World Bulletin / News Desk
The two main Islamist militias in Derna, a city in eastern Libya known as an Islamist stronghold, withdrew from their five bases on Saturday and announced they were disbanding, residents said, a day after a militia was driven out of Benghazi.
The Abu Slim and Ansar al-Sharia militias' announcements were apparently motivated by events in Benghazi, where Ansar al-Sharia, a group linked with last week's deadly attack on the U.S. consulate, withdrew from all its bases in the city late on Friday amid mass demonstrations in support of the government.
Those demonstrations in Libya's second city, also in the east, erupted into violence when the crowd turned against another group that had sworn support for the government.
Libyan LANA news agency quoted commanders from both militias as saying they were disbanding and vacating their compounds.
Abu al-Shalali, 27, an Abu Slim fighter who trained as an electrical engineer, said there was a non-violent confrontation at one camp between protesters and fighters who did not initially want to leave but ultimately decided they could not use force against the crowd.
"We can't kill our brothers and our cousins," he said, adding that camp housed a jail with 50 prisoners, all of whom were freed. He said they were common criminals and that their release would probably cause a crime spree.
Derna, a coastal city overlooking the Mediterranean, is known across the region as a major recruitment centre for fighters who joined the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
Ansar al-Sharia was driven out of Benghazi in a surge of anger against the armed groups that control large parts of Libya more than a year after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
A spokesman for Ansar al-Sharia, which has been linked to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed, said it had evacuated its Benghazi bases "to preserve security in the city".
In a dramatic sign of Libya's fragility, after sweeping through Ansar's bases the crowd went on to attack a pro-government militia, triggering an armed response in which at least 11 people were killed and more than 60 wounded.
The invasion of Ansar al-Sharia's compounds, which met little resistance, appeared to be part of a sweep of militia bases by police, troops and activists following a large demonstration against militia units in Benghazi on Friday.
Demonstrators in Benghazi pulled down militia flags and set a vehicle on fire inside what was once the base of Gaddafi's security forces.
Speaking in Benghazi, the head of Libya's national congress Mohammed Magarief said state security forces had agreed to form a "security operation room" which would work to secure Benghazi by dissolving militias not under the control of the government.
Calling for weapons not to be carried in public, he said it would also prohibit checkpoints and patrols made by illegitimate groups and allow the army to take control of compounds belonging to pro-government militias.