Libyan Islamists Raze Sufi Sites in Bold Attacks
TRIPOLI, Libya (Reuters) — Attackers bulldozed a mosque containing Sufi Muslim graves in the center of Tripoli in broad daylight on Saturday, in what appeared to be the boldest sectarian attack in Libya since the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi last year.
Government officials condemned the demolition of the large Sha’ab mosque and blamed an armed group who, they said, considered its graves and shrines to Sufi figures un-Islamic.
It was the second razing of a Sufi site in two days. Ultraconservative Islamists wrecked Sufi shrines with bombs and another bulldozer and set fire to a mosque library in the city of Zlitan early on Friday, an official said.
Libya’s rulers have struggled to control the many armed groups that are competing for power a year after Colonel Qaddafi’s fall.
The bulldozer leveled the Sha’ab mosque on Saturday as the police surrounded the site and prevented people from approaching.
“A large number of armed militias carrying medium and heavy weapons arrived at the Al Sha’ab mosque with the intention to destroy the mosque because of their belief graves are anti-Islamic,” said a government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
He said the authorities tried to stop the militias but, after a small clash, decided to seal off the area while the demolition took place to prevent any violence from spreading.
Libya’s Supreme Security Council condemned the action, the council spokesman, Abdel Moneim al-Hurr, said.
A man who appeared to be overseeing the demolition said the Interior Ministry had authorized the operation after discovering people had been worshiping the graves and practicing “black magic.”
The ministry was not immediately available for comment.
One of Libya’s highest-profile cultural clashes since the toppling of Colonel Qaddafi has been between followers of the mystical Sufi tradition and ultraconservative Salafis, who have formed a number of armed brigades. They reject as idolatrous many Sufi religious rituals.