The trailer to the movie “Innocence of Muslims,” a film reportedly produced by an Israeli-American real-estate developer, was seen by many in the Muslim world as highly offensive to the Prophet Mohammed. In Cairo on Tuesday, a group of several thousand people, including numerous Salafists, gathered in front of the US embassy and replaced the American flag with a huge black flag, on which they had written “There is no God but God and Mohammed is his prophet.”
Meanwhile in Benghazi, angry demonstrators gathered in front of the US consulate. During the evening, armed men managed to get inside the building and open fire on the consulate’s security forces, forcing them to evacuate the building. The US ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and three other American employees were killed during the attack.
Images of the attack on the consulate posted to YouTube by Doualia.com
“The extremist Islamists were yelling that they wanted to kill everyone in the consulate”
Sofian Kadura is an airline pilot who lives in Benghazi.
I was out with a few friends yesterday evening around 9 or 10 p.m., when we drove into the area where the consulate is located. All of a sudden, we were caught in a huge crowd, with people seemingly shooting on both sides – at the consulate and from the consulate. But it was hard to tell exactly who was shooting. We quickly managed to get to safety, to an area about 200 metres away from the consulate. My friends and I – who were all Freedom Fighters, or rebels, during the war – wanted to go back and see exactly what the trouble was, so I took my AK-47 from my car. (Today, I remain part of a volunteer brigade that ensures security in Benghazi.)However, when we tried to get closer to the consulate, we realised that armed Islamist extremists had blocked off the streets. They had automatic rifles, RPGs, and big machine guns mounted on cars. It was obvious they were Islamists due to their long beards. I told them I was part of a security brigade, and asked them to let me through – they refused. A large crowd of civilians had gathered, and many people tried to persuade the Islamists to stop. The Islamists were yelling that they wanted to kill everyone in the consulate. We said, “You know, there are Libyans working in there, too,” but they didn’t care – they said those Libyans should never have agreed to work with Americans. They also claimed that the consulate security fired at them first [Editor’s Note: we are unable to idependently verify this claim] – and I said, well, did you really think it was a good idea to show up to ‘protest’ with RPGs and automatic rifles?"This is not what we fought the war for"We stayed there until the Islamists left, at around midnight. Usually, when any big incident happens in Benghazi, those who are members of brigades receive orders over our talkie walkies from a main call centre. We received no orders. In fact, there was a brigade just down the street, but they stayed away. I was very distraught. This is not what we fought the war for. While I think the video is insulting, and should never have been made, I don’t think violence is the solution.Today, many people in Benghazi are just as angry as me, and dislike these Islamists. But we’re in a difficult spot, because criticising them can be interpreted as being “against” the Prophet. The Islamists I talked to last night belong to a brigade affiliated with the radical Islamist group Ansar Al-Sharia, which translates to “Those Who Want Sharia” [other eyewitnesses and at least one Libyan official have blamed the group for the attack, according to the BBC]. In the past few months, it’s become increasingly powerful and well-known. Like the rest of the brigades in Benghazi, they theoretically ensure security only when the local government asks them to do so. The hospital, which was in dire need of security, recently asked for their help, and since they’ve been guarding it, there’s been no more trouble there. But when religion is involved, they seem to act of their own accord. For example, these past months, they’ve destroyed Muslim mausoleums that they deem blasphemous.People are quite scared of them, because these Islamists seem unafraid of dying. There have always been Islamists in Benghazi, but during Muammar Gaddafi’s era, they were locked up in jail. Now, they seem to be making up for lost time. And until the government gives us orders to stop them, there’s not much we other brigades can do. However, I think they will have to be stopped soon, because what they did at the consulate went way too far.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalists Gaelle Faure and Segolène Malterre.