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Benghazi blames government for security morass

Libya’s second city lives daily with car bombings at hospitals, shootings outside mosques, explosions at hotels and government offices, carjackings and other crimes.

In the last year, nearly 70 military officers have been assassinated on the streets of Benghazi. The assailants are never found and charged, citizens lament.

The latest attack came on Wednesday (September 11th), the first anniversary of the deadly siege on the US mission in Benghazi. A powerful bomb demolished a Libyan foreign ministry building that once housed the US consulate.

And public rage is turning towards the government for its perceived inability to rein in the violence.

“The killings and bombings in Benghazi began after the assassination of the US ambassador a year ago,” says retired army officer Khalid Omar al-Jwaifi, 64.

“These are separate and planned attacks carried out under the auspices of radical religious groups of all stripes, foremost among which is the Muslim Brotherhood, which opposes the creation of a strong Libyan army and professional national security,” he adds.

No one has been convicted for the September 11th, 2012 siege that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. And while former Ansar al-Sharia militia leader Ahmed Boukhtala has been charged by the US in connection with the attack, he remains free in Libya.

And those behind scores of political assassinations in town have not yet been identified.

Citizens fault the interim government for failing to protect Libya’s people and vital installations.

There is not even an interior minister, they say. The position has been vacant since the resignation of Mohamed Sheikh.

“The security services are suffering from a lack of personnel and capabilities, which makes them unable to conduct their duties,” says Sadeq al-Zawi, spokesman for the Security Directorate of Benghazi. “We are asking for equipment such as cars, weapons and gear,” he adds.

It may be past the point of repair, according to the former spokesperson for the Benghazi Joint Security Room.

“I call it a security swamp. Had it been security deterioration, there would have been some sort of a fix for it,” Mohamed al-Hijazi told Magharebia on Monday.

“This is what happens when a security or military agency is put in a serious, extraordinary situation like Benghazi and is denied support, equipment and supplies, in which case it becomes like a rifle without ammunition,” he said.

Benghazi might have had a chance at normalcy, he added, had there “been support from the government and GNC”.

“Those who failed are those decision-makers who were unable to support security agencies,” the security officer said.

And in the absence of a strong security apparatus, and with the world’s attention now turned to Syria chemical weapons, ordinary Libyans wonder if they will be forgotten.

“You cannot have a second chance with life,” says Benghazi journalist Sleiman Elahwal. “This has become the concern of everyone who lives here, and also those observing our state,” he says.

Captain Hassan Alakori, who heads a Benghazi police station, also expresses his disappointment.

“Ignorant is he who thinks that there is a government. Unfortunately, this is the truth,” the Benghazi police officer tells Magharebia.

“A revolution of a nation that wanted to enjoy freedom, prosperity and progress has instead turned us back many years and caused us to lose the blessing of safety and security,” he says.

He is also worried about what will become of the next generation of Libyans.

“Youth found itself at a crossroad and is being recruited to go to Syria under fatwas of jihad,” the officer continues. “Regardless of whether we agree or disagree on what is happening in Syria, from a security standpoint, I see it as draining youth from Libya.”

“Who will build the state in the coming years once things settle down? The fight in Libya today is between many countries with vested interests and, unfortunately, they have found helping hands from the sons of this country. They are moving and controlling them at will and the loser in the end is Libya,” the Benghazi officer adds.

He continues, “From a security standpoint, Libya is the scene of a settling of scores and unfortunately, those who were locked up during the former regime are the rulers today and their legitimacy is the revolution. Their argument is that they were wronged in the past. What is happening in Libya is a long-term plan of those who do not want to see a police force or an army established.”

Hamza Fakhri, a 37-year-old professor of information technology at the University of Benghazi, says he “blames the government’s weakness, the failure to arrest the perpetrators, the presence of radical currents of thought, and the retaliatory mind-set left behind after 40 years of military rule and torture”.

But the General National Congress cannot be held accountable for all the problems, Fakhri notes. “The government controls only one square at the Rixos Hotel and even that is poorly secured, and the rest of the country is divided between militias, brigades, armed gangs and tribal battalions,” he says. “The solution lies in a regular army, police and security services.”

Until security can be established, however, Benghazi citizens are left to pay the price.

Benghazi Medical Centre chief, Dr Fathi al-Jahani, is already bracing for the worst. “There are repeated attacks on doctors and medical staff,” he says. “We’ve sent many letters about the need to secure the Medical Centre, but no one responded.”

“If this lack of security continues,” he adds, “we’ll have to close, like other hospitals, to protect our staff.”

Article by Fathia al-Majbari in Benghazi, Magharebia.

This article was originally published here.

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