Benghazi: Terror in the Streets*
By Marie Edwards
August 20, 2011
In Benghazi homes are raided, neighbors dragged off, suspects executed. Many people are unemployed. Large companies, including German construction firm Bilfinger Berger, have pulled out of the city. Young men race around town with tires screeching, others strut around in public buildings brandishing their knives. At night, the streets are reminiscent of Sao Paolo gang wars, the only difference being that the youths here wear flak jackets.
Many young academics who were about to complete their studies and to get a good job are starting to get frustrated. One, who only talks on the condition that he remains anonymous, studied economics at the Gharyounis University. He was offered a job as a manager at Bilfinger Berger and would have earned good money. Now he's unemployed. He says of the rebels: "They are under 30 and don't have wives. They are proud of the weapons they looted from barracks. They don't know how to control themselves. They quickly become aggressive. They've got these weapons and lose themselves."
Militias in Benghazi possess sophisticated weaponry, ranging from antitank missiles to rocket-propelled grenades and people here speak of tribes settling old accounts and power struggles emerging. Sporadic gunfire can be heard daily in the rebel capital, and hundreds of men walk around town armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles.
People's concern in Benghazi focus on gangs wearing the army fatigues favored by the rebels, terrorizing citizens and robbing them at gunpoint. "It is not safe anymore to travel in some parts of the city," says Dawud Salimi, 41. "Criminals are taking advantage of the instability for their own profit. Recently, they have targeted foreigners. A group of men wearing military outfits broke into the hotel room of a Western journalist, assaulted her and ran off with her electronic equipment”.
Across Benghazi city, armed squads are being dispatched to crack down on supporters of Libyan Leader Muammar al-Qadhafi. Thousands have been arrested in the night raids.
Under the cover of darkness, the Benghazi 'protection squad' gathered. Speaking in muted, tense tones, clutching loaded guns, the men began the hunt. In swift, silent convoy they drive across the city, targeting the homes of suspected loyalists.
The armed men drove to a farmhouse just outside Benghazi. The choice of target had been discussed back at their base, in an office strewn with handwritten papers, the intelligence on potential suspects.
Pulling up silently, muffling the closing of car doors, fingers on the triggers of the loaded guns, they set up their positions. Two men pointed their weapons, sniper like, through gaps in the outer walls. Faces covered with balaclavas, others snuck through the front gate and surrounded the farm. The only noise to be heard under the clear moonlit sky was the sound of guard dogs' barks.
Drivers waited, the engines running. "This is very, very dangerous. Often there are gun battles," muttered one driver.
The farm was empty. Disappointed, the squad returned to cars. Onto the next target. "They know we are looking for them. They cannot stay in one place. Often they bribe neighbors not to give us information," says the squad leader.
Qadhafi supporters drive around in cars firing at pedestrians in order to spread fear, say the rebels. "There are thousands of them here," said the gang leader of the night raid.
"We have many people - students, post-graduates, businessmen who still stand with Qadhafi. They are in hiding now, organizing themselves,” says lifelong Benghazi resident Sami Hassan, 37.
Rebels fear that "pro-Qadhafi" citizens in Benghazi are acting as spies for the Libyan government. "Don't trust anyone, we are in a psychological war," admits Council spokesperson Issam Giriani. "Even now, I know some are walking around us here, recording."
Perhaps the accusations are true. There are signs that Benghazi has not given itself to the rebel's cause. A table at an office in the court house is strewn with the weapons found on infiltrating attackers: Kalashnikovs, assault rifles, and dynamite. "There have been many attempts at attacking the court house," says Ibrahim Gheriani in charge of security.
Before being stopped in their tracks by NATO air strikes, Qadhafi's advance on Benghazi emboldened some of his supporters to show themselves. "In two days we will win, Muammar will be back," a man told a reporter before slipping quietly back into the crowd.
The incidences prompted the crackdown by the rebel leader who announced that Qadhafi sympathizers had 24 hours to hand over their weapons. If they didn't, they would be treated as murderers and enemies of the rebels. "Those with bloodstained hands will be punished," says Issam Giriani.
