Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Tripoli Supreme Security Committee Commander Hashim Bishr spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about the security situation in the city against the backdrop of clashes between protesters and militiamen in the capital’s Ghargur district.
Residents of Tripoli took part in a general strike earlier this week following violent clashes between armed militias and protesters calling for their disbandment. At least 40 people were killed in the clashes with the militias and protesters exchanging accusations regarding who had fired the first shots.
While Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan denounced the killing of protesters and said that the departure of armed groups from the capital was “necessary and urgently needed,” the head of the Misrata militia—the largest and most powerful militia in Tripoli—warned that “the only way we will leave is in our coffins.”
The Tripoli Supreme Security Committee commander spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about the clashes, the current security situation in the capital, and what needs to be done in Libya to ensure that there is no repeat of the violence.
Asharq Al-Awsat: What is the current security situation in Tripoli’s Ghargur district? Have any of the houses there been demolished?
Hashim Bishr: The deputy defence minister has issued a resolution and an official letter to demolish the buildings that caused the problem. Some actual steps have been taken towards using bulldozers to demolish the houses.
Q: Who is in charge of protecting Gharghur now?
Battalion 161 is in charge of securing Ghargur, and has announced that the area is under the control of the [Public Protector]. The public prosecutor and the National Transitional Council have issued a resolution placing properties under the government’s guard.
Q: Did the militias responsible for the recent deaths get away?
Yes, but a high-level investigation committee will review videotapes of the protest and determine who opened fire. The Interior Ministry has a full recording of the protest from beginning to end.
Q: What about the Interior Ministry’s previous statement that demonstrators did not open fire on the militiamen?
This is in principle, but there is now a full recording that will clarify all of these questions. The findings of the investigation are with the Public Prosecutor’s office and—following demands from most of the local councils—an investigation committee will be formed.
Q: As the head of the Supreme Security Committee in Tripoli, who do you think is primarily responsible for opening fire?
I cannot make any assertions because of the conflicting reports. However, the protest was originally granted an authorization to remain outside Al-Aqsa Mosque, but instead it headed to Gharghur, and this is the problem. Other sides might have tried to interfere and take advantage of the friction between the gunmen and protestors. This will be subject to investigation.
Q: Is there an official number of dead and injured?
Yes, 47 people were killed and 508 injured. Sixty of the injured have been sent abroad for treatment. Other casualties are receiving treatment at private and public medical centers, 20 of whom are in very critical conditions and cannot be moved. Therefore, we will probably see an increase in the death toll.
Q: Following last week’s unprecedented events, what is the security situation like in Tripoli now?
Tripoli is currently secured by local rebels and the situation there now is more like what it was on August 20, 2011, the day Gaddafi was toppled. The police are backing the rebels, but at night they are less active. There are checkpoints and barriers set up by the rebels. With the general strike taking place in the area, some are taking advantage of the current [security] vacuum.
Q: In your opinion, is Tripoli suffering from a security vacuum due to the absence of military forces on the ground?
This is precisely what Tripoli needs. There are police there [but no soldiers]. Speaking as the former head of the Supreme Committee and as somebody who is currently overseeing a public training program, I believe that the police forces want to leave Tripoli. However, the presence of gunmen armed with medium weapons, and sometimes heavy weapons, will make it dangerous for police forces to be in the streets, especially given that they do not carry weapons. If military battalions were stationed at the entrances and exits of the city, the police would be able to do their job in the city. Unfortunately, the city’s gates are open, allowing anyone to enter at any time.
Q: Does this mean that we may see more clashes erupting at any time?
Definitely. This has been obvious since the day of liberation. Scores of clashes have taken place in Tripoli, but the most dangerous were the ones earliest this week in Gharghur district. Gharghur is an entire neighborhood inhabited by militias from Misrata. In fact, it is like pouring oil on a fire.
Q: In your opinion, what is the solution to the security crisis in Tripoli?
The solution is in remaining steadfast and continuing to support the military and the police. I believe the genuine support should go to the military and police in the first place. Secondly, the true rebels on the ground should comply with laws and regulations. All security formations in Tripoli should be disbanded, with no tribe or city excluded [from disbandment]. There are over 50 armed militias in central Tripoli doing whatever they want and arresting whomever they want.
Q: Do you mean that Tripoli is suffering from total security chaos?
Tripoli is suffering from a security vacuum&8212;not chaos. If anything happens now, God only knows what consequences there will be.
Q: Some are saying that Libya needs foreign peacekeeping forces. Do you think the security forces and ordinary Libyans will accept this?
No, this is a completely unacceptable idea. Libyans will deal with their own problems. We Libyans are like old Arabian house whose windows open inwards, not outwards. I think the current crisis solely concerns Libyans and does not require any outside forces being invited into the country.
Q: Minutes after the government announced the situation in Tripoli was under control, deputy intelligence chief Mustafa Nouh was kidnapped. What’s your view of this incident?
Some of the people in charge of the security file are not well qualified. The group that kidnapped Nouh is not concerned about the country’s security.
Q: Who kidnapped Nouh? Are they affiliated with rebels?
I cannot make any statements about the issue. There are issues which I cannot divulge because they are unconfirmed.
This interview was originally conducted in Arabic.