Thursday, October 6, 2011

Blacklists and Misrata Revenge in Abu Hadi

In Tripoli Blacklist, Fears of Purge to Come

Desires for Revenge and Reconciliation Collide at Gadhafi's Prized University


TRIPOLI—Young Libyan revolutionaries in recent weeks posted a blacklist of alleged collaborators with Col. Moammar Gadhafi's regime at the law college of the country's main university.

"Tried to use the media to abort the revolution," read an accusation against one professor. "Called the rebels 'rats' in lectures," was the charge against another.

Only one of the 13 blacklisted professors and lecturers, criminal-law authority Faiza al Basha, has dared to show up on campus since Tripoli fell to the rebels in late August. She was promptly chased away by an angry mob of protesters.

"She offended the revolution and must stay at home," says one of the protest organizers, Raef Jalal.

Libya's interim administration, the National Transitional Council, says that it wants to create an inclusive new Libya, promoting reconciliation rather than score-settling—and giving all Libyans not directly involved in the former regime's crimes a place under the sun.

This policy runs against the pent-up desire for a wholesale purge of Col. Gadhafi's erstwhile supporters among many young revolutionaries who battled regime loyalists on the frontlines and now are unwilling to compromise.

"It's hard to convince the youths that they should control themselves, and that they should not behave the way Gadhafi's people were behaving," says the university's new rector, Faisel Krekshoi, an obstetrician who was a key member of the Tripoli underground. "We don't want to be like him."

How this tension is resolved is crucial for Libya's future. Massive purges, such as the ones that occurred in Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, could spur discontented, unemployed Libyans to take up arms against the fledgling new regime, sparking an insurgency.

The conflicting approaches are playing out these days at Tripoli University, with Ms. Basha's fate a key bone of contention.

Home to 120,000 students, the school was a cornerstone of the Libyan system. Col. Gadhafi himself was a frequent visitor, naming it Fateh, or Victory, in honor of his 1969 coup. Some 80% of the teaching staff belonged to the Revolutionary Committees, a network created by Col. Gadhafi to enforce loyalty to the regime, Mr. Krekshoi says.

Students' academic progress depended on how well they mastered the Green Book, Col. Gadhafi's rambling recipe for solving the world's problems. Of some 5,700 teaching staff, more than 1,000 were teaching the Green Book and its ideology full time.

"If you wanted to get anything done, if you had any ambition, you had to put up the appearance of being pro-Gadhafi," says Hussein Ageli, director of the university's foreign languages center. Mr. Ageli recently had workers knock down the wall separating his center from the school's former Green Book studies headquarters, annexing the facility and hanging a map of Europe to cover up a fresco of Col. Gadhafi.

The university's Green Book studies chief, accused of ordering the hanging of dissident students in 1976, has recently been arrested, as were some professors who carried weapons on campus during this year's uprising, rounding up and torturing suspected revolutionaries.

Mr. Krekshoi says those staff who were directly involved in killing on Col. Gadhafi's behalf should be tried for their crimes, and aren't welcome back. All others, including the Green Book professors, continue to receive their university salaries while the school revamps the curriculum and prepares to restart classes.

There is no evidence that Ms. Basha, an unveiled 43-year-old who anchored a popular show on Libya's state TV and ran a charity promoting women's and family rights, engaged in any pro-regime violence.

She says she immediately sided with the Libyan uprising when it started on Feb. 17. As proof, she has posted on her website emails that she says she sent in February to international human-rights groups and the Arab League denouncing Col. Gadhafi's abuses.

Col. Gadhafi managed to snuff out protests in Tripoli and much of western Libya by April, even as the rebels maintained control over the country's east. With his rule seeming solid in the capital again at the time, the position of anyone suspected of being a dissident became increasingly precarious.

Ms. Basha says she went to ground in the first two months of the uprising, switching off her cellphone and not coming to work because she knew that the regime would try to co-opt her.

Finally, she says, she was contacted in person by Col. Gadhafi's powerful daughter, Aisha.

"Aisha was saying, 'why are you not helping your country in its time of crisis?' " Ms. Basha recalls. She says she reluctantly agreed to reappear on state TV.

In one such broadcast on Jamahiriya TV, available on YouTube, Ms. Basha seemed self-assured and combative, looking into the camera and wagging her finger. She forcefully urged anti-Gadhafi protesters to go home. She reminded viewers that the Iraqis were regretting the U.S. invasion, and said the Western military intervention in Libya was illegal.

By the standards of Col. Gadhafi's TV, this was relatively mellow stuff. Some of the more vitriolic regime propagandists, such as pouty anchorwoman Hala Misrati, were tracked down and jailed after Tripoli's fall, alongside thousands of other suspected Gadhafi loyalists.

But Tripoli University's young revolutionaries—not all of them actual students, and some of them carrying guns—were in no mood for forgiveness when the Law College's new dean invited Ms. Basha to a conference last month on how to establish a state of law on the ruins of Col. Gadhafi's system.

