Screen grab from a video showing the mausoleum in Zliten a day after its destruction.
A little over a month after Libya held its first free elections in decades, the government’s grip on power remains tenuous as groups of extremists take advantage of the transitional period to carry out attacks. Groups of Salafists have taken to targeting mausoleums and tombs across the country, which, despite being Muslim institutions, they believe to be symbols of heresy.
The first attack took place in Zliten, a town just 160 kilometres east of the capital Tripoli, on Friday, August 24. Using bulldozers, explosives and jackhammers, a group of Salafists wrecked a Sufi shrine (Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam). They also destroyed the mosque attached to it and its library, while yelling “Allah Akbar!” (“God is great!”). The following day, Sufi shrines in Tripoli and the northern city of Misrata were also destroyed. These incidents were filmed by the Salafists themselves, who then posted the footage online.
This is not the first time that religious sites have been destroyed in Libya. Just last December, a tomb was bulldozed in Misrata. In videos of this incident, the attackers can be seen holding books and signs with Muammar Gaddafi’s face on them, declaring that the former Libyan leader had financed the mausoleums.
Mohamed al-Magariaf, head of the country’s newly elected National Congress, has condemned the string of shrine attacks, vowing to arrest and severely punish those responsible. Libya’s Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel A'al, however, resigned from office after coming under fire for not having done enough to prevent the attacks in Tripoli.
The incidents have triggered a wave of demonstrations in the capital over the past few days to protest against the vandalism.
Destruction of the Zliten mausoleum on August 24.
The Zliten mausoleum a day after its destruction.