By 8:30 a.m., Gaddafi’s forces had moved from the entrance to Benghazi past Garyounis University, heading to the center of Benghazi. As a Washington Post reporter made his way toward the area, rebel fighters in a red car coming from the other direction flashed their headlights and motioned to stop.
“Gaddafi’s men are on the bridge. I saw them with my own eyes,” a fighter said. “Turn back! Turn back!”
Heavily armed young men stood on street corners, some on pickups mounted with cannons or antiaircraft guns, others behind portable rocket launchers. Streets were blocked with trash cans, stones, steel beams, concrete blocks, tires, even bookcases.
Neighborhood protection forces formed across the city. Cars sped fast. Fighters grimly flashed victory signs at one another.
By 10 a.m., explosions and heavy gunfire could be heard around the city, continuing into the afternoon.
At the courthouse, the nexus of the rebellion, the crowds had thinned dramatically. Many of the youth activists were protecting the city. Others were afraid to come to the waterfront, where the courthouse is located. “Gaddafi struck the port with two or three rockets,” said Faraj el-Gheriani, no relation to Mustafa.
Top rebel officials were absent at the courthouse, save for one: Salwa el-Daghili, who said most of the rebel leadership was in emergency meetings. They had no plans to flee, she said.
“We’re still here,” she said. “We haven’t lost the war.”
‘There’s a war ahead’
Street battles erupted in several areas. In Tabalino Square, under an overpass, a two-hour battle raged, pitting Gaddafi’s tanks against young people wielding Kalashnikovs, machine guns and molotov cocktails.
Wissam Mohamed, 36, a software engineer living in the neighborhood, grabbed his rifle and joined the fight. The rebels captured four tanks and forced Gaddafi’s men to flee. The road on which Gaddafi’s forces came and left Benghazi was a tableau of destruction. At the university, two sport-utility vehicles belonging to Gaddafi’s men were in flames near a wall with graffiti that read: “Libya will never die.” Down the road were the carcasses of three buses gutted by fire, the smell of charred metal still wafting in the air. And on a light pole, someone had hung a Libyan government military uniform.
“Now, we have some tanks. Now, we have some heavy weapons, and we have God,” said Mohamed, as he stood next to one of the captured tanks. “This will help us.”
But as cars, some honking horns or draped with rebel flags, moved to the southwestern edge of Benghazi, a frantic rebel fighter stopped vehicles and cooled the sense of victory.
“There are snipers ahead,” he screamed. “Go back. There’s a war ahead.”
At the morgue of Jalla Hospital, crowds formed to view the bodies of eight of Gaddafi’s soldiers killed Saturday. Five were black Africans, hired by the 68-year-old leader to kill his own people, some in the crowd declared.
In another room were the bodies of rebel fighters. Men cried openly, as some cleansed the wounds of the dead, preparing them for burial. Outside, a preacher at a nearby mosque spoke over a loudspeaker, asking God to accept the martyrs into paradise.
In the intensive care unit, a new addition arrived. It was the mother who had brain surgery. Her head bandaged, she was wheeled into the room and placed next to her son. Unconscious, in a place saturated by war, their faces seemed most at peace.