Fear slows Libyan probe into attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi

Wed Dec 19, 2012 3:35pm EST
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By Marie-Louise Gumuchian, Hadeel Al Shalchi and Ghaith Shennib

TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - A Libyan reluctance to crack down on suspected Islamist groups behind the deadly attack on the U.S. Benghazi mission highlights the failure of police and courts to stamp their authority and may open the way for militants to strengthen their grip.

The September 11 assault, in which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed, was the most high profile attack in post-war Libya and yet no significant arrests have been made and witnesses say they have yet to be questioned.

In a scathing assessment released on Tuesday, an official U.S. inquiry determined that security at the mission in eastern Libya was inadequate to deal with the attack and that there was little evidence militia guards alerted Americans to the assault or swiftly summoned reinforcements once it was under way.

The five-member inquiry board found that Libyan guards were "poorly skilled", that U.S. intelligence provided no "specific tactical warning" of the attack, and that there was "little understanding of militias in Benghazi and the threat they posed to U.S. interests" in the eastern Libyan city.

In a country where armed militias wield the real power on the ground, some say it is too difficult for the weak state armed forces to move against these groups and there is no real desire to dig too deep for fear of setting off reprisals.

Seeking justice remains a tough task in the oil-producing North African state, where authorities - overwhelmed without an effective army or police force at their disposal - have little power to protect citizens or confront criminal suspects.

"They are afraid and they don't have the power to face these people, who could just get stronger and stronger," an official from Libya's former interim leadership said.

"Security is the priority, and what is holding everything back. It just hasn't been faced properly."   Continued...

The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames during a protest by an armed group said to have been protesting a film being produced in the United States in this September 11, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori/Files