- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2013

Libya’s deteriorating security was evident Monday when troops and armed civilians in Benghazi clashed with members of a militant group blamed for the attack last year that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.

At least nine people died in fighting Monday with the terrorist group, Ansar al-Sharia, according to multiple sources in Libya’s eastern city.

The Libyan army’s special forces joined the civilians in the attack against the militants, as Prime Minister Ali Zeidan rushed to Benghazi.

The clashes in the chaotic North African nation marked the latest outburst against militants, who have flourished since the overthrow of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi two years ago.

“What we have is civilians standing up in the name of the revolution saying, ‘We have had enough,’” said William Lawrence, a North Africa analyst and a professor at George Washington University.

U.S. officials have blamed Ansar al-Sharia for the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, which killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, State Department officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.

Angry Benghazi residents drove Ansar al-Sharia out of the city after the attack last year, but the militants have returned.

Security in Libya has steadily deteriorated as Mr. Zeidan’s government has tried, but mostly failed, to bring militias under its control.

Extremists have exploited what one U.S. official described as a “fluid” situation.

“The extremist footprint in Libya is growing,” said the U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The official explained that local terrorist groups such as Ansar al-Sharia operate alongside al Qaeda-linked militants like the Jamal Network in Egypt and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in North Africa.

“This extremist universe lacks coherence, but the threat to Western interests is serious and persistent,” the official said.

Western nations — including the United States and its NATO allies that helped rebels topple Gadhafi’s regime — have been alarmed by the threat posed to Libya by the former revolutionaries who have banded together as lawless militias trying to control pockets of the country.

These concerns were at the top of the agenda when Secretary of State John F. Kerry and British Foreign Secretary William Hague met Mr. Zeidan in London on Sunday.

“The prime minister informed us of a transformation that he believes is beginning to take place and could take place because the people of Libya have spoken out and pushed back against the militias,” Mr. Kerry said after the meeting.

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