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Libyan citizens storm Ansar al-Sharia base in Benghazi
Thousands of protestors took to the streets to demand an end to the power of militias
By Agence France-Presse and Staff
BENGHAZI, Libya – Libyan citizens September 22 ousted a jihadist militia from its headquarters in Benghazi.
Chanting "Libya, Libya" and "No more al-Qaeda," hundreds of protesters stormed the compound of the hard-line Islamist militia Ansar al-Sharia and torched the site.
Armed militants fired into the air as they retreated from their headquarters in the face of the overwhelmingly superior numbers of the protesters.
“This brigade was a big problem for us and for everybody. It was a centre of extremists," demonstrator Tawfik Mohamed, 32, told AFP.
The seizure of the Ansar al-Sharia base came after some 30,000 peaceful demonstrators took to the streets after Friday prayers for a "Save Benghazi" protest.
Rally participants paid tribute to US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and the other Americans killed in the assault on the US consulate in Benghazi. Ansar al-Sharia has been accused of involvement in that September 11 attack.
"Libya lost a friend," read one banner carried by protestors. "We want justice for Stevens," said another.
The demonstration eclipsed a smaller rally attended by a few hundred people, called by Ansar al-Sharia to protest an Islamophobic film aired on YouTube.
Ahmad Elobedy, a teacher at a Benghazi school, said the largest of the citizens' rallies delivered a "message" to all militias that are not under the control of state security institutions.
"What Benghazi did was a natural reaction, because the revolution is over and we must now build the state," Elobedy told Central Asia Online. "The public wants an army, a police force. We want security and safety."
Khalel Gewedr, a Benghazi resident, said the protests were long overdue.
"The embassy incident was the trigger for the 'Save Libya' rally on Friday," he said. "This is expected from Benghazi residents."
Another resident, Abdelwahab Orfa, said that putting an end to militias in Benghazi was the first step in building the state.
"Institutions are the basis of the state and the most important of these institutions are the army and police. Militias obstruct this," Orfa said.
The scene of Benghazi residents taking to the streets brought back memories of the day when pro-Khadafi forces fell, said Entissar Brawen.
"Young men, women, the elderly, in cars and on foot – we all marched with one voice on Friday at the 'Save Benghazi' event, in order to save Libya. Benghazi, the headquarters of the revolution, said its word today and has more to say," she said.
The protesters also stormed other paramilitary bases belonging to groups with varying degrees of loyalty to the central government.
Asmaa Elourfi in contributed to this report