By George Grant and Mohamed Bujenah.
Benghazi, 16 December:
Security forces in Benghazi have arrested a man in connection with the assassination of former police chief Faraj Drissi, along with several other high profile killings that have taken place in Benghazi in the past few months.
The man was picked up in the past few days, but his arrest only became public following two assaults on the city’s police headquarters this morning, Sunday, by assailants attempting to set him free.
Two separate attacks took place on a police facility adjacent to where the man is being held, resulting in four fatalities. The first assault took place around 03:30, leading to the death one policemen, whilst three more were killed in a second attack around 05:30. The three policeman in the latter assault had been dispatched to the scene as reinforcements and were killed in their vehicle.
A senior source inside Benghazi’s police department has informed the Libya Herald that the man has implicated as many as seven leading Islamists.
The official stressed, however, that the man’s testimony would not be taken as proof of the aforementioned individuals’ involvement in the killings, and that further investigations would be required.
Opinion on the assassinations, which have resulted in the death of some 18 senior security officials and and more than 20 others so far this year, varies widely. Some in Benghazi insist that the killings are not connected, but are reprisals against former Qaddafi officers by individuals or their relatives who were abused by them during the period of the former regime. The vast majority of senior members of the regular army and police services in Benghazi previously served under the Qaddafi regime.
Others insist that the killings are connected and that there exists in Benghazi a death list drawn up by Islamist forces seeking to systematically eliminate senior security officials in the eastern city. It is said that these Islamists are trying to destabilise the security apparatus in Benghazi, as part of a broader power-struggle for control. They are also said to reject the regular security services as un-Islamic, not least because of the presence of so many Qaddafi-era officers within their ranks.
Whatever the case, one notable aspect of all the killings has been the fact that – prior to this arrest – none of those suspected of involvement had ever been caught. Not only are the police and judicial system still underdeveloped in Benghazi, as in the rest of Libya, but the security forces have also been deterred from making arrests for fear of reprisals.
This morning’s assault on the police headquarters may mark only the start of revenge attacks, especially if the individual in custody has as much information as is being reported. What remains to be seen, however, is if and when the security services act on that information to make further arrests.
Correction: The original article said that three policemen were killed in the assault. It has now been confirmed that four died.