By Hadi Fornaji.
Tripoli, 26 August 2012:
An Imam has been beaten and abducted by Salafists involved in the destruction of Tripoli’s Al-Sha’ab . . .[restrict]shrine, following a series of violent confrontations with protesters seeking to protect the site this afternoon.
The Imam, whose identity and whereabouts remains unknown, had visited the site in an attempt to reason with the Salafists and persuade them to desist in further destruction.
“At first, we thought he was with the Salafists”, said Ibrahim Shebani, one of the protesters. “But then he started trying to reason with the men, explaining why what they were doing was actually un-Islamic, and referencing the Quran.”
The Imam’s efforts went unrewarded, however, when one of the Salafists came over to him and started throwing punches.
“The next thing was, all hell broke loose”, said Sharon Lynch, an American television producer, who was also present at the protests. “The protesters tried to protect the Imam, which triggered a broader conflagration. People were running down the street; it was extremely dangerous.”
One young woman who sought to defend the Imam was also arrested, together with her brother, although the two were later released. They have requested not to be publicly identified.
“I have never seen anything like this in my whole life in Libya”, said Shebani, whose brother Nabil was one of the three Al-Assema TV journalists briefly detained by the Supreme Security Committee for their coverage of the events yesterday afternoon.
“I do not know who those bearded men were. We have never seen them before, but they were calling us infidels and every insult you can imagine. It was disgusting.”
Earlier in the day, the protesters, who numbered around 30-40, had briefly succeeded in halting the demolition by occupying the site of the shrine having come from a previous protest over the issue in Tripoli’s Algeria Square.
Late this afternoon, however, the driver of the digger carrying out the destruction sought to resume work, triggering the heated exchange between Salafists and protesters that ultimately turned violent.
The government presence was reported to have been almost non-existent, save for a small number of personnel from the Supreme Security Committee, who struggled to keep order.
Abdurrahman Shater, the former secretary general of Mahmoud Jibril’s National Forces Alliance and now an independent member of the National Congress, visited the site briefly this afternoon, but then left. [/restrict]