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‘Masked Men’ Vigilantes Fighting Crime in ‘Failed Libyan State’

Volunteers in Zuwara in Libya’s far west have been fighting crime in the city for five years to fill the post-revolution power vacuum

Members of the Zuwarah Counter Crime Unit are trying to restore law and order (Screengrab/Facebook)
Members of the Zuwarah Counter Crime Unit are trying to restore law and order (Screengrab/Facebook)

Nadine Dahan
Middle East Eye

ZUWARA, Libya – “Come on, come on, come on.” Dressed in all black, a group of masked figures push two men into the back of a pickup truck.

Working from a secluded warehouse, the self-appointed anti-crime unit has been targeting criminals – from druglords to people smugglers – for five years in this coastal city left to its own devices as the Libyan state fell apart around it.

As one man is pushed into the truck, another gets a pat down from one of the masked vigilantes. The men, caught in possession of large quantities of hashish, are taken away to the abandoned warehouse, which doubles as a makeshift prison.

This is what one of dozens of raids orchestrated by the group looks like. Since they started patrolling the city in 2013, the vigilantes have siezed large quantities of drugs, weapons and other contraband.

Convoy of the Counter Crime Unit cars in Zuwarah (provided)
Convoy of the Counter Crime Unit cars in Zuwarah (provided)

The port city of Zuwarah is known in Libya for its pristine beaches and tight-knit community. Libya’s only coastal Amazigh enclave, it is surrounded by an arc of Arab villages where loyalists to the late ruler Muammar Gaddafi are still dominant.

Though Zuwara was far from a crime-free zone before the 2011 uprising, things certainly deteriorated since.

Following the revolution, people-smugglers took advantage of lawlessless in the country, turning the once serene shores into a departure point for many migrant boats headed to Europe. Suddenly corpses of migrants and refugees became a common sight on the city’s iconic white sands.

We sacrificed our careers in the hope that the next generation will have the chance to live better, and the country will improve

– co-founder of Zuwara Counter Crime Unit

At the same time, unrest also led to economic difficulties across the country, and many of the city’s youth turned to fuel and petrol smuggling across the nearby border with Tunisia to make ends meet.

While residents opposed the people-smugglers’ activities, local law enforcement didn’t have the power to stop them. Local police officers would often avoid intervening in such crimes out of fear of how smugglers would retaliate.

With the rise in crime rates, the vigilantes felt there was no other option but to take matters into their own hands.

Officially known as the Zuwara Counter Crime Unit (CCU), but more commonly known by residents as the “Masked Men”, members of the group have put their lives on hold for five years to “protect their community”, as the volunteers put it.

The self-organised unit, formed less than two years after the overthrow of Gaddafi in the 2011 revolution, is made of a group of resident volunteers who aim to restore law and order in the city.

“We sacrificed our careers in the hope that the next generation will have the chance to live better, and the country will improve,” one of the founding volunteers and the current chair of the group told Middle East Eye, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“After the revolution you could see there was no state. The rate of crime had increased, and in 2012, if things had stayed the way they were, we would have seen so many people killed in our city,” he said.

According to the chair, there were about 70 volunteers at the beginning. But now their ranks have risen to twice that number.

Continue this story at Middle East Eye…

READ MORE LIBYA NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Libya Files

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