In the university conference hall, Ms. Basha was surrounded by young women and men chanting "The blood of martyrs will not be spilled in vain!" As she tried to reason, she was booed out of the room, leaving to applause and chants of "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great."

"I came because I wanted to engage in a democratic debate," Ms. Basha says. "But nobody wanted to talk to me."

The Law College's dean, Abdelghani Rweimad, said that the students "have exaggerated a bit" in their protest. He added that he still intends to bring Ms. Basha, a respected professional, back into the fold.

A few days after the conference, as Ms. Basha came to a Tripoli hotel to talk to a reporter, she was recognized by the anti-Gadhafi fighters manning the entrance and accused of being a former regime mouthpiece. The fighters confiscated her ID and took her for an interrogation after the interview. She was later released.

A subsequent campus visit to discuss her situation with the rector, Mr. Krekshoi, sparked another student demonstration.

Mr. Krekshoi, who reviewed the pro-revolution emails that Ms. Basha says she sent in February, has appointed a committee to investigate and decide her future in the university. In the meantime, he says, he advised her to stay home, pointing out that the passions need time to abate—especially while war against former regime loyalists still drags on in parts of the country.

"I told her, 'you're stupid,' " Mr. Krekshoi says. After siding with Col. Gadhafi on TV during a revolution, "you can't expect to be able to walk here safely."

Ms. Basha says she was aware her presence might cause unrest, and chose to show up on campus nevertheless. "I know what I did," she says. "I came because I want to build a state of law for the Libyan people."

Libya Fighters Loot Gadhafi Tribe, Showing Divide

By HADEEL AL-SHALCHI Associated Press
ABU HADI, Libya October 5, 2011 (AP)

After capturing this hamlet, a center for Moammar Gadhafi's tribe, revolutionary fighters have gone on a vengeance spree, looting and burning homes and making off with gold, furniture and even automobiles.

Other fighters are trying to persuade them to stop and have sought to protect the tribesmen of the ousted leader. As a result, the rampage in Abu Hadi, a suburb of Gadhafi's home city of Sirte, has underscored a geographical split among the forces loyal to Libya's new interim government.

Most of those looting homes are unorganized, volunteer bands of gunmen from the city of Misrata, to the west, which was brutalized in a bloody siege by Gadhafi's forces during the nearly 7-month uprising against his rule. Trying to rein them in are revolutionaries from eastern Libya, which shook off Gadhafi's rule early and have since had time to organize their forces.

"The Misrata fighters came into the revolution with a sense of bitterness and anger," Breiga al-Maghrabi, an eastern fighter, said Wednesday. "They want revenge for what happened to them in Misrata."
"Look — it's Ali Baba," he told an Associated Press reporter as he cruised streets of Abu Hadi in his pickup truck. He pointed at a residential street where a number of revolutionaries walked out of a home with belongings in their arms. The looters loaded a white Chrysler on the back of a truck and drove away with it.

A carpet depicting Moammar Gadhafi is seen on...
The capture of Abu Hadi earlier this week was a key step in the revolutionaries' weeks-long siege of Sirte, the most important of the pro-Gadhafi cities that are still holding out against Libya's new rulers. Abu Hadi lies to the south of Sirte, and with revolutionary fighters already on the eastern and western sides of the city — and the Mediterranean Sea lying on its northern side — that means Gadhafi loyalists inside Sirte are now trapped.

The loyalists in the city center have been putting up a powerful defense for three weeks now, and on Wednesday the two sides traded artillery, tank and mortar shelling. Still, a spokesman for the revolutionaries' Defense Ministry, Col. Ahmed Bani, vowed on Wednesday that its forces "will be able to completely dominate Sirte in the next few days."

Deputy Defense Minister Fawzy Abu Kataf said it would take two days of heavy shelling to uproot the remaining pro-Gadhafi fighters in the city. But he said revolutionary fighters were holding off on an all-out assault to allow residents to leave.

Abu Hadi, a center of the ousted leader's Gadhadhfa tribe 10 miles (16 kilometers) from downtown Sirte, was a ghost town. Streets were littered with bullet casings, and black smoke billowed from four homes that had been set ablaze by fighters. Many of the homes laid out in rows in the residential complexes had been broken into, with wooden doors busted, stoves and refrigerators overturned, baby clothes and homework strewn all over the floors.

Fathi al-Shobash, an eastern revolutionary, said that when he tried to stop Misrata fighters from raiding homes, they would push him away and say this was their time to treat the Gadhadhfas the way they were treated by their leader. Gadhafi drew heavily on the Gadhadhfa and other loyalist tribes for his military and other key parts of his regime.

"I came to sincerely fight for freedom and my one goal is to rid Libya of Moammar Gadhafi," said al-Shobash. "Why take it out on innocent people from his tribe?

The tensions between east and west have begun to percolate on a national level as the interim government — set up by easterners — tries to solidify its authority after the fall of Tripoli and Gadhafi's ouster in late August. Already, some in the west have rankled at what they see as attempts by easterners to dominate.

