department of the festering outrage in the
days before the Sept. 11 anniversary, said a person briefed on their
concerns. But officials in Washington declined to address or disavow
the video, this person said.
By late afternoon, hundreds had
gathered in mostly peaceful protest outside the United States Embassy
here under the oversight of a large contingent of Egyptian security
forces. But around 6 p.m., after the end of the work day and television
news coverage of the event, the crowd began to swell, including a group
of rowdy young soccer fans.
Then, around 6:30 p.m., a small
group of protesters — one official briefed on the events put it around
20 — brought a ladder to the wall of the compound and quickly scaled
it, gaining entrance to the ground. Embassy officials asked the
Egyptian government to remove the infiltrators without using weapons or
force, to avoid inflaming the situation, this official said. (An
embassy official said that contrary to reports on Tuesday, no one fired
weapons in the air.)But it then took the Egyptian security officers
five hours to remove the intruders, leaving them ample time to run
around the grounds, deface American flags, and hoist the black flag
favored by Islamic ultraconservatives and labeled with Islam’s most
basic expression of faith, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is
It is unclear if television footage
of Islamist protesters may have inspired the attack on the embassy in
Benghazi, a Libyan city near Egypt that had been a hotbed of opposition
to Colonel Qaddafi, and that remains unruly since the uprising in that
country resulted in his death. But Tuesday night, a group of armed
assailants mixed with unarmed demonstrators gathered at the small
compound that housed a temporary American diplomatic mission there.
The ambassador, Mr. Stevens, was
visiting the city Tuesday from the United States Embassy compound in
Tripoli to attend the planned opening of an American cultural center in
Benghazi, and was staying at the mission. It is not clear if the
assailants knew that the ambassador was staying at the mission
Interviewed at the scene on Tuesday
night, many of the attackers and those who backed them said they were
determined to defend their faith from the insults in the video. Some
recalled an earlier episode when protesters in Benghazi had burned down
the Italian consulate after an Italian minister had worn a T-shirt
emblazoned with cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Ten people were
reportedly killed in clashes with Colonel Qaddafi’s police.
The assault was led by a brigade of
Islamist fighters known as Ansar al-Sharia, or the Supporters of
Islamic Law. Members of the brigade emphasized at the time that they
were not acting alone, however, and on Wednesday, perhaps apprehensive
over the death of the American ambassador, said in a statement that its
supporters “were not officially involved or were not ordered to be
involved” in the attack.
At the same time, however, the
brigade praised those who protested as “the best of the best” of the
Libyan people and supported their response to the video “in the
strongest possible terms.”
There were conflicting accounts of
how Mr. Stevens had died. One witness to the mayhem around the compound
on Tuesday said militants chased him to a safe house and lobbed
grenades at the location, where he was later found unconscious,
apparently from smoke inhalation, and could not be revived by rescuers
who took him to a hospital.
An unidentified Libyan official in
Benghazi told Reuters that Mr. Stevens and three staff members were
killed in Benghazi “when gunmen fired rockets at them.” The Libyan
official said the ambassador was being driven from the consulate
building to a safer location when gunmen opened fire, Reuters said.
In Italy, the Web site of the
newspaper Corriere della Sera showed images of what it said was the
American Consulate in Benghazi ablaze with men carrying automatic
rifles and waving V-for-victory signs, silhouetted against the burning
buildings. One photograph showed a man closely resembling Mr. Stevens
apparently unconscious, his face seeming to be smudged with smoke and
his eyes closed.
Mr. Stevens, conversant in Arabic
and French, had worked at the State Department since 1991 after a spell
as an international trade lawyer in Washington. He taught English as a
Peace Corps volunteers in Morocco from 1983 to 1985, the State
Department Web site said.
According to the State Department,
five American ambassadors had been killed by terrorists before the
attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi. The most recent was
Adolph Dubs, killed after being kidnapped in Afghanistan in 1979. The
others were John Gordon Mein, in Guatemala in 1968; Cleo A. Noel Jr.,
in Sudan in 1973; Rodger P. Davies, in Cyprus in 1974; and Francis E.
Meloy Jr., in Lebanon in 1976.
Witnesses and State Department
officials said that the attack began almost immediately after the
protesters and the brigade arrived at about 10 p.m., according to the
department officials. Witnesses said the brigade started the attack by
firing a rocket-propelled grenade at the gate of the mission’s main
facility. American officials said that by 10:15 the attackers had
gained entrance to the main building.
A second wave of assailants arrived soon after and swarmed into the compound, witnesses said.
“They expected that there would more
American commandos in there. They went in with guns blazing, with
R.P.G.’s,” said Mohamed Ali, a relative of the landlord who rents the
building to the American mission and who watched the battle.
Wanis al-Sharif, the deputy interior
minister of Libya, made a series of somewhat contradictory and
defensive-sounding statements about the circumstances surround the
attack on Wednesday.
He acknowledged that he had ordered
the withdrawal of security forces from the scene in the early stages of
the protest on Wednesday night. He said his initial instinct was to
avoid inflaming the situation by risking a confrontation with people
angry about the video.
