Benghazi — In a first-of-its-type statement, interim Libyan Culture Minister Habib al-Amin on Friday (February 28th) said "radical Islamists" were behind the Benghazi assassinations.
"I hope others will be as direct and clear with Libyans, but what's happening now in Benghazi is the growth of extremist Islamist groups' influence," al-Amin said in a talk show on Libya Al Ahrar TV.
"Add to them other criminals who benefited from unstable security and managed to engage in their acts, which are related to kidnappings, looting and killings for criminal motives," he continued.
However, the minister confirmed that "the main and biggest factor affecting the security situation in Benghazi, Derna and other areas in south-western Libya are radical Islamists."
"These groups, who can be described as terrorist, don't want the state to stabilise... they don't want the army and police institutions to stand on their feet because they know what will happen," al-Amin added.
"The Libyan people are demanding an army and police because they are civil people. However, unfortunately, some of their politicians don't want this; they even cover up these groups and movements, exercise demagoguery and use slogans to cover up what's happening."
Al-Amin, the first government official to blame extremist Islamist groups for the security chaos, called for "making the people understand who their enemies, friends and supporters are without any politicisation or philosophy".
"There are weapons at the hands of extremist groups," he noted. "In fact, Benghazi is targeted to be the nucleus for a big emirate."
"When army and police facilities are attacked and... officers are killed, who is your enemy then?" al-Amin wondered. "Your enemy is the one who doesn't want the state to stand on its feet, especially in Benghazi, the capital of the revolution."
The minister also talked about popular movements in Benghazi, noting that people have warned against the danger of militias since the first Benghazi Rescue Friday back in 2012.
"The city has almost become like armed cantons controlled by several sects and groups. Some may not dare to talk about such groups, either out of fear, cowardice or silence, but they can easily blame the government," the minister said.
On February 26th, angry demonstrators closed several streets in Benghazi, burnt tyres to block traffic, broke traffic lights and set up temporary barricades in protest of the assassinations that take place on a daily basis and authorities' failure to identify perpetrators.
Meanwhile, the Benghazi local council last Thursday said it would give the interim government a one-week deadline to take serious steps about the security situation in town or else it would stop the transfer of revenues to the state budget and use them for local security.
For his part, Issa al-Oreibi, head of the Federal Libya Organisation, told Magharebia that he did not approve of what the minister said and blamed the situation in Benghazi on conflicts between political parties. "These parties fuel conflicts in Libya through partisan, tribal and religious militias," he stated.
In his turn, Mourad Belal, a former candidate for the constitution-drafting panel, told Magharebia he agreed with the minister's accusations against extremist Islamist groups.
Belal attributed the ambiguity over the security situation in Benghazi and lack of transparency on the part of Libyan authorities about identifying the responsible entity to what he said were "authorities above state authority".
"It's also noteworthy what the head of former transitional council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, said on more than one occasion about the involvement of extremists in the assassination of Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Younes," he pointed out.