Benghazi, Libya, deteriorating into security nightmare

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Security in Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city where four Americans were killed Sept. 11 in a terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate, has decayed to the point where Westerners are fleeing, assassinations and kidnappings are rife and residents worry that U.S. drone strikes on jihadist targets are imminent.

“The situation has obviously deteriorated. It is a systematic deterioration,” said longtime Benghazi resident Jalal Elgallal, who was spokesman of the now-defunct National Transitional Council.

Mr. Elgallal recently escaped harm from a nearby bomb blast as he waited in his car at a traffic light.

“We don’t do a lot of going out now,” he said in a phone interview from Benghazi. “There is uncertainty about what is going to happen in the very near future.”

In the 15 months since dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed, Benghazi — the cradle of the Libyan revolution — has been besieged by rampant violence, much of it resulting from score-settling between the heavily armed militias that control the city and those who served in the Gadhafi regime.

“It has been a series of attacks, kidnappings and assassinations,” William Lawrence, director of the North Africa project of the International Crisis Group, said in a phone interview from Morocco. “The general situation in Libya continues to be bad, primarily because of the weak security infrastructure that existed before and after Gadhafi.”

In January, Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and Canada urged their citizens to leave Benghazi. The British Foreign Office said it was aware of “a specific and imminent threat to Westerners in Benghazi.”

Several nongovernmental organizations already have left.

The violence has spread to the western city of Misrata and the south, where Mohamed Yousef al-Megariaf, president of Libya’s General National Congress, escaped an assassination attempt early in January.

Over the past year, militants in Benghazi have attacked the British envoy’s motorcade, the offices of the International Red Cross, the U.S. Consulate and Italy’s top diplomat in Libya. The Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, State Department officer Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.

Westerners are not the only targets.

At least two dozen security officers, including Benghazi’s police chief, have been killed over the past year. The head of the criminal investigative division, who was investigating the police chief’s death, was abducted and is still missing.

A regional concern

Libya’s weak government, police force and judiciary have done little to arrest or prosecute those responsible for the attacks.

“The Libyan government does not have the strength” to tackle this problem, said Karim Mezran, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. “The government has been paralyzed and has allowed the jihadist groups to establish camps in the south and in the east.”

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About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.

 

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