Fed by fear, war breeds suspicion and mistrust. Determining loyalties in this fluid environment can be an impossible task. Some of the targets are suspects on dangerously loose criteria.
The regime loyalty of a person's home town, a photograph of the Libyan leader in the wallet and family ties, are all considered 'evidence'.
"This man is from Sirte. Most people from there are Ligen Thauria. His family is from there too," says Hani in explanation of the midnight armed raid on the farmhouse.
The rebels have their own spying game. "Sometimes we use women; they go inside to the houses, perhaps pretending they are poor and need something. There they see if the person has guns, she tries to find them."
Captives are taken to a military base. In the closed cement quadrangle courtyard lined by cells sit rows of captives. On the right are the foreign prisoners, thought by the rebels to be "mercenaries". Lined on the left were dozens of black Libyans.
Their imprisonment is indefinite. "God knows when I will be allowed to go home," says a black Libyan who says he was captured at a bus stop as he tried to get home.
Often the raids are run by adrenaline-pumped youth. Before going out, in the secret base where they gathered, the squad of youths joked, jumped, shouted; pumped with for the night's hunt. "Most of these guys have been my friends since school," said the squad leader. "Let's go!" he said to the enthusiastic clacks of his gang loading their weapons.
Excited and power hungry the commander wielded his loaded Kalashnikov dangerously with a manic smile. His military training was cut short when he was kicked out from the college. "I had a fight with the colonel in college. He swore at me, kicked me out."
The raids can be violent. Some members of this gang have been killed. "On the first raid, we went to find Qadhafi’s people who were trading guns said Hani. There was a forty-minute gun battle in which the squad lost one of its men. "We captured four guys and I killed one," he said proudly. The night raids are growing in number and size. "We caught dozens last week," said a squad organizer who works at the Benghazi rebel's courthouse.
From the start of the conflict the rebels relied on its Western backers. The rebels have failed to broaden their appeal precisely because the key opposition leaders are perceived as exactly what they are: sellouts. The Libyan people know that the leading members of the rebels are imperial puppets.
Before the war social and economic rights were so widely developed that Libya hosted hundreds of thousands of foreign workers. And with all its wealth, Libya remained a socialist country. Muammar Al-Qathafi asked: “How can one not be a socialist and spreading the wealth of one’s country equally among its citizens?”
This was hard for Western capitalists to swallow and the opportunities for profit from a war with Libya were hard for Western capitalists to pass up. The objective of Washington and its allies consists in confiscating and managing Libya's vast wealth and controlling its resources. So they initiated a foreign-propelled civil war in Libya.
But the rebels are unable to use the tactical advantage that NATO air superiority provides to them. Had the rebel forces support among the Libyan masses they would have claimed more territory. Few analysts believe that the Libyan leader’s loyalists can be easily defeated, if at all. Reports from Libya indicate the rising tide of massive support for the Libyan leader Muammar Al-Qadhafi by his followers, who have attended rallies and demonstrated their preparedness to confront the rebels and their backers.
The rebels are not loved, given the speech of Muammar Al-Qadhafi as he addressed his supporters of more than a million people in the northwestern town of Al-Zawiya not far from Tripoli. The crowd reached a deafening crescendo when he spoke in a recorded message.
Meanwhile the Libyan government forces have regained control of most of Libyan territory and in over five months after the NATO aggression against Libya, key oil installations and, above all, the so far impregnable capital are firmly in the hands of the Libyan government.
The information war against Libya is gigantic. Oceans of lies and misinformation are poured on the heads of unsuspecting listeners and readers on a daily basis. Events in Libya are showing how monstrous Orwellian lies can be easily used to manipulate people’s minds in an age of information technologies. Frontrunners in manipulation are Qatar’s Al-Jazeera and the Western media outlets. The lies are so blatant, that one has to wonder why the paper is not rejecting the print.
The West's blame for where it now finds itself in Libya has a long pedigree. The aggression against Libya parallels the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The latter is still reeling from the wounds of the sectarian strife unleashed by Washington's invasion and the former is the proverbial NATO failed state.
NATO is losing and they don't like it--they better wake up, for the US taxpayer will not fund another huge atrocity against humanity. The truth is coming out.