He also said that he underestimated
the aggression of the protesters. But he also criticized the small
number of guards inside the diplomatic mission for shooting back in
self defense, saying their response probably further provoked the
The small number of Libyans guarding
the facility, estimated at only six, did not hold out long against the
attackers, who had substantial firepower, the interior minister and
State Department officials said. Defending the facility would have been
a “suicide mission,” Mr. Sharif said.
Mr. Sharif also faulted the
Americans at the mission for failing to heed what he said was the
Libyan government’s advice to pull its personnel or beef up its
security, especially in light of the recent violence in the city and
the likelihood that the video would provoke protests. “What is weird is
that they refrained from this procedure, depending instead on the
simple protection that they had,” Mr. Sharif said. “What happened later
is beyond our control and they are responsible for part of what
The attackers broke into the
compound around 10:15 and soon the main building was on fire and under
heavy fire from outside. Only Mr. Stevens, an aide named Sean Smith and
a State Department security officer were inside the main building at
the time. As it filled with smoke, security officers recovered Mr.
Smith’s body, but were driven out again by the firefight, according to
senior administration officials. Mr. Stevens, however, could not be
found and was somehow lost for the rest of the night.
It took another hour — until 11:20 —
before American and Libyan forces recaptured the main building and
evacuated the entire staff to an annex nearly a mile away. The
militants followed and the fighting continued there until 2:30 in the
morning, when Libyan security reinforcements arrived and managed to
gain control of both compounds.
David D. Kirkpatrick reported from
Cairo, and Steven Lee Myers from Washington. Reporting was contributed
by Osama Alfitory and Suleiman Ali Zway from Benghazi, Libya; Mai Ayyad
from Cairo; Eric Schmitt and Scott Shane from Washington; and Alan
Cowell from London.
Libyan Islamists must have share in power, warns leader
Abdul Hakim Belhaj, head of Tripoli Military Council, issues warning after administration negotiations founder
Ian Black in Tripoli
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 27 September 2011 14.46 EDT
groups "will not allow" secular politicians to exclude or marginalise
them in the intensifying battle for power in the post-Gaddafi era, the
country's most powerful Islamist leader has said.
Abdel Hakim Belhaj,
head of the Tripoli Military Council and founder of a jihadi group that
was later disbanded, appears to be firing a shot across the bows of
liberal, western-backed rivals after negotiations over broadening the
rebel administration foundered.
"We must resist
attempts by some Libyan politicians to exclude some of the participants
in the revolution," Belhaj writes in the Guardian. "Their political
myopia renders them unable to see the huge risks of such exclusion, or
the serious ... reaction of the parties that are excluded."
More than a month
since Tripoli fell to rebel brigades backed by Nato, the National
Transitional Council (NTC) has failed to expand to be more
representative, generating a sense of division and drift about the
future that western diplomats and many Libyans admit is worrying.
It is now clear
there will be no deal before the liberation of the whole country is
formally declared. That requires the defeat of Gaddafi loyalists in the
deposed leader's coastal hometown of Sirte, where heavy fighting
continued on Tuesday. In Bani Walid, south of Tripoli, there is a
stalemate. "Consultations have led to a decision to postpone the
formation of a government until after liberation," NTC member Mustafa
el-Huni said in Benghazi. The scale of the political challenge ahead is
enormous in a country that has not held an election since 1952 and is
just emerging from 41 years of dictatorship.
Belhaj – who was
transferred to Libya with the help of the CIA and MI6 to serve seven
years in Gaddafi's most infamous prison – was the head of the Libyan
Islamic Fighting Group, which fought in Afghanistan until abandoning
its jihadi ideas and disbanding in 2009. It then became the Libyan
Islamic Movement for Change.
He is seen as the
leader of the country's Islamist camp, his own and like-minded rebel
brigades directly armed and financed by the Gulf state of Qatar, and
his military council effectively controlling the capital. The Libyan
national army, which includes many former Gaddafi officers, and answers
to the NTC, looks like the junior partner.
Belhaj is close to
Ali Sallabi, an influential cleric who lived in exile before returning
after the start of the revolution in Benghazi. Sallabi angered many
Libyans in a recent interview with Qatari-owned al-Jazeera TV in which
he directly attacked Mahmoud Jibril, the NTC's prime minister-designate.
Jibril is a
technocratic figure who did much to drum up western support for the
Libyan rebels but he has emerged as the focus for bitter debates about
Jibril is resented
by some for his role in promoting economic development under the aegis
of Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the former leader's son, who was embraced
by the west as a reformer until the uprising.
Jalil, the NTC head, had already acknowledged that "differences in
views" had delayed a deal, which is also complicated by regional
suffered badly during the uprising, is insistent that its position be
recognised. "We are faced with the Libyan mentality that every tribe,
every region, every city has a share in the new government," Jibril
One analyst in
Tripoli said: "Jibril and others appear to be offering an expanded NTC
with some extra ministerial posts, but those outside want something
much more fundamental - a fully representative council which would then
elect a transitional government."
Nato said on
Tuesday that about 200,000 Libyan civilians were still threatened by
Gaddafi loyalists, mainly in Sirte and Bani Walid. "Remaining Gaddafi
forces refuse to recognise their defeat," said a spokesman. RAF
Tornados were said to have been in action on both fronts on Monday,
hitting ammunition stores, a psychological warfare centre and a firing
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