The news out of Libya these days is turning from tragedy to triumph: Nothing's easy about transitioning from four decades of dictatorship to democracy, especially when extremist forces would take advantage of the power vacuum to install their own regime. In a Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American personnel were killed in the assault with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades that set the compound on fire.
But the Libyans are taking the attack as a wake-up call to not let extremism and violence spiral to the point of no return. In a most inspiring turn of events Friday that would have surely made the ambassador who loved Libya so smile, everyday Libyans stormed three militia bases. The Libyan military ordered the militias -- who fought against Moammar Gadhafi with the aims of establishing an Islamist state -- to disband. The Libyan people are fighting back, but the militias originally spooked by the citizen uprising now are employing some Gadhafi-esqe tactics to fight back.
Libyan militias announced mass arrests of opponents they accused of instigating weekend violence, as demonstrators called new protets against armed Islamist groups.
The Rafalah al-Sahati militia, an Islamist group based in Benghazi that was one of three militia bases stormed by protesters on Sept. 21, said today that 115 people had been held for involvement in the attack on their base. Those held "are civilians and commanders," said a spokesman, who gave his name as Jamal, in a telephone interview today. Idris Lagha, a member of another group, the Battalions of Libyan Revolutionaries, said the detainees included 30 military officers. Both groups say they have government permission to operate.
"They are accused of instigating the protests and operating outside of the authority of the government," Lagha said in a telephone interview today.
The arrests signal a counter-push by the Islamist groups, some of which have been blamed for the death of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three colleagues during a Sept. 11 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. While the weekend's protests caused the flight of two Islamist militias, others fought with demonstrators, leaving at least four people dead.
Mohammed Bojenah, one of the organizers of the anti- Islamist Save Benghazi protests, said demonstrators would gather again at 4 p.m. local time today in the city's Tree Square to demand an inquest into the deaths that resulted from the Sept. 21-22 attack on the Rafalah al-Sahati brigade.
"We want justice for the martyrs," he said. "We want to support the families of the martyrs."
Libya's Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur said on Sept. 20 that eight Libyan nationals had been arrested in connection with the killing of the four Americans and that Ansar al-Shariah, an Islamist militia, was one of the groups thought to be involved. Following the protests, the group and another militia, the Abu Selim brigade, said they had disbanded and vacated their bases in Derna, east of Benghazi.
Stay tuned to The Guardian's live blog of the events as they unfold.