An Islamist militia was driven out of the city of Benghazi early on Saturday in a surge of protest against the armed groups that control large parts of Libya more than a year after the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi.
A spokesman for Ansar al-Shariah said the group had evacuated its bases in Benghazi “to preserve security in the city.”
In a dramatic sign of Libya’s fragility, the crowd swept through the base and went on to attack a pro-government militia, believing them to be Islamists, triggering an armed response in which at least 11 people were killed and more than 60 wounded, according to Reuters.
Ansar al-Shariah is the militant al-Qaida inspired group that some allege played a role in the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The invasion of its compound, which met little resistance, appeared to be part of a coordinated sweep of militia bases by police, government troops and activists following a mass public demonstration against militia units in Benghazi on Friday.
While the late Friday protests were planned in advance though social networking sites and flyers, the storming of the heavily armed militia headquarters took many by surprise.
Demonstrators pulled down militia flags and set a vehicle on fire inside what was once the base of Gadhafi’s security forces who tried to put down the first protests that sparked last year’s uprising.
Hundreds of men waving swords and even a meat cleaver chanted “Libya, Libya,” “No more al-Qaida!” and “The blood we shed for freedom shall not go in vain!”
“After what happened at the American consulate, the people of Benghazi had enough of the extremists,” demonstrator Hassan Ahmed said. “They did not give allegiance to the army. So the people broke in and they fled.