3 February 2014

Libya: Kidnapping Sparks Benghazi Bloodshed

Photo: Kate Thomas/IRIN
A rebel fighter chats with a friend in central Benghazi (file photo).

Benghazi — Violent clashes erupted in Benghazi Thursday (January 30th) after the son of a Special Forces commander was kidnapped.

The fighting broke out when the son of Colonel Wanis Bukhmada was taken by unidentified assailants outside Benghazi University. Saiqa forces then clashed with an armed group from the Islamist February 17th Brigade, entrenched at a farm in al-Qawarsha to the west of the city.

At least one soldier was killed and two others wounded. The funeral for the slain soldier, Sergeant Haitham Ramadan Shoaib, was held in Shahat amid an outpouring of grief from residents.

For his part, Colonel Bukhmada said, "The kidnapping of my son will not change anything and I will remain steadfast in the service of Libya. I will do everything in my power to serve the nation. I will not trade my homeland for my son. I will carry out military orders even if my son is inside the compound."

"I will not negotiate with anyone and the military institution will not either. My son is one of the sons of Benghazi and not only my son. No matter who was abducted, the decision will remain the same," the colonel added.

For its part, the Libyan interim government condemned what it called a crime. It demanded in a statement issued Thursday that the kidnappers release him immediately and unconditionally. It also called on all parties to maintain security and to steer clear from the use of violence.

The February 17th Brigade issued a statement on Saturday denying it was involved and praising the Saiqa commander for "clearing it from responsibility".

It called on the transitional authorities to open an urgent and transparent investigation, accusing the Special Forces of initiating the attack. It condemned killings, kidnappings and the resulting acts of torture and violations of human rights.

In other attacks, a member of the battalion of the Martyrs of Libya was assassinated on Thursday after being targeted by masked men in al-Salam neighbourhood in Benghazi.

The son of Special Forces Colonel Abdel Razek Sabak and the son of former external security colonel Abdullah al-Drissi were assassinated as well. According to paramedics, they were the target of masked men who shot them while they were inside a car in downtown Benghazi.

Meanwhile, Nasser Moataz Mansour, a 48-year-old lawyer from Benghazi, said it would be very difficult for Special Forces to confront the rogue brigades on their own, given the militants' ties to other groups.

"In other words, if Saiqa clashes with them, then Ansar al-Sharia, the Shields, Rafallah Sahati Brigade and the rest of the militias will come as one against Saiqa," he said.

"The Libyan people should come out but without weapons, and work to dissolve these militias, knock down their fences and also bring down the checkpoint of al-Qawarsha. Then perhaps God will guide them and they will join the people," Mansour added.

Political activist Adel Elhasy told Magharebia that kidnappings have become a common tactic used to pressure leaders. He noted that the son of the defence minister, the head of the government as well as other officials were abducted.

He pointed to the recent arrest of four suspects allegedly in possession of a list of names of military personnel and political activists to be liquidated.

"The suspects gave information leading to the belief that these assassinations are to exert pressure for the release of some prisoners," Elhasy stated.

He concluded that a large number of the assassinations were by groups that do not want an army, police or state institutions.

For his part, Issa Laribi said that "Libya has become a state of tribal militias, religious and regional militias and ethnic militias and self-interest militias."

"What is happening in Benghazi is the very essence of terror: bombings and assassinations, and we sleep daily with the sound of bullets and wake up counting the number of victims," elementary school teacher Jamila Yunus said. "It is a very unfortunate situation."

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