Unending Battle The Rebels' Ongoing Search for Gadhafi's Mercenaries
Libya's dictator may be dead, but some of the rebels who deposed him are still hunting down Gadhafi's mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa. The fighting has driven thousands of people out of the town of Tawargha, where many regime loyalists lived. Many have been arrested and are being tortured, says Human Rights Watch.
In front of the ruins of a house with the number 33, the militias have placed a carpet on the asphalt and set up a TV. Now they are sitting on the chairs of the people they drove out with heavy boots and weapons: the town of Tawargha's primarily black population.
One of the militia members, who were rebels until recently, is 28-year-old Ibrahim, a thin man with a soft beard. He comes from Misrata, a city 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Tawargha. "We destroyed them," says Ibrahim. They flattened the house with the number 33 and the houses behind it, an entire neighborhood where residents of Tawargha had lived in peace for a long time.
When the revolution began, the former neighbors, the residents of Misrata and Tawargha, became enemies. Misrata was destroyed, and so was Tawargha. The buildings, shops and schools were burned out, and the people fled or were killed. "Some are still here. They are hiding back there in the palm grove," says Ibrahim. He points at the trees with the barrel of his Kalashnikov.
"Tawargha people called us and said, come here if you've got balls," he says. Ibrahim's men came. They had balls. But there was no one there, and all they found was a candle burning in the dark in the middle of an intersection.
"They're taking the piss," says Ibrahim, vowing that they will suffer for it. In a few days they will set off again, with 1,000 to 1,200 men, they will "clean up the area," says Misrata native Ibrahim. By "clean up" he means that he and the others will drive away or kill the people of Tawargha.
Little is known about the residents of Tawargha. They are almost all black, but unlike the refugees and guest workers from Ghana, Mali and Chad, they have been living in Libya for a long time. The first blacks who settled in Tawargha were the old and the sick, after the strong and the young had been sent to America as slaves.
Loyal to Gadhafi
The Tawarghans remained poor, until former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi came into power 42 years ago and promised them better lives, as long as they served him, which they did until recently. About three-quarters of the men from Tawargha were members of Gadhafi's military. They were given more weapons in February, when the protests against the government began.
More is known about the people of Misrata. The city was under fire for eight weeks, and it was the bloodiest front of the rebellion. More than 1,000 Misratans died. Photos of the dead are displayed on building walls and the rear windows of cars, and flyers show the faces of the missing, the sons of the city.
Misrata is the heroic city of the Libyan revolution, and when the rebels had liberated it, they captured Tawargha in August and drove the hated Gadhafi loyalists into the desert. The fighting was over, or so it seemed.
But it wasn't. Ibrahim and his men are still fighting, almost two months after the fall of Tripoli and two weeks after the death of the Libyan dictator. They are hunting down the Tawarghans, prolonging the carnage with the only tools they know, the tools of war.
These tools also include stories and rumors. There is no question that the army's artillery fired on Misrata from Tawargha. But there are also rumors that the Tawarghans seized women and raped them. There is talk of more than 70 women. A gynecologist at the Safwa Hospital in Misrata says he saw the women and examined them.
Dr. Suliman Mohammed El Durriya is sitting behind his desk on the ground floor of the hospital. When an assistant brings him green tea, he exclaims: "Please, no more green things!" Green was Gadhafi's color, the color of the past.
El Durriya is a tall, imposing man with a loud voice, wearing a tie and glasses. He too was born in Misrata, and spent eight years studying in London. He owns a house in the city's downtown area and an almost-new Mitsubishi. He has three sons, an economist, a programmer and an engineer. All three went to war. "They were just throwing stones at first," says El Durriya. That was in mid-March. Gadhafi's troops had attacked the city for the first time the night before, using artillery and tanks. Now they were assaulting the city from three sides, from the west, the east and from Tawargha in the south.
A video taken during that period depicts men from Tawargha marching along the coastal road toward downtown Misrata. They are wearing green uniforms as they confidently follow the tanks.
"Go out, kill, rape and take what you can," Gadhafi allegedly told the men of Tawargha, at least according to El Durriya.
How does he know this?
When the rebels arrested the Tawarghans, he says, they found videos on their mobile phones. The videos, he says, show the Tawarghans abusing and shooting people from Misrata -- and raping women.
Where are these videos?
"The videos no longer exist," says the doctor. "We burned the phones to protect the women." He points out that Misrata is a conservative city where everyone knows everyone else, and that they had wanted to prevent the women in the videos from becoming victims once again.
