BENGHAZI - Hundreds of Libyan police, government troops and activists evicted members of the Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia early on Sunday, September 22, from the city in an effort to restore security and preserve the tenets of their revolution that ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
"After what happened at the American consulate, the people of Benghazi had enough of the extremists," demonstrator Hassan Ahmed told Reuters.
"They did not give allegiance to the army. So the people broke in and they fled.
"This place is like the Bastille. This is where Gaddafi controlled Libya from, and then Ansar al-Sharia took it over. This is a turning point for the people of Benghazi."
Ahmed was among hundreds of men waving swords and even a meat cleaver chanting "Libya, Libya", "No more al-Qaeda!" and "The blood we shed for freedom shall not go in vain!"
The attacks, coordinated by police, government troops and activists, followed a mass public demonstration against militia units in Benghazi on Friday.
A spokesman for Ansar al-Sharia said the group had evacuated its bases in Benghazi "to preserve security in the city".
Adusalam al-Tarhouni, a government worker who arrived with the first wave of protesters, said several pickup trucks with Ansar fighters had initially confronted the protesters and opened fire, shooting two protesters in the leg.
"After that they got into their trucks and drove away," he said.
Protesters had freed four prisoners found inside, he said.
However, after sweeping through the base, 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.
Ten days ago, US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens was killed while rushing from the US consulate building stormed by Libyan protestors in Benghazi.
Libyan deputy prime minister Mustafa Abu Shagour condemned the killing of the US diplomats as a cowardly act.
Ansar al-Sharia has been linked to the attack on the US consulate, although the group denied involvement.
The killing came hours after angry protestors scaled the walls of the US embassy compound in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, in protest at a film insulting Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him).
The film triggered protests in several countries around the world, which left at least 14 people dead.
The latest events in the cradle of Libya's revolution infuriated Libyans who wanted to preserve their newly gained freedoms.
"The killing of the ambassador, and a preceding set of serious security incidents, are a wake-up call to the new government to actually start to improve security," Oliver Miles, former British ambassador to Libya, told Reuters.
"And now they've got backing from the street in Benghazi to do just that."
Continuing to chant anti-Ansar slogans, the crowd, swelling into the thousands, chanted "Say to Ansar al-Sharia: 'Benghazi will be your inferno!'"
The attack on the compound followed Friday's "Rescue Benghazi Day" demonstration which called for the government to disband armed groups that have refused to give up their weapons.
"It's obvious that this protest is against the militias. All of them should join the army or security forces as individuals, not as groups," student Ahmed Sanallah said.
"Without that there will be no prosperity and no success for the new Libya."
The withdrawal of Ansar al-Sharia across Benghazi and the huge outpouring of public support for the government suggests an extraordinary transformation in a country where the authorities had seemed largely powerless to curb the influence of militia groups armed with heavy weapons.
Nevertheless, Ansar al-Sharia and other Islamist militias have bases elsewhere in eastern Libya, notably around the coastal city of Derna, known across the region as a major recruitment centre for fighters who joined the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.