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Libya’s rogue general garners wider support

Islamist militants vow to defend Benghazi against Haftar’s expanding military alliance

Published: Updated:

The anti-Islamist military alliance led by Libya’s rogue General Khalifa Haftar expanded on Tuesday to include the military intelligence and a police force in the capital Tripoli.

Tripoli’s police directorate announced they were joining Haftar’s so-called “operation dignity,” a day after several units in the Libyan army took a similar move.

The chief of staff of the air force and the Interior Ministry also issued statements late on Tuesday announcing their support for Haftar.

On Monday the elite Saaqa force, an air force unit in Tobruq and a naval base in Benghazi all pledged support for Haftar’s military operation, which the government has dismissed as a “coup” attempt.

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Libyan jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia, blacklisted as a terrorist organization by Washington, vowed Tuesday to defend its stronghold in Benghazi against Haftar’s expanding alliance.

The group charged that a deadly assault in the eastern city on Friday that mainly targeted its forces was “a war against ... Islam orchestrated by the United States and its Arab allies.”

Forces loyal to Haftar pulled out of Benghazi after the attack that left at least 79 people dead but Haftar has vowed to re-enter Benghazi to cleanse it of “terrorists.”

Islamists defiant

“A confrontation is now inevitable to defend our city and our land,” Ansar al-Sharia said in a statement.

“We will act with force against anyone who enters the city or attacks it, just as was done to the forces sent by [Moammar] Qaddafi,” it added.

Ansar al-Sharia acknowledged mounting public support in Benghazi for a strong hand to bring to heel the feuding former rebel militias that have carved out fiefdoms across the city since the NATO-backed uprising againt Qaddafi.

But it said this should be done “under the banner of sharia [Islamic law], not under the banner of secularism and democracy,” AFP reported.

Ansar al-Sharia has always rejected accusations that its militants were behind a September 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.

But in January the U.S. State Department put both the Benghazi group and a sister organization in the eastern city of Derna on its terror blacklist saying both had taken part in the attack.

Haftar, a former Qaddafi-era general who was in exile in the U.S. for more than two decades before returning during the uprising, has long drawn accusations of being linked to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, first from the Qaddafi regime, and then from rival rebel commanders.

Haftar’s forces stormed the Islamist-led parliament last week demanding it to disband.

Lawmakers, however, rejected his demand, pushing ahead with holding a vote of confidence to approve a disputed new prime minister in a session held at an undisclosed location Tuesday.

The Libyan election commission later proposed a June national election to resolve the standoff.

The looming showdown has raised concerns at foreign missions in Libya and in neighboring countries. A day after Saudi Arabia shut its embassy and evacuated its diplomatic staff from Tripoli , the UAE announced Monday that the last member of its diplomatic mission was evacuated.

[With AP and AFP]