Thu September 13, 2012
How Benghazi Is Reacting To The Deadly Attacks
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep, on a tense day across the Arab world. We're gathering information from Yemen, where hundreds of protestors today breached the wall of the U.S. embassy. Witnesses say they burned an American flag, though it appears none reached the main embassy building. One reporter describes a man in the streets shouting against Jews and Christians, and the reporter adds: This is not the Yemen I know.
At another compound in Benghazi, Libya, American authorities are investigating the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and many others. Hadeel Al-Shalchi of Reuters has been talking with authorities and protestors.
HADEEL AL-SHALCHI: There was definitely a protest planned around the consulate to mimic what happened in Egypt. Security even told me that, you know, people who were sympathetic with the cause from the security may have even allowed, you know, people to riot very close to the consulate.
What protesters tell me happened is that there was an exchange of fire. Who shot the first shot either from inside of the embassy or from outside is still murky. What we know is that when the shooting started or the clash started between the two sides, all hell broke loose. People went back home, brought all their weapons. Brigades that are not involved with the government or not recognized by the government brought in their heavy weapons. RPGs were shot in the air. And that's when it became very chaotic. And that's when also security forces were outnumbered and out-weaponed, and the storming was allowed to happen.
This part of the story seems like something that was a chaotic mob riot. What may make people speculate that it was a planned attack was the commander of an operations team that was involved in trying to safeguard the movements of 37 Americans staffers from a safe house to the airport in order for them to be Benghazi said that the safe house came under a sustained, accurate attack from six mortars - six rounds of mortars, and he said that it was impossible for any militant or for any regular former revolutionary or rebel to have that kind of accuracy when they were hitting what was supposed to be a secret location. So it looks like it must have been a combination.
INSKEEP: Would you give us an idea of how many different armed groups are in and out of Benghazi at any given time?
AL-SHALCHI: I even don't think that people in Benghazi know the answer to that question. There are definitely groups that are very well-known. There are about 10,000 members of a very large brigade called the February 17th Brigade that is made up of militiamen who fought the revolution and now don't want to give up their arms. They want to continue protecting Benghazi. And so they've become, under the Interior of Ministry, as quote, "policeman," but they don't have the kind of training that a cop would normally have.
AL-SHALCHI: But then you have other radical groups. You have Ansar al-Sharia. This is more of a Salafi group, a hard-line, ultra-conservative Muslim group that is very well-armed and also has known to cause some trouble in Benghazi. And then also you have just, like, really small brigades. You have, like, maybe five guys who call themselves a fighting group, and they're just really well-armed and they were able to lead as much as they could during the war, or they were able to get weapons when the government was arming revolutionaries. They're their own people, and they police their own little areas. So it's kind of like a weird, organized-not organized chaos most of the time, security-wise.
INSKEEP: One other thing Hadeel Al-Shalchi: How have Libyans in Benghazi there responded to the attacks, this news spread of that the ambassador particularly had been killed?
AL-SHALCHI: In Benghazi at the consulate, the consulate is now not secure at all, like, you can walk in and out of it. And people all day yesterday were doing that. They would come, sort of take a stroll inside the grounds, you know, take pictures and little videos of the damage.
The majority of those people said two things. They said, first of all, why did the United States allow something like this movie to happen? Because at the end of the day, almost everybody here believes that it was a reaction to the movie that - and they believe that the United States had a responsibility to stop the production or...
INSKEEP: This is a film that was spreading on the Internet that was seen as insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Go on.
AL-SHALCHI: Exactly. And so they said, why did this happen? But in the next breath, they say: But we don't condone this kind of thing. There are civilized ways to show and express our anger, and this is not one of them. This should never have happened.
The American ambassador had a very good reputation in Libya. He was actually quite a warm guy, and he tried his best to, like, encourage his own staffers to meet with Libyans. There was a lot of scholarships that were given from the American Embassy - particularly in Benghazi, also - to encourage people to go to the States and to study and to get trained, et cetera. So they felt like it was quite a big loss for Libya when something so tragic would happen. And so the majority of people are quite angry, and they're quite disappointed that this happened.
INSKEEP: Hadeel Al-Shalchi is a correspondent with the Reuters news agency. She's in Benghazi, Libya.
Thanks very much.
AL-SHALCHI: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.