Magharebia (Washington DC)

Libya: Benghazi Killings Escalate

Benghazi — Unknown assailants gunned down Libya's military police chief Friday (October 18th) in Benghazi.

Colonel Mustapha al-Barghathi, the latest security official to be assassinated in the eastern city, was the first officer in Moamer Kadhafi's army to defect and form a rebel force, Joint Security Room spokesman Abdullah Zaidi told AFP.

In response later Friday, members of the slain officer's Braghtha tribe fired rocket-propelled grenades at the home of another prominent former rebel they blamed for the killing, according to a security source.

The house belongs to Wissam Ben Hamid, commander of the Islamist "Libya Shield" brigade of former rebels.

The brigade's headquarters were attacked in June by protesters seeking to drive militias out of the city, sparking clashes in which more than 30 people were killed.

But according to Ben Hamid, "Libya Shield has nothing to do with the assassinations."

"There are no grounds to issue an arrest warrant against me," Ben Hamid added.

Colonel Ezzedine Al-Okwak, commander of the brigade that controls Benina international airport, accused Ben Hamid of "wanting to implement Ottoman rule".

"We will stay in Libya to thwart his plan. He is the one who threatened Colonel al-Barghathi," he said.

The slain official's brother Sami also blamed Ben Hamid.

Benghazi Congressman Saleh Gaouda disagreed, saying: "There is confusion between the Libya Shield Battalion and Ansar al-Sharia."

"There are excesses that can be dealt with legally and not by Libya Shield or some of its members surrounding administrative compounds," he asserted.

Amidst all the debate about culpability for the latest assassination, Benghazi citizens continue to plead for order and security.

Khalid Ali, a 36-year-old shopkeeper in Benghazi, said he could not make sense of the assassinations. "Aren't there people capable of confronting these crimes and daily slaughter? Will the city fail to defeat this programmed, systematic, and continuous killing?" he asked.

"We have become accustomed to bullets and explosions," he added.

Rim al-Akori, a graduate student, echoed Ali: "Nothing is heard in the city of Benghazi except for the sound of bullets and bombs.

"Ansar al-Sharia is al-Qaeda and has distorted Islam," Bengahzi resident Tariq Ferjani said.

"They roam everywhere in broad daylight. Every now and then they show up as innocent people in a campaign or visit. But Benghazi's children are being murdered," he added.

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