Libya's president ordered the country's militias to come under government authority or disband, a move that appeared aimed at harnessing popular anger against the armed groups after the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador.
The assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, which left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead, has sparked an angry backlash among many Libyans against the myriad armed factions that continue to run rampant across the nation nearly a year after the end of the country's civil war. On Friday, residents of Benghazi - the cradle of the Libyan revolution last year that toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi - staged a mass demonstration against the militias before storming the compounds of several armed groups in the city in an unprecedented protest to demand the militias dissolve.
Late Saturday, President Mohammed el-Megaref told reporters that the militias, which the weak central government has relied upon since Gadhafi's ouster in October to provide security in neighborhoods and at state facilities across the country, must fall under the umbrella of the national authorities or disband.
Megaref said a joint operations room in Benghazi will coordinate between the various authorized armed brigades and the army. Militias operating outside the "legitimacy of the state" will be dissolved, and the military and police will take control over those armed groups' barracks, he said.
In a statement published by the official LANA news agency, the military asked all armed groups using the army's camps, outposts and barracks in the capital, Tripoli, and other cities to hand them over. It warned that it will resort to force if the groups refuse.
Since Gadhafi's capture and killing, the government has brought some militias nominally under the authority of the military or Interior Ministry, but even those retain separate commanders and often are only superficially subordinate to the state. Even after Megaref's announcement, it was unclear whether the government had the will - and the firepower - to force the most powerful militias bend to its authority.
Over the last 11 months, interim leaders in Libya have struggled to bring order to a country that was eviscerated during the eccentric dictator's 42-year rule, with security forces and the military intentionally kept weak and government institutions hollowed of authority.