Libya interior minister withdraws resignation

AP News
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Posted: Aug 28, 2012 3:52 PM
Libya interior minister withdraws resignation

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya's interim interior minister returned to work Tuesday, two days after he resigned following attacks by hardliners on Sufi Muslim shrines as police watched, prompting harsh criticism from the country's newly elected parliament.

Fawzi Abdel-Al told reporters that he was withdrawing his resignation, calling on his forces to carry out their duties. He also said his forces couldn't have faced up to the well-armed attackers by force.

"I withdraw my resignation and prepare to complete the task," he told reporters. "I thought submitting my resignation would relieve me and many others. But regrettably, it further complicated matters."

Abdel-Al didn't elaborate on the reasons for his return to work. A new government is expected to be named by the parliament in the coming weeks.

Parliament questioned Abdel-Al over last weekend's attacks by ultraconservative Muslims against religious shrines across the country.

Lawmakers charged the forces were infiltrated by backers of deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi. They blamed Abdel-Al for the worsening security situation in the country, parts of which are controlled by rival groups with arms left over from last year's civil war.

Saturday's attack on the Tripoli shrine was the latest in a string of assaults on Sufi places of worship, sparking fears of brewing sectarian troubles in a country without a strong central government and largely without a functioning police force or military.

Ultraconservative Muslim hard-liners bulldozed a Sufi shrine and a mosque with tombs in Tripoli, a day after hard-liners in the city of Zliten bulldozed a 500-year-old shrine and library. In both incidents, security forces did not intervene.

Sufism is a mystic Muslim order whose members revere saints and pray at their tombs, a practice respected and often followed by many moderate Muslims. But hard-liners view the practice as offensive and a form of idol worship.

Adding to the tension, a security official told The Associated Press that after lawmakers spoke out against the security forces' inaction, Tripoli police and militias, who work together as part of a security committee, were ordered by their superiors to withdraw from the streets.

Abdel-Al said the attacks are under investigation and that he would check if security commanders were to blame.

But he said his outgunned forces could not have stopped the attackers.

"I can't deal with this by using weapons. These (attackers) are a big force in number and ammunition," he told reporters. "I won't embark on a losing battle and drag the country to war."

Abdel-Al's comments highlight Libya's lingering security problem. Since last year's civil war that ended with Gadhafi's capture and killing, the country has largely relied on security from militias comprised of citizens and former security officials who once battled Gadhafi's forces.

Libyan cities and towns have been flooded by guns in the hands of rival groups. Authorities have been struggling to absorb the former rebels into organized security agencies, so far with only limited success.