At least nine people have been killed in Benghazi as the military has clashed with Islamist extremists. It is believed that casualties have been suffered among both the Islamists and the military. The most recent clash centered around an Ansar al-Sharia checkpoint.
A loosely-aligned network of militias was the key to overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi, who fought for months to maintain control of his country. After Western intervention and air support, the militias were able to overthrow his government. Gaddafi was eventually caught and controversially executed without trial.
Libyan militias have varying histories
While many of the militias formed before and during the war are moderate and were simply looking to see Gaddafi thrown from power, some hold more extremist views. Ansar al-Sharia, which is suspected of killing American Ambassador Christopher Stevens in 2012, has emerged as one of the most powerful and influential anti-government groups. So far, however, Ansar al-Sharia and the government have rarely engaged in serious combat. The most recent gunfight marks one of the most serious clashes since Gaddafi was toppled.
Tensions have continued to rise in recent weeks and Prime Minister Ali Zeidan recently asked all militias to leave the capital of Tripoli after several protesters were killed and injured by members of various militias. Many militia members have indeed pulled out of the capital as the government deployed some 2,000 troops to both speed up the evacuation and fill the power vacuum.
As the Libyan government struggles to form a cohesive body capable of ruling Libya, the militias may represent the most serious threat to the country’s long-term stability. Meanwhile, the government itself remains fractured along political and tribal lines, making it difficult for it to form a united identity capable of ruling the civil war torn country.
Recent clash involved militia-controlled checkpoint
The most recent clash came after a civilian was stopped at an Ansar al-Sharia manned checkpoint. When militia members found that the civilian was carrying a weapon, they dragged him from his car and beat him. In response, Libyan Special Forces moved in and fighting quickly erupted. At least nine people were killed and another forty-nine were injured.
Interior Minister Sidiq Abdel-Karim has stressed that the most recent clash proves why all illegal armed groups must be disarmed. He has also warned that engaging in conflict with the army is a “red line” and must not be crossed. The army has begun to ramp up its presence in Benghazi due to the recent battle. It is believed, however, that behind-the-scenes talks are currently underway to deescalate tensions.
The most recent clash shows how fragile Libya has become in the wake of the collapse of the Gaddafi regime. While Libya is more stable than other post-Arab Spring nations, such as Egypt, it remains on unstable ground. If the government is not careful, it could face a militia led insurrection, and with many of the militias holding ties to tribes, it could quickly spread into a wider conflict. At the same time, if the government never confronts the militias, it may never gain control of the country.