Libya to restore Gaddafi-era security agency

July 30, 2013 - 1:04:24 am

People look at a vehicle belonging to the Libyan army after it exploded in Benghazi, yesterday. 

TRIPOLI: Libya’s premier said yesterday he would restore a feared Gaddafi-era security agency and reshuffle the cabinet to help resolve a political crisis and end a wave of violence.

Ali Zeidan said he would reactivate the Internal Security Agency which helped keep the former dictator in power for decades to try to stem a spate of bombings and assassinations, particularly in the east of the country.

“I understand the population’s opposition to this agency that was used by the former regime to repress the people,” he said.

“But without an efficient intelligence body, we cannot stop the attacks,” he said the day after two explosions outside the courthouse in second city Benghazi wounded 43 people, according to the latest health ministry toll.

Zeidan told a news conference in Tripoli that a new defence minister had been chosen and that by Wednesday a new list of ministers would be presented to the country’s highest political authority, the General National Congress.

Libya has not had a defence minister since the removal of Mohammed Al Barghathi from the post in late June.

Assailants attacked an Islamist party office in Tripoli and a soldier was killed in fighting in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi, officials said, in a wave of unrest since the killing of a political activist last week.

A car later exploded in central Benghazi but the blast was minor and no-one was hurt, a security official said.

The death of prominent Muslim Brotherhood critic Abdelsalam Al Mosmary, shot after leaving a Benghazi mosque on Friday, has triggered violent demonstrations and attacks on the movement’s offices in Benghazi and Tripoli. 

On Sunday, buildings used by the judiciary in Benghazi were bombed, followed by overnight clashes between an armed group and military special forces. 

Violence and lawlessness, much of it involving former rebel groups, has hobbled governance in swathes of the North African oil producer since the war that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Early yesterday an unidentified group attacked the headquarters in Tripoli of the Al Watan (Nation) political party, led by former Islamist militia leader Abdelhakim Belhadj.

“They smashed windows, shot at the door locks to open them and threw Molotov cocktails inside,” Jamal Ashour, head of the party’s political office, said.

“The damage is serious. No one was injured.”

Fighting erupted overnight in Benghazi’s western Gwesha district, hours after Sunday’s bombings, in which 43 people were wounded, according to state news agency LANA, citing the health minister. Demonstrators later took to the streets to denounce the violence and voice their discontent with the government. 

“Clashes broke out between special forces and an unknown armed group,” Mohammed al-Hijazy, a spokesman for Benghazi security operations, said by telephone. “At least one soldier was killed. The special forces have now retaken control.”

Hijazy later said a military vehicle exploded in central Shajara Square. It was not immediately clear what had happened but residents said the blast was minor.

The cradle of the uprising against Gaddafi, Benghazi was also the scene of a mass jail break on Saturday.

“This escalation (of violence) will lead to a collapse of a whole nation. We need solidarity of the people,” Prime Minister Ali Zeidan told reporters.

Facing increasing discontent over the state’s inability to curb violence, Zeidan has said he will reorganise the government to cope with the “urgent” situation in Libya.

“People think the state is weak but the state does not even exist,” he said. “Even if you brought the best politician from America or Europe, he will find himself helpless here.”

In the jail break, 1,117 inmates escaped during a riot in Kuafiya prison on the outskirts of Benghazi. Officials said on Sunday that about 100 prisoners had been recaptured. Violence has plagued Benghazi since last year, with attacks on security forces as well as foreign targets, including an assault on the US mission in September in which the US ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

Libya’s national assembly selected Abdesalam Jadallah, a colonel in the special forces, as the new army chief of staff yesterday. A former frontline rebel commander during the 2011 war, Jadallah was picked after his predecessor resigned in June following deadly clashes in Benghazi.