Supporters and members of hardline Islamist group of Ansar al-Sharia shout slogans during a demonstration against a film mocking Islam in Benghazi. (Al-Arabiya)
Members of the Ansar al-Sharia Islamist group are planning to protest the US today in Benghazi.
Moderate Libyan activists have organized a protest Friday in Benghazi, Libya, to demand that the well-armed Islamic militias which virtually run security in much of the country lay down their arms.
Friday is the Muslim holy day, and one of the most powerful militias in Benghazi has called their own protest to coincide with the so-called “Save Benghazi” rally.
Ansar al-Sharia – one of the groups U.S. officials say was likely involved in the attack on the consulate which left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens dead – announced its own protest, “in defense of our prophet on Friday 21.”
The prospect of both Ansar al-Sharia, with its conservative Muslim supporters and its well-stocked arsenal of weaponry, rallying on the same streets on the same day as groups calling for them to be disarmed and replaced by state security forces, presents an obvious risk of tension, and possible clashes.
Ansar al Shariah issued a statement following the assault on the US consulate. The statement, which has been translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, is “neither a full denial nor a full claim of responsibility”. The group stated that it “didn’t participate as a sole entity”, leaving open the possibility that its members were involved.
UPDATE: Dueling protests were held in Benghazi today.
The main square in Libya’s second city, Benghazi, is hosting rival demonstrations by citizens opposed to the control of militias, and by hardline Salafi protesters, with tensions still running high after an attack on the US consulate last week.
Around 30,000 pro-peace Libyans marched through the eastern port on Friday in an unprecedented effort to demand the disbanding of powerful armed gangs, in the wake of the assault that killed the ambassador and three other Americans.
The giant crowd poured into Al-Kish Square square in front of the main camp of Ansar Sharia in the city, unfurling a long Libyan flag and chanting, “With our lives and souls, we redeem you, Benghazi”.
At the same time, inside the square, which was a key battleground in the uprising that overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi last year, around 3,000 supporters of the ultraconservative Salafist group also gathered.
Waving black Islamic flags, they chanted against a US-made film that mocks Islam and cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published by a French satirical weekly.
The area is reportedly still too dangerous for the FBI to investigate following the deadly attacks on the consulate.