The armed Islamist group linked by Libyan officials to the killing last week of Ambassador Chris Stevens denied involvement today, even as it blamed the U.S. for allowing the release of an anti-Islamic film and failing to evacuate its consulate.
“We completely and categorically deny involvement,” said Youseff El Gehani, spokesman for the Ansar al-Sharia brigade, said in an interview at a Benghazi hotel. “The embassy knew how sensitive it was to allow that film, they should have evacuated. If America wants respect in the Arab world, it should avoid spilling blood in places such as Syria and Afghanistan, and avoid insulting the prophet.”
Stevens and three other diplomats died during an assault with machine guns and rockets on the U.S. consulate and nearby accommodation in Benghazi on Sept. 11, as Muslim groups protested over the U.S.-produced anti-Islamic film. At the weekend, Libya’s de-facto head of state, the parliament speaker, Mohammed Magariaf, said in an interview that elements of the al- Sharia brigade were involved in the consulate attack. Magariaf cited communication intercepts shown to him by U.S. officials.
Magariaf characterized the attack on the consulate as part of a wider struggle between Libya’s parliament and anti- democratic forces.
“The confrontation is necessary and inevitable with these elements,” he said in the Sept. 15 interview. “Today it is the Americans, tomorrow it is going to be Libyans.”
El Gehani said al-Sharia has 300 soldiers and would resist any action aimed against it. The group has stationed pick-up trucks mounting anti-aircraft guns at the entrance to its base, the former Fadil Katiba barracks of forces loyal to Libya’s ousted leader, Muammar Qaddafi.
Even so, he said he did not anticipate a U.S. assault. “We are innocent. Why would the Americans attack innocent people?”
Speculation that military action might be imminent was heightened by a report in the English-language Libya Herald and other local newspapers of the capture yesterday of a Tripoli- based Islamist unit, the Abu Miliana Martyr’s Brigade, by forces loyal to the government’s Supreme Security Council.
El Gehani, 33, said al-Sharia’s soldiers were part of a larger organization and said it has the support of Benghazi’s local council, which is led by parties sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood.
El Gehani said his group sought a state founded on Islamic principles. “We did not fight the revolution just to remove Qaddafi, we fought to have a state based on Sharia law.”
His comments came as Libya’s Interior Minister Fawzi Abdul Al appeared on state television today to deny a report yesterday by his deputy, Wanis El Sharef, that police investigating the consulate attack had arrested 50 suspects. Abdul Al said the true number was four.
To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Stephen in Benghazi at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com