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US pulls embassy staff from Tunisia,Sudan

After al-Qaeda threat,non-essential staff told to leave countries

Written by New York Times | Cairo |
September 17, 2012 12:51:40 am

The US on Sunday ordered non-essential staff from its missions in Sudan and Tunisia to leave after the al-Qaeda called for fresh attacks on American embassies in the Arab world and the West to avenge a movie deemed offensive to Islam.

Western embassies across the Muslim world remained on high alert on Sunday.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said he hoped the worst of the violence was over but that US missions must remain on guard against any flare-ups. “There continue to be some demonstrations but it would appear that there is some levelling off on the violence that we thought might take place,”Panetta said.

The Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP),in a statement on Saturday,praised the mob attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans. The AQAP,according to Washington-based IntelCentre,called for efforts aimed at “expelling the embassies of the United States from Muslim countries”.

Meanwhile,there was growing focus on Libya’s Ansar al-Sharia,the brigade of rebel fighters that witnesses say led the attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi. The brigade,The New York Times reported,holds that democracy is incompatible with Islam. It has paraded the streets with weapons calling for an Islamic state,and a few months ago its leader boasted publicly that its fighters could flatten a foreign consulate.

But if the group’s ideology may put it on the fringe of Libyan society,its day-to-day presence in society does not. It is just one of many autonomous battalions of heavily armed men formed during and after the uprising against Col. Muammar Gaddafi who have filled the void in public security left by his fall,resisting calls to disarm by saying that the weak transitional government is not up to the job,The New York Times reported.

Ansar al-Sharia’s fighters have given conflicting stories about their role in the attack. Said to number fewer than 200,they can usually be found at Al Jala Hospital in Benghazi,where they act as its guards and protectors. And when instead they turned their guns on the USmission,US security officers did not call for help from any formal military or police force — there is none to speak of — but turned to the leader of another autonomous militia with its own Islamist ties.

The battle over the mission has also became the latest skirmish in a larger struggle unfolding across the region between hard-line and moderate Islamists. The leaders of Libya’s interim government say they hope dismay at the attack on the mission will be the catalyst they need to finally disarm and control the militias. But the militiamen,who still call themselves “revolutionaries,” remain the power on the streets.

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