Benghazi militia deny attack on consulate
LEADERS OF the hardline Benghazi-based militia accused of involvement in a deadly assault on the US consulate in the city last week have described the attack as “wrong” and insist none of its members were involved.
The consulate was besieged last Tuesday night by heavily armed men, some of whom fired rocket-propelled grenades into the compound and set it ablaze.
The attack resulted in the deaths of US ambassador Chris Stevens, who is believed to have died from smoke inhalation, and three other Americans.
Several senior members of Ansar al-Sharia, a brigade some claim took part in the assault, told The Irish Times the attack was an “emotional” response to a US-made film that denigrated Islam and the prophet Muhammad, but they disagreed with the action.
“We don’t see this kind of attack as a solution for the problem. It was wrong. The killing of the ambassador was not intentional – he died as a result of suffocation. It appears people did not even know he was inside the consulate at that time.”
Those interviewed, including overall leader Mohammed al-Zahawi, claimed none of the brigade’s members were involved and none were among the 50 people Libyan officials say have been arrested in connection with the attack. “If anybody says that some of our followers have taken part, we request that they bring forward proof,” the leaders said. “Those who are accusing us and blaming us are our opponents from the secularists.”
Witnesses say some of the assailants carried a black flag with an Islamic inscription used by Ansar al-Sharia. “This flag is not just ours. Many people, including other brigades, use this flag,” the leaders said. “This cannot count as proof that we were there.”
The president of Libya’s national congress, Mohammed Magariaf, has suggested the attack was planned by Libyan militants working with foreigners linked to al-Qaeda. Magariaf reportedly said US officials had intercepted communications between Ansar al-Sharia and al-Qaeda’s north African franchise.
“This is not true. We challenge anyone who claims that to prove it in reality,” the leaders said. “[Magariaf] is entitled to his opinion but what is needed from him is to provide proof for what he has said.”
The Benghazi militia, which has some 250 members, indicated that some confusion may have arisen because it is not the only outfit in Libya to use the name Ansar al-Sharia. Its leaders claim it does not co-operate with those other groups. “There is no relation between us.”
They said they had no information about who might have been behind the consulate attack but pointed a finger at remnants of the Gadafy regime. “We cannot exclude the hands of the Gadafy loyalists. Everything is possible in this case.” Asked how they would react if Libyan security forces moved on their Benghazi base, the Ansar al-Sharia leadership claimed they had been assured this would not happen by local security officials convinced of their innocence. “But an attack from the sky, from the Americans? Everything is possible,” the leaders said.
Asked if they had a message for the US government, the Ansar al-Sharia leadership said: “We are not happy with what happened to the consulate and the ambassador. At the same time, we would ask the American government to look into the reasons why all this has happened. There are people in the US trying to intimidate Muslims and insult their faith.
“The Muslims today are not like they were before. They cannot stand any action that would insult our Prophet or other symbols. We want a good relationship with the rest of the world, but not at the expense of the fundamentals of our faith.”