TRIPOLI, Sept 20, 2012 (AFP)
TRIPOLI, Sept 20, 2012 (AFP)
US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns flew to Libya on Thursday for a ceremony to honour ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans who were killed in Benghazi last week.
Burns met senior Libyan officials and attended a ceremony honouring the four Americans killed on September 11 when armed men attacked the US consulate in the country’s second city and torched it.
“We have lost a wonderful colleague, we have lost a wonderful ambassador,” Burns said at the ceremony which was attended by diplomats and representatives of international organisations as well as Libyan officials.
“He believed in Libya. He believed in you,” Burns added, noting the formidable tasks ahead including safeguarding human rights, building security institutions and an economy that realises “full potential for all Libyans.”
Mohammad al-Megaryef, chairman of the national assembly, again extended Libya’s condolences to the families of the victims.
“These events only strengthen the determination of the pertinent authorities to arrest and judge those responsible and reinforce the security of diplomatic missions,” Megaryef said.
The four-hour attack was originally blamed on protesters angered by an anti-Islam film made in America, but Libyan and US officials have not excluded the possibility that it was a pre-planned operation supported by Al-Qaeda.
On Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said it was “self-evident that what happened was a terrorist attack,” and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced she was setting up an official review of security at the US mission.
“I will advise Congress… I am launching an accountability review board that will be chaired by ambassador Thomas Pickering,” Clinton told reporters ahead of a classified briefing to lawmakers about the attack.
In Benghazi, a city once pumped with pride for spearheading the uprising that ended 42 years of dictatorship under Moamer Kadhafi, many people are furious that their reputation has been ruined by radical elements.
“We denounce such shameful actions,” said Leila Taher bughaighis, medical director of the Benghazi Medical Centre where doctors fought to revive Stevens.
“It is not part of our culture and not part of our religion. The real people from Benghazi loved Chris.”
Benghazi is gearing up for Friday protests to denounce extremism and urge militias to disband.
Throughout the week, wreaths and placards condemning the attack were left outside the US mission.
“All Libyans denounce murdering Chris Stevens” and “We want to build our new peaceful Libya, terrorists out” read handwritten notes posted on the consulate’s black iron gate.
“Benghazi loved him and he loved Benghazi,” said Mohammed Ari, a guard at the Tibesti Hotel, who still recalls how Stevens would go out by himself for a jog when the city was under attack in March last year.
The death of the well-loved ambassador has become a crucial test for the Libyan authorities, with the need to bring the perpetrators to justice, tackle militias and try to uproot radical Islamist groups that reject democracy.
“The problem in Libya is that the state is paralysed,” said analyst Jaber al-Obeidi. “We thought that legitimacy through elections will give it the strength to act but, until now, we are still waiting.”
Benghazi this year has witnessed the desecration of commonwealth war graves, attacks on diplomatic targets including the British consulate and a UN convoy, and a wave assassinations targeting local military and judicial figures.
Security services are now officially in a shambles with heads rolling after the ambassador’s death and bitter power struggles crystallising in threats of collective resignation.
But activists, who are determined to break the barrier of fear raised by armed militias with varying degrees of loyalty to the state, plan to go ahead with a “Save Benghazi” rally on Friday.
“This is a demonstration against all illegitimate bodies,” said protest organiser Mohammed Abujaneh, blaming a failure to disband brigades of former rebels and extremism for the city’s chronic lack of security.
“Maybe, for the time being, people will say Benghazi is a place of terror — but not for long,” he vowed. “The people of Benghazi will show on Friday that they are against this.”
Ansar al-Sharia, a jihadist militia blamed by locals for the attack, called for protests “in defence of the Prophet Mohammed” in response to an American-made film and French cartoons deemed offensive to Muslims.
Both events are scheduled at the same time and place, fanning fears of violence.