Local Libyan rebel councils pursue regime ‘collaborators’
By Thomas Erdbrink,
TRIPOLI, Libya — A Libyan man was sitting in his car at a rebel checkpoint here over the weekend when he was handed a list of the 10 most-wanted Gaddafi loyalists in Misurata. “The names of the collaborators of the city,” the rebel-produced leaflet said. His sister-in-law’s husband, Ahmad Tarhouni, 33, was first on the list.
Moments later his cellphone rang.
“I need your help. Get me out of here,” Tarhouni begged the man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid being associated with his relative’s now-tainted name. He said he told Tarhouni “no.”
“He has killed people, stolen money and kept his criminal brothers out of prison,” the relative said. “He is not a good man.”
For decades, supporters of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi enjoyed better wages and other privileges. Now that his regime has fallen, hard-core loyalists are on the run, and the less hard-core are wondering what they were fighting for. While rebel leaders are focused on capturing Gaddafi and key figures of his government, officials who head hospitals, refineries and other state institutions have fled or have been arrested by local rebel councils for their close ties to the regime.
Tarhouni, who had been on a steady climb during the Gaddafi regime, is said to be moving from house to house, trying to avoid arrest by rebel forces.
“We were afraid of him,” the relative said. “He was always with Gaddafi.”
Tarhouni, a lieutenant in Gaddafi’s Revolutionary Guard in Misurata, had brought his wife and two children to Tripoli when fierce fighting broke out in the coastal city after the Feb. 17 uprising. “After that, he returned to fight,” the relative said.
For months Tarhouni took on the Misurata rebels, who have become famous for their “Mad Max”-style pickup trucks reinforced with armored plates, which helped them capture the city after months of urban warfare. Now they had pushed on to Tripoli, and, after the last pockets of resistance were cleared, they had started looking for Tarhouni. “His wives’ brothers are rebels. They say they are ready to kill him,” the relative said.
On Saturday, Tarhouni called again. He had made it to a city 100 miles south of the capital. “I will lie low here for now,” he told the relative.
In Zawiyah, rebels said they stormed the guesthouse of the director of the city’s refinery last week, seeking the Gaddafi “stooge.” He had fled. And at the Tripoli Medical Center, one of the largest hospitals in the capital, staff members reported that their boss had disappeared. “He was a liar, like Gaddafi,” one nurse said.
Some of those who had joined the pro-Gaddafi efforts more recently said they had been lured to fight with promises of money; others said they had believed the optimistic reports on state television that Libya’s air force had defeated NATO.
At Mitiga hospital in Tripoli on Sunday, about two dozen haggard-looking pro-Gaddafi fighters lay in an air-conditioned ward receiving treatment for their injuries, mostly gunshot wounds.
“The TV said the rebels were foreigners and men with Islamic beards,” said Farj Mohammad, one of the wounded loyalist fighters. “When they started their uprising, I enlisted to fight them.”
Mohammad, who said he had only a machine gun, said he fought the rebels until he was shot in the ankle. “Many people love Gaddafi and are still ready to fight for him.”
Another fighter, Ibrahim Fathi, said he had been interested only in the promised pay, the equivalent of about $150 a month. After he surrendered near the international airport Friday, rebels shot him and other Gaddafi fighters in their legs, he said. “I don’t really mind,” he said of being wounded. “It beats being killed.”