The Libyan interim interior minister has resigned, after members of the newly-elected parliament accused his ministry of not doing enough to stop attackers who bulldozed a Sufi shrine and mosque.
The official Libyan news agency LANA reported that Fawzi Abdel-Al submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib on Sunday.
Abdel-Moneim al-Hurr, the spokesman for Libya's security services, said that the interior minister's resignation had been accepted by both the prime minister and parliament.
Hurr said that 17 people had been arrested in connection with the desecration of the Sufi shrine.
The attackers destroyed the mosque, which contained Sufi Muslim graves in the centre of Tripoli, a day after Sufi shrines in the city of Zlitan were wrecked and a mosque library was burned.
The demolition of the large Sha'ab mosque happened in broad daylight on Saturday, drawing condemnation from government officials and Libyans across the country and abroad.
In Zlitan, witnesses said that an armed group, claiming to be Salafis, carried out the assault on the Sufi shrine, the tomb of Abdel Salam al-Asmar, a 15th-century Muslim scholar.
The president of Libya's newly elected National Congress, Mohamed al-Magariaf, called the prime minister to an emergency meeting on Sunday.
"What is truly regrettable and suspicious is that some of those who took part in these destruction activities are supposed to be of the security forces and from the revolutionaries," Magariaf told reporters on Saturday night.
He did not elaborate on how security forces took part.
A public protest was planned for Sunday at the Algeria Square in Tripoli, calling for support against "the lawless minority" that carried out the attacks.
A Reuters reporter saw the bulldozer level the Sha'ab mosque as police surrounded the site and prevented people from approaching and did not stop the demolition. Inside the mosque, empty graves lay open in the rubble.
"A large number of armed militias carrying medium and heavy weapons arrived at the al-Sha'ab mosque with the intention to destroy the mosque because of their belief graves are anti-Islamic," a government official said.
He told Reuters that authorities tried to stop them but, after a small clash, decided to seal off the area while the demolition took place to prevent any violence spreading.
"The SSC [Libya's Supreme Security Council] joins the ... condemnation," Abdel Moneim al-Hurr, the council spokesman, said.
A man who appeared to be overseeing the demolition told Reuters the interior ministry had authorised the operation after discovering people had been worshipping the graves and practicing "black magic". The ministry was not available for comment.
|This video of the Tripoli mosque being destroyed was uploaded onto Youtube
"A group of criminals who have committed crimes against people inside and outside Zliten, entered and took cover in the mosque and fired at the revolutionaries," Mohamed al-Teer, a witness, said.
"The revolutionaries fired back. They killed and captured some of them and the others escaped."
The attackers also set fire to a historic library, reducing years of academic and religious writing to ash. While the official line from the government is condemnation, there are reports security forces stood by and just let this destruction go ahead.
One of Libya's highest-profile cultural clashes since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi has been between followers of the mystical Sufi tradition and ultra-conservative Salafis, who say Islam should return to the simple ways followed by its prophet.
Salafis have formed a number of armed brigades in Libya. They reject as idolatrous many Sufi devotions - which include dancing and the building of shrines to venerated figures.
The Sha'ab mosque in Tripoli housed close to 50 Sufi graves inside and, outside, the tombs of Libyan Sufi scholar Abdullah al-Sha'ab and a martyr who fought Spanish colonialists.