By Maha Ellawati.
Benghazi, 22 September:
Hundreds of protesters demanding an end to militia rule in Libya have stormed the compound of the . . .[restrict]Ansar Al-Sharia brigade, the Islamist group suspected of involvement in last week’s murder of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
The demonstrators arrived at the Ansar Al-Sharia headquarters on Nasr square yesterday evening (formerly Kish square), and demanded the brigade leave immediately or the facility would be destroyed.
The brigadesmen initially pleaded that they were comparatively few in number, firing warning shots into the air, but were evicted in clashes that left several people wounded.
It has been reported that the demonstrators released four prisoners inside the base and carried away weapons found inside whilst chanting “Libya, Libya” and “No more Al-Qaeda”.
Part of the compound was set alight by the demonstrators before the national army arrived and took control of the scene.
Members of Ansar Al-Sharia were also confronted at Al-Jalaa hospital, where they operate as guards, and told either to leave or face the use of force.
An administrator at the hospital subsequently told the Libya Herald that all of the Ansar Al-Sharia brigadesmen had fled.
Ansar Al-Sharia have reportedly put out a statement accusing those involved of being drunk and on drugs, a claim that has been likened by local people to one formally issued by Muammar Qaddafi against the revolutionaries as a means of discrediting them.
Protesters also targeted the headquarters of the Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade, located at a farm in Hawari district, some 15 kilometres from Benghazi’s city centre.
At least four people were reported to have been killed and 40 wounded in clashes at the Rafallah Al-Sahati base, according to AFP, and there are also reports of prisoners being released inside that facility.
Leaders of the Islamist brigade, which is notionally under the control of the Ministry of Defence, accused Qaddafi loyalists of instigating the violence and said they had video evidence to prove it.
The events follow an unprecedented demonstration in Benghazi earlier in the day, when an estimated 30,000 people participated in a rally calling for the disbanding of militias and the establishment of a regular army and police force.
The rally was organised following the death of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens together with three of his staff ten days earlier.
Those involved in the subsequent violence against the militias claimed to have been acting in support of the army and the police, but their actions have been condemned by army Chief of Staff Yousef Mangoush, Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur and Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelal.
National Congress Speaker Mohammed Magarief has also called for calm:
“On this day, I ask all those demonstrators in front of the headquarters and the locations of these battalions to let wisdom prevail and, in the interests of the city, withdraw immediately from their homes and to refrain from all forms of violence.
“We must not allow the conditions to be created that might be exploited by the enemies of the revolution.
“I call for restraint on all sides, and I also call on the chief of staff to take all necessary measures to control the situation and secure the lives and safety of our citizens.”