Saleh Jouda, a member of Libya’s elected General National Congress and the deputy head of national security, said the government did not have any information about stolen weapons aside from “between 1,000 and 2,000 guns.” He said the government had set up new security checkpoints to track down the weapons. But there was no evidence of new checkpoints in Benghazi on Monday.
The militias were carrying out arrests Monday of people believed to have been involved in the weekend incidents.
The clashes at Rafallah al-Sahati’s base followed a mass protest Friday, during which thousands of Libyans marched through Benghazi demanding the establishment of a strong national army and the dissolution of the hundreds of militias that have run Libya’s streets in the security vacuum since Moammar Gaddafi’s fall last year.
By early Saturday, protesters, aided by other government-allied militias, had overrun four militia bases, including Rafallah al-Sahati’s, and a base belonging to the extremist group Ansar al-Sharia, which many here have accused of involvement in the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Libya’s militias consist largely of former rebels who in some cases have amassed large quantities of heavy weapons, stolen from Gaddafi’s arsenals over the course of Libya’s eight-month revolution. The country’s weak central government has yet to develop a clear plan to collect those weapons.
The president of the General National Congress told reporters Saturday that all of the militias would be absorbed into a unified national force, or required to disband. However, there is a fine line between the militias that already fall under the loose central command in Tripoli and those that don’t.
During Monday’s interview, Salabi referred to his militia at times as “the nucleus of the new Libyan army,” and at other times as an organization separate from and victimized by the national army. He also said that his group and two other government-affiliated militias are the only groups in Benghazi capable of reclaiming the stolen weapons.
“There is no organized militia that can get these weapons back, other than Rafallah al-Sahati, the February 17th [Brigade] and Libya Shield. We can attack the places where the weapons are,” he said.
It was unclear whose hands the weapons had fallen into. But Salabi suggested that clashes had broken out between rival militias over the looting of Rafallah al-Sahati’s weapons. “Most of the clashes were over who was going to get control of the weapons,” he said.