BENGHAZI – A Libyan Salafi group which has denied it was involved in a deadly assault on the American consulate in Benghazi said today Libya would turn into “an inferno for US troops” if the US military retaliated.
Yousef Jehani, a senior member of Ansar al-Sharia, told Reuters that the armed group, which espouses an austere form of Islam, wanted to avoid confrontation but was ready for a showdown if Washington acted “foolishly”.
Any US military intervention could push Libyans to wage a holy war, or “jihad”, to defend their nation, said Jehani, whose group is a powerful force in Benghazi, a stronghold for Islamists and cradle of the revolution which toppled Muammar Gaddafi last year.
“If one US soldier arrives, not for the purpose of defending the embassy, but to repeat what happened in Iraq or Afghanistan, be sure that all battalions in Libya and all Libyans will put aside all their differences and rally behind one goal of hitting America and Americans,” Jehani said.
The consulate attack was part of wider anti-American protests that erupted across the Middle East over an obscure, amateurish US-made video that insulted the Prophet Mohammad.
Libya closed its air space over Benghazi airport temporarily due to heavy anti-aircraft fire by Islamists aiming at US reconnaissance drones flying over the city, days after the US ambassador and three other Americans died in the attack.
The closure of the airport prompted speculation that the United States was deploying special forces in preparation for an attack against the assailants of the consulate. Two US warships headed for the coast off Libya.
US citizens would become legitimate targets if Washington sent any troops to target Islamist groups, Jehani said.
“Libyans will wage jihad. The US will be hit much harder than in Afghanistan and even US nationals would be targeted because the American presence would be considered an invasion.”
Jehani held Washington responsible for the deaths at the consulate, saying the United States should have looked after the ambassador at a time when passions were running high amongst Libyans over the video mocking the Prophet Mohammad. (Reuters)