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article imageOp-Ed: Militant groups in Libya unapologetic about consular deaths

By Ken Hanly     Sep 19, 2012 in World
Benghazi - Militant group Ansar Al-Sharia claim they had no part in killing U.S. embassy staff in Benghazi but do not understand why tears are shed about the death of a diplomat. The real crime to them is the insult to Muslims in the film "Innocence of Muslims".
Powerful militias of various stripes simply refuse to lay down their weapons and cede power to the central government even though the Gaddafi regime is long gone. These groups include Ansar al-Sharia. Some have accused the group of being responsible for the attack on the Bengghazi consulate that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others. The group itself admits that members were present at the demonstration but deny any part in the killings. The government claims to have arrested 50 people as part of its investigation into the attack but has not said whether any are from Ansar al-Sharia.
The group's name Ansar al-Sharia means roughly "patrons of Sharia law". They want to impose Sharia law in areas they control and throughout Libya. There is a group with the same name in Yemen which controlled considerable territory a year ago but have now retreated into the mountains. The U.S. considered them an Al Qaeda linked group. However often such associations are a device to ensure that the U.S. will help the Yemen government suppress them. Once a few drone attacks are made on them they are very apt to link up with AQAM (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) anyway. The Ansar al-Sharia in Libya are said not to have any links with the Yemen group but they do have links to Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia.
Sometimes the group is called Ansar al-Sharia in Beghazi (ASB) since they are quite active in the city. The group is led by Muhammad Zahawi. As well as being linked to the Tunisian Ansar al-Sahri the group is also linked to other smaller Salifi-jihadist battalions including one led by a former Guantanamo prisoner. Some analysts blame the attack on another militia the Omar Abdul Rahman brigades
In an interview with the BBC, the leader of Ansar al-Sharia, Sheikh Mohammed Zahawi justified the group's decision not to give up their arms as follows: "The battle is not yet over. There are many Gaddafi loyalists in the new administration." He is no doubt referring not to people who stayed with the Gaddafi regime but who defected and joined the rebels and are now part of the government. Zahawi also said the group sympathized with other militant groups including Al Qaeda. This view is not uncommon.
Diaa Rahman from the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo said that often Al Qaeda is identified simply as a brand to be adopted because of sympathy with their ideas. This makes it even easier for those in the west to label militant groups as Al-Qaeda or Al-Qaeda affiliated even though Al Qaeda as a central organization probably does not even exist.
Rahman says:“Al Qaeda as an organization, as a command, it doesn’t exist..There are no orders from Ayman Zawahri coming to jihadists in Libya or Sinai to make something....Since the death of Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda has been in a sense reborn because some of its ideas and the model have inspired new militants.”
The Ansar al-Sharia does not want democracy in Libya but Sharia law:"We don't believe in the democratic system because even those who live in such systems know it's a fake. We want to tell the world that the democratic project doesn't suit us and doesn't suit Islam."
In Benghazi there is a half-built town on the outskirts meant to house about 200,000 people. It was abandoned by the Chinese as the revolt against Gaddafi gathered steam. The Libyan government wants to entice western capital back into Libya and there are lucrative oil deals waiting to be signed. However, as long as security is weak and the government unstable capital will no doubt flow to more friendly climes.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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