And the 70 women? Did he see them?
"No, not a single one," the doctor admits. He has no evidence to support what they are saying in the city. All he can say is that the number of miscarriages has gone up.
Motivated by Revenge
He picks up the remote control and turns up the volume on the TV set. The victory celebrations in Benghazi are being broadcast. This isn't something the Misratans like to see. Why Benghazi? Why not Misrata? The people in Misrata suffered the most. It seems that the amount of suffering and injustice one has endured is the currency for power and influence in the new Libya.
"We were the ones who beat Gadhafi," says Ibrahim, the militia member standing in front of an empty house in Tawargha. Then he brandishes his assault rifle, jumps up onto the back of a pickup and shoots into the sky a few times, as if he were shooting at clay pigeons.
After the rebels took Misrata, they allegedly gave the Tawarghans four weeks to leave their houses. Almost all fled, but a few rebels have kept on fighting. This no longer has anything to do with the revolution, freedom or Gadhafi's demise. They are fighting a civil war in which the objective is revenge, not democracy.
The prison operated by "Internal Security" is in the center of Misrata. The gate is painted black, red and green, the colors of the new Libya. Three albums with photos of dead Gadhafi soldiers are on a table behind the gate. The bodies are covered with white sheets, and only the heads are visible. Some of the dead have their mouths or eyes open. The photos are numbered. Number 336, for example, was killed on April 25, 2011.
Mohammed Faraj Salama, 27, is from Tawargha and survived. He sits down on an office chair in the visitors' room. A guard has brought him to the room from his cell, together with a man named Hani. He too is from Tawargha, and he was brought here two months ago.
Salama lived with his family in a small house in the old district of Tawargha. He had once been a soldier in Gadhafi's army, and after that he sold perfume in the streets of Tripoli. "When the revolution began, they forced me to go to the front," he says, noting that he would have been shot if he had refused.
What did he do as a soldier? "Nothing good," says Salama.
Hani, the second prisoner, was brought to the prison from Tripoli.
He fled from Tawargha in early August, during a gun battle between rebels and Gadhafi soldiers.
Hani fled for his life, together with his family, friends and neighbors. They went about 70 kilometers south to Hisha. It was Ramadan and they ate nothing during the daylight hours. They were weak. Hani's grandmother died. Only 35 of the 70 people who had fled together made it to Hisha. On Aug. 13, they continued to Tripoli by bus.
"We thought we would be safe there," says Hani. But the rebels tracked him down and arrested him and two of his uncles. They were berated as "niggers" and "dogs" during the trip to Misrata. While Hani tells his story, Fathi Daraij, the prison warden, walks into the room. He has allowed the two men to speak openly. They say that the warden is okay, and they stick their thumbs in the air when he comes in, saying that he saved the lives of many of the prisoners.
Reports of Torture
The United Nations reports that about 15,000 people have been driven out of Tawargha since August. Some 4,000 have gone into hiding in Jufra, while another 5,000 have reportedly fled to Benghazi. According to Human Rights Watch, many Tawarghans are now in prisons, where they are being tortured with electric shocks, cold water and beatings on the soles of their feet.
"Some really didn't do anything," says the warden, who is wearing a long white robe. He uses a piece of cardboard to swat the flies away from his face. "Mistakes happen," he says.
He speaks clearly and calmly. "Neither of these men raped any women," he says, glancing at the two prisoners. Nevertheless, he doesn't have the power to release them.
The bodies of 53 men, apparently Gadhafi supporters, were recently found in the garden of the Mahari Hotel in Sirt. There are many indications that militias from Misrata executed them. The militias deny this. Whoever it was, they were killers who grew up in a murderous regime, sons of the system. They learned that anything could be conquered as long as they killed to do it.
"These are the kinds of methods Gadhafi used, only worse," says the prison warden. He too claims that men from Tawargha committed rape, and he says that he knows three families with victims, two from Misrata and one from Sirt. But, he adds, all Tawarghans are now expected to suffer for the actions of a few. For one, he says, prisoners like Hani and Salama are safer in his prison than outside, where militia member Ibrahim is already planning his next battle against the Tawarghans.
The sun is now low in the sky over the ruins of house No. 33,where Ibrahim and his men are waiting for other units to arrive. They are expected at 10 p.m., and at 1 a.m. they will all march into the forest. "We're making sure that Misrata is safe," says Ibrahim. Is he excited? "No, happy," says Ibrahim.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan