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9 people have been killed in Benghazi following clashes between Libya’s regular army and fighters from the Ansar al-Sharia group. At least 47 other people were injured in the confrontation.
The fighting began shortly after a suspect being pursued by the Army sought refuge in a region of Benghazi controlled by the Ansar al Sharia. It is reported that the army moved in when a man was brutally assaulted at a checkpoint manned by the group, which is believed to have ties to foreign Islamist extremist groups and was also implicated in last year’s attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.
The confrontation was largely confined to the Ras Obeida neighborhood of Benghazi, where residents were warned to stay indoors as the army battled the Islamists. The fighting started around 2 am local time and persisted into the morning.
The clash on Monday was the most serious between the official army and the Islamist group, and serves to further highlight the tenuous security Libyans have in the post-Gaddafi era.
Most militias that sprung up to fight Gaddafi have essentially refused to give up their arms, or let themselves serve as part of the regular army. Benghazi, the birthplace of the revolution that ultimately toppled Gaddafi, has borne the brunt of incessant infighting between the many militias that claim a fiefdom in Libya’s eastern region. There have been suicide bombs, assassinations and all manner of violent activity in the region. In the past week, a tribal chief, a judge and two policemen have been killed.
Whether or not the militia groups in Benghazi will leave the city in the same manner as the Tripoli militias agreed to vacate is yet to be tested, but the disarmament of all these groups is all overdue.
By Matengo Chwanya