Benghazi — Two years after Moamer Kadhafi's overthrow, militants roam the streets and desert of Libya as they try to build an Islamic emirate and promote their long-held hard-line ideology.
The country has seen a series of escalating attacks, bombings and assassinations in recent months. Earlier this month, 17 soldiers were killed on the road between Tarhuna and Bani Walid in a single incident.
In Benghazi, the daily bloodshed did not stop, even for Eid al-Adha. Two soldiers were slain on Tuesday (October 15th), according to Libya Herald. In a separate Eid attack, a bomb blast blew out the windows of the Marwa Hospital.
"The killings in Benghazi are no longer seen as revenge attacks on former regime supporters - rather an attempt by militants to destroy the post-revolution state with the aim of taking over," according to the paper.
The open border enabled terrorists to position themselves in eastern Libya, allowing them to smuggle arms to other extremists' strongholds around the world.
"Today, Libya is an open country penetrated by al-Qaeda," said Saleh Mohamed Meftah, a 35-year-old chemical engineer. "In the area where I live, extremists teach children at mosques, brainwash them and feed them with extremist ideology, which is dangerous."
Fateh Mansour, a 42-year-old accountant, said: "In view of what's going on in Libyan cities, especially Benghazi, and the many assassinations... we have to admit that there must be an organised, large network working comfortably in the absence of Libyan intelligence agencies and other security agencies."
"What's happening around us makes it certain that al-Qaeda has its own long arms in Libya, and that such arms are moving freely, drawing up plans and implementing them without deterrence. They won't stop until their deadly goals have been achieved," Mansour added.
Hafed Abdel Jawad told Magharebia that he "wouldn't be surprised if Mokhtar Belmokhtar himself was in Libya".
He added that the country has become "a hotbed for everything," including "organised crime gangs, terrorist organisations, thieves, and illegal immigration".
"Libya has become like a link between the world and organised crime. We won't say that this was because of Kadhafi's overthrow; rather, it's because our rulers don't want to control security for the time being," he said.
"As to Belmokhtar's search for weapons, I think he won't be looking for long; Jenehein market is enough to meet his needs, and the former camps of the former Soviet Union, which are spread across Libya ... [and] are still unguarded until now!" Abdel Jawad concluded.
"There [are] also ... some Islamic groups in eastern Libya that are sympathetic with al-Qaeda, especially in Benghazi and Derna," Journalist Redha Barakat said. "All these factors show that he [Belmokhtar] may be in Libya, especially as Tunisian media talked about the escape of Ansar al-Sharia leaders."
The deteriorating situation and the government's inability to rein in the violence have given jihadists groups an undeniable advantage, Libyans say.
Mohammed al-Marjaoui, a 60-year-old government employee, said that al-Qaeda had "a real presence" in Libya.
"I'm not surprised with that, especially after criminal investigation police in al-Marj identified the criminals who confessed that they were behind bombings and assassinations in Benghazi, and that they were operating under the command of Sufian al-Quma, a prominent al-Qaeda leader in Derna," he said.
In his turn, Jabir Labaidi, a writer, said: "Due to the absence of state authority and the state's inability to impose its security presence even in the streets of main cities, Libya has become like a goldmine and a main source for supplying weapons to neighbouring countries".
Labaidi added, "I have indications that show it might be true as long as al-Qaeda leaders have found a safe haven in southern Libya away from the blows that the organisation had been dealt in In Amenas and northern Mali."
"The security vacuum in Libya is one of the biggest problems in North Africa," said Abdul Raouf Omar, a 28-year-old private sector employee.
Omar blamed the government, noting " The GNC [General National Congress] and Zidan's government have a responsibility to collect arms and pay attention to the security situation; otherwise, this will lead to fatal consequences in the future, including western intervention and Libya turning into a new Afghanistan."
So far, the government's plans, implemented by the interior and defence ministries, have failed to curb the violence.
On September 29th, unknown gunmen carried out several assassinations in Benghazi.
"The three officers were killed in separate attacks carried out by unknown assailants in town," said Benghazi Joint Security Room spokesperson Colonel Abdullah Zaidi.
Col. Abdul Kader Mohamed al-Madani from the intelligence agency was shot dead with seven bullets fired by unknown gunmen opposite his home in al-Laithi area in Benghazi.
At noon the same day, a bomb went off beneath the car of Lt. Col. Ali al-Darghari in Ardh al-Sharif, near Zamzam market. Zaidi added that a military vehicle carrying Najib Belhasan, an officer of the chief of staffs' preventive security agency, was blown up just meters away from the place where Col. Ali al-Darghari was targeted.
Col. Saleh Elhadiri, a coast guard commander in Benghazi, was killed on October 2nd in al-Fuwaihat area, next to al-Arab Medical University. Gunmen opened fire on him while he was driving his car. His eight-year-old son Firas was seriously injured in the attack.
The boy later died of his wounds at an intensive care unit and was buried with his father, a security source in Benghazi said.
As with many of the Benghazi killings, the perpetrators remain unidentified and at large.
"After Tripoli was liberated, security was much better than now," Haifa Beshir, a music teacher in Tripoli, said. "We were expecting to see state-run security institutions, including army and police. However, the state has failed to realise that."
"Benghazi is suffering and is in pain; there are assassinations and murders every day, and we're not seeing any security presence," said Leila al-Barassi, a 29-year-old teacher. "There must be a plan for that."