Libya arrests 50 in connection with attacks
THE HEAD of Libya’s national congress announced yesterday that about 50 people had been arrested in connection with the killing of US ambassador Chris Stevens in an attack which he said was planned by foreign al-Qaeda-linked elements working with local sympathisers.
Mr Stevens and three other Americans died on Tuesday night when assailants besieged the US consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi, firing on the compound with rocket-propelled grenades and setting it on fire. Mr Stevens is believed to have died as a result of smoke inhalation.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has claimed in a statement that the attack was revenge for the killing in a US drone strike in June of al-Qaeda’s deputy leader Abu Yahya al-Libi, who was from Libya. AQAP did not claim direct responsibility for the Benghazi attack.
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, told ABC’s This Week programme yesterday that there was no evidence the attack was pre-planned. She claimed it began with a small “spontaneous” protest over a US-made film criticising Islam that has sparked violent demonstrations in several Muslim-majority countries over the past week.
“And then as [the protest] unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons. And it then evolved from there,” she said.
But this assessment was at odds with that offered by Mohammed Magariaf, president of the Libyan National Congress.
“The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous,” Mr Magariaf told US radio station NPR. “We firmly believe that this was a pre-calculated, pre-planned attack that was carried out specifically to attack the US consulate.”
In his interview with NPR, Mr Magariaf said there was evidence to suggest that some elements of Ansar al-Sharia, a radical faction in eastern Libya, were used as tools by foreign citizens with ties to al-Qaeda to attack the consulate. Ansar al-Sharia, which declared Libya’s July elections un-Islamic, has denied involvement in the assault.
Mr Magariaf told CBS News that “a few” of those who joined in the attack were foreigners who had entered Libya “from different directions, some of them definitely from Mali and Algeria”.
“It was planned, definitely, it was planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago. And they were planning this criminal act since their arrival,” he told CBS.
The AQAP statement released over the weekend called for further violence against US diplomatic missions in the Middle East and Africa in response to the amateurish film, excerpts of which were first aired in Egyptian media outlets more than a week ago.
A total of 17 people have died in violence prompted by the film, including the four Americans killed in Benghazi, 11 protesters who died in clashes outside US diplomatic missions in Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen, and two US Marines killed when Taliban fighters stormed an air base in Afghanistan in an assault they said was in retaliation over the anti-Islam film.