Rival Libyan militias fight gunbattle in capital
Wed Feb 1, 2012 8:14pm GMT
(Adds security committee quote, witness quote, details)
By Oliver Holmes
TRIPOLI Feb 1 (Reuters) - Rival militias fought a two-hour gunbattle over a
luxury beach house being used as a barracks in the Libyan capital on
Wednesday, underscoring how volatile the country is following the overthrow
of Muammar Gaddafi.
A Reuters reporter heard exchanges of both heavy and light weapons coming
from the Tripoli district of El-Saadi beach, a stretch of Mediterranean
coast overlooked by office skyscrapers and the Marriott Hotel.
Militias have carved up Tripoli and the rest of Libya into competing
fiefdoms, each holding out for the share of power they say they are owed.
A witness, who had been relaxing on the beach with his family, told a local
television channel fighters armed with anti-aircraft guns screeched along
the coastal highway and stormed a walled residence.
"It was chaos, the fighters suddenly arrived in cars and started shooting at
the house. Families fled from the beach," Abdul Musharim told the Libyan
news channel 'Libya'.
A militia from Misrata, that arrived in Tripoli during the civil war last
year, had been using the house as a barracks. It used to be owned by
Gaddafi's son Saadi, a businessman and former professional footballer who is
in Niger after escaping across the border when National Transitional Council
(NTC) forces captured Tripoli in August.
A member of the NTC's High Security Committee said the fighting was between
militiamen from Misrata and units from Zintan. Both groups fought to oust
"We are not sure what the fighting was about but government forces have
surrounded the area and it is calm now," the official said on condition of
Black smoke rose from the beach house on Wednesday and armed men who said
they were working for the Interior Ministry circled the building and warned
journalists their cameras would be smashed if they did not leave the area.
The NTC is struggling to impose its authority on the country and form a
functioning national police force and army.
"There is nothing going on here, it is safe" an irate man told Reuters as
gunfire erupted behind him.
In the chaos, men could be seen running along the beach carrying crates of
ammunition taken from the house.
Several militias from outside the capital have set up bases in Tripoli. They
clash intermittently often because of disputes over who controls which
neighbourhoods of the city.
The violence on Wednesday was the first time in weeks that a major gunbattle
had broken out in the centre of the capital. (Additional reporting by Ali
Shuabi and Taha Zargoun; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
Freed from Gaddafi, Libyan Sufis face violent Islamists
Wed Feb 1, 2012 4:14pm GMT
* Sufis to celebrate Mohammad's birthday despite pressure
* Grave desecration, attacks as hardliners exert influence
* Sufis worry they are outflanked politically
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
TRIPOLI, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Freed from Muammar Gaddafi's 42-year
dictatorship, Libya's Sufi Muslims find themselves under renewed pressure
from violent Islamists who have been attacking them and their beliefs as
The desecration of graves belonging to Sufi saints and sages in recent
months have put the peaceful Sufis on the defensive, prompting some to post
armed guards at their mosques and lodges to ward off hardline thugs.
But the birthday of Islam's Prophet Mohammad, one of the highpoints in the
Sufi calendar, is on Saturday and Libyan Sufis are determined to take their
traditional processions through the streets to show they will not be cowed.
At a meeting of Sufi scholars to plan the celebrations, Sheikh Adl Al-Aref
Al-Hadad said even being driven out of his zawiyah (Islamic school) late
last year by Islamists known as Salafis would not deter him from marching.
"I'm worried but I'm not afraid," said Al-Hadad, whose Tripoli school was
stormed by armed men who burned its library, destroyed office equipment and
dug up graves of sages buried there. They turned the school into a Salafi
On Jan. 13, extremists crashed a bulldozer through the walls of the old
cemetery in the eastern city of Benghazi, destroyed its tombs and carried
off 29 bodies of respected sages and scholars. They also demolished a nearby
Sheikh Khaled Mohammad Saidan, whose Dargut Pasha Mosque faces Tripoli's
port, said most Islamists in post-Gaddafi Libya disagreed with Sufis, but
peacefully. "But there are no police around and you never know what some
people might do," he added.
PIETY OR IDOLATRY?
Sufi lodges from around Tripoli will march on Saturday through narrow alleys
of the walled old town, waving flags and chanting poems in praise of
Mohammad to the beat of cymbals, drums and tambourines.
To the puritanical Salafis, these practices amount to bida (innovation) and
shirk (idolatry), both grave sins that must be stopped, by force if
Sufism, a mystical strain in both Sunni and Shi'ite Islam, dates back to the
early days of the faith. Apart from their prayers, Sufi devotions include
singing hymns, chanting the names of God or dancing to heighten awareness of
Revered saints, scholars and holy people are buried in shrines and some are
honoured with annual pilgrimages. While many Islamic scholars say this is
admissible, puritanical schools of Islam such as Saudi Arabia's Wahhabis or
the Afghan Taliban consider it heretical.
As pious and peaceful believers, Sufis have been easy targets for violent
Islamists seeking political power. The Pakistani Taliban have attacked Sufi
shrines and mosques there in recent years and Salafi attacks on Sufis broke
out last year after Egypt's protesters toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
GADDAFI'S BIZARRE ISLAM
Gaddafi had a bizarre and fickle relationship with Islam, using it when it
boosted his authority but suppressing it whenever faith seemed to be the
first step towards dissent. At one point in the 1980s, anyone going to
morning prayers in a mosque risked arrest as a religious extremist.
The dictator denied there was a split between Sunnis and Shi'ites. He blew
hot and cold on the Prophet's birthday event known as Mawlid, sometimes
limiting it in Libya but leading mass celebrations in African cities in his
self-appointed role as a pan-African and pan-Islamic leader.
Traditional religious schools were shut and religious education was reduced
to a few basics about Islam and heavy emphasis on memorising the Koran.
Gaddafi even abolished the Dar al Ifta, the central authority for issuing
religious rulings or fatwas, and Libya offered no such advice to its Muslims
from 1978 until the office was restored after rebels chased him from power
"He did everything but give people carpets and say pray to him rather than
Allah," one imam remarked.
All this undermined Libya's traditional Islam, a balanced Sunni version with
Sufi influences. Some Muslims began looking abroad for inspiration,
especially to Saudi Arabia, and brought back a more austere Islam that mixed
up the religious landscape.
"Nobody knows anymore what they are," said Sufi theologian Aref Ali Nayed
when asked what the majority was in Libyan Islam. "We have 42 years of
Gaddafi to thank for that."
Libya's Sufis also worry they are being outflanked politically. Many new
religious officials have Salafi leanings, they say, and are appointing
Salafi imams to mosques vacated by pro-Gaddafi preachers. Salafi preaching
is now widespread on Libyan television and radio, they say.
Salafis have also begun denouncing traditional imams to the authorities,
prompting them to be replaced by hardliners. "About half the imams here have
been replaced by Salafis," said one imam at a large Tripoli mosque where
Salafis in the congregation are campaigning against celebrating Mawlid.
Political parties are starting to form, including the Muslim Brotherhood.
Libyan Salafis have not yet announced if they plan to launch a party and
contest elections, as in Egypt.
Sheikh Mohammad Jafari, whose mosque is pockmarked from the fighting over
Gaddafi's Bab Al-Azizaya compound just across the street, said Sufis had to
stand up for their beliefs.
"Sufis uphold the values of love and brotherhood," he said. "We believe in
dialogue and difference of opinions. We want to build a Libya of diversity."
(tom.heneghan_at_thomsonreuters.com. See our faith and ethics blog FaithWorld
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Wed Feb 01 2012 - 16:16:18 EST