Why Are Armed Groups Storming Foreign Embassies in Tripoli?
August 25, 2011 2 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
It is perhaps understandable that fighters of the National Transitional Council, Libya’s rebel umbrella group, have stormed locations in Tripoli that are associated with the regime of deposed Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. Strategic sites such as Bab al-Aziziya, Gaddafi’s compound, government ministries, or even houses belonging to Gaddafi’s large and powerful family, may be deemed legitimate targets. But why are the rebels also selectively attacking foreign embassies in the Libyan capital? According to Yonhap, South Korea’s state-run news agency, the South Korean embassy in Tripoli was “attacked […] by an armed gang” of about 30 people late on Tuesday. The report, which could not be immediately confirmed by the Republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, cited anonymous sources, who said that embassy staff were “threatened at gunpoint”. At roughly the same period, another group of “armed persons” stormed the building of the Bulgarian embassy, according to the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said that it had yet to clarify “the circumstances around the incident”. On Wednesday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that armed groups had “assaulted and totally looted” the Venezuelan embassy. A few hours later, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Libya, Afif Tajeldine, clarified that the attack took place at his official residence, which is located about 9 miles from the Venezuelan embassy. He told El Universal that armed groups broke into the ambassadorial residence and “searched the house asking for me”. They then “ransacked the house completely” and “left nothing in the house”.
It is arguably hard to disagree with the Ambassador’s view that “this is a violation of international law, as this house is our territory, Venezuelan territory”. But a more pressing question is why are these attacks taking place? The question is even more important in light of the fact the rebels are going out of their way to protect selected embassies around the Libyan capital. These include the Chinese embassy, which currently serves as refuge for a host of international reporters, and the Hungarian embassy, which acts as a protecting power for the United States and all European Union countries. Bizarrely, the list of protected embassies includes that of the United Kingdom, which was effectively destroyed months ago, when it was looted by pro-Gaddafi demonstrators, following NATO’s imposition of the United Nations no-fly zone over Libya. Journalists from Britain’s Daily Telegraph visited the site of the embassy on Wednesday, where they found Kalashnikov-toting rebels zealously protecting the building. The rebel guards had even hoisted the British flag. “One of our boys has put up the flag again. We are very happy now”, one of their leaders told the paper.
So what exactly is going on? Are these attacks against embassies random or premeditated? If they are premeditated, are they perhaps being directed against embassies of countries deemed friendly to the deposed Gaddafi regime? This would certainly be the case with Venezuela, whose government is still refusing to recognize the National Transitional Council as the de facto government of Libya. The Venezuelan embassy in Tripoli is acting as a protective power for a number of Latin American nations that have no official consular presence in Libya. These include Nicaragua, where the Sandinista government has offered asylum to Gaddafi.
Or could it be that these attacks are not led by the rebels themselves, but by some of their embedded American and Western European intelligence operatives, who may be taking advantage of the chaotic situation in the Libyan capital to collect valuable documents from selected foreign embassies? It is plausible to assume at this point that Western intelligence cells, which have been operating on the ground in Libya for several months, have already gained access to Libyan government buildings. These may or may not prove profitable from an intelligence-collection standpoint, depending on the volume of documents and computer hard drives that Gaddafi’s people managed to collect before evacuating the Libyan capital.
Or could it be that the attacks on foreign embassies are not organized by the rebels, but are simply perpetrated by criminal gangs looking for quick profit? In a way, this would be even worse. It would signify that the National Transitional Council and its military wing, the National Liberation Army (in itself a largely unknown quantity), are proving incapable of maintaining order in the post-Gaddafi environment. This is worrying, in light of the fact that the deposed Libyan government was known to possess “weapons stockpiles, a stew of deadly chemicals, raw nuclear material and some 30,000 shoulder-fired rockets”. A largely overlooked CBS report considers the possibility that these weapons may “fall into terrorists’ hands in the chaos of Muammar Qaddafi’s downfall or afterward”. The US Pentagon said on Wednesday that “Libya’s stockpile of chemical weapons is secure” (this was not elaborated on), but noted that a massive arsenal of thousands of shoulder-launched missiles “remained cause for concern”.
Whatever the answer, it is apparent that the Libyan civil war still far from over. And amidst the chaos of armed conflict, regional and global powers, and even non-state actors like Hamas, are positioning themselves for possible tactical gains in the new Libya.