Eastern Libya was the first to rise up in February and set up a quasi-state with a de facto capital in Benghazi, the country's second largest city. That gave them more time to organize their forces, creating a command structure and a degree of discipline in the ranks.

In contrast, western cities faced heavier crackdowns by Gadhafi's forces that kept them divided. Misrata was battered by a siege that was repelled after weeks of bloody street fighting. Western cities have formed brigades of volunteer fighters that have been criticized for being disorganized and acting like armed gangs.

"We ask them, 'Who is your commander,' and they say 'We don't have one,'" al-Maghrabi said of the western revolutionaries at Abu Hadi. "Many are just armed and running around taking out their anger on the homes here."

The tensions erupted at a checkpoint at an Abu Hadi roundabout held by Benghazi fighters. Scuffles broke out when a Misrata fighter refused to take orders from the Benghazi revolutionary.


Libyan revolutionary fighters take ammunition... View Full Caption

"You divided the country, admit it — you divided it," the Misrata man shouted at the Benghazi fighter as other revolutionaries tried to pull them apart.

One Misrata revolutionary, Abdullah Faisal, denied men from his city were behind the looting, insisting eastern fighters had let a "fifth column" slip in.

Col. Bashir Abu Thafeera, who commands a brigade of eastern fighters at Abu Hadi, said the Misratans' thirst for vengeance was understandable, given the brutality of the Gadhafi siege of their city.

"They suffered a lot at the beginning of this revolution, and this is also the reaction of 42 years of oppression under Gadhafi," Abu Thafeera told the AP. He said many of the homes that were burned were believed to belong to Gadhafi loyalists who participated in the Misrata siege.

Still, he warned that the same looting could erupt in Sirte itself when it falls. He said eastern fighters would try to move into Sirte more quickly to take control to prevent looting and vengeance attacks.

Most of Abu Hadi's residents fled last week during the fighting before its capture. Families packed up what they could and set up a tent camp several miles away. Abu Thafeera said his troops were trying to ensure their safety so they could return.

One resident, Saada Gheit, came to look in on her home and found it looted. "They took my gold, raided my closets. I don't know why they are taking out their anger on us," she told the AP.

The 47-year-old Gheit and 10 other families have taken refuge in another house nearby. Gheit on Wednesday cooked a meal in a giant cauldron over a bonfire in the courtyard as children ran around nearby. She said her family car was packed with blankets and clothing in case they need to flee again.

"All we can do is run from place to place," she said. "They don't like Moammar Gadhafi, but what was our crime?"

Libyan city takes siege mentality to national stage
By Joseph Logan

MISRATA, Libya | Sat Oct 8, 2011 10:33am ED

Reuters) - Months of bombardment by Muammar Gaddafi's forces, and a central role in the war that ended his rule, have bound the devastated Libyan city of Misrata into an extended military family that runs on trust.

But as Misrata, a commercial hub whose notables opened their wallets to arm a volunteer force, flexes its muscle in the new world of Libyan politics in which gunmen speak as loudly as politicians, it is increasingly inclined to trust no one.

A collective memory of suffering, already expressed as a grudge with the rest of Libya in the scramble for political power after Gaddafi, has also taken on a bitter edge at home.

Even local patriots now wonder about the prospects for a peaceful political transition across the country, if hometown solidarity begins to fray.

"Misrata belongs to those who stood up for us, not those who left when things got tough," reads a slogan spray-painted on walls across the city - and the military checkpoints surrounding it - in reference those who fled the shelling Misrata endured after it rose up against Gaddafi in February, and who now seek to return.

The message, some argue, only reflects fear of the havoc a fifth column of Gaddafi's scattered loyalists might unleash if military vigilance lapses as Misrata, along with the rest of the country, struggles to resume a normal life.

"It's just because the next city away is Sirte," says one would-be returnee at a checkpoint outside Misrata, referring to Gaddafi's hometown some 140 km (87 miles) distant, where Misrata fighters are attempting to crush one of the last pockets of pro-Gaddafi resistance with barrages of rockets and mortars.

"There has to be some kind of security procedure, because there is still a war," said that man, who declined to be identified as he waited for gunmen to let him drive toward Misrata, accompanied by a resident in better standing who would vouch for him. "I'm not worried. They'll let me in."

Those who would return need neighbours or members of a sufficiently respected military unit to testify to their bona fides, they say.

"We're only looking for people who acted against Misrata and its population, including people who committed kidnappings. They are at large," says Mohammed Abu Sneina, a commander with the city's Al-Hariga militia, which mans one such checkpoint at Dafniyah, about 20 km outside Misrata.

"Those people will be taken aside. When it happens for routine cases, it's temporary."


That routine vigilance hints at strains in a network of good faith that the city's people invoke, wherever the last stages of the war against Gaddafi brings them.

At tanker trucks parked alongside the road linking Misrata to Sirte, gunmen returning from a day's fighting fill their vehicles - often adorned with the makeshift rocket launchers that are the tools of their war, or loaded with objects, such as equipment from the recently conquered Sirte airport, that are its spoils.

They register their license plate numbers in ledgers kept for the Misrata businessmen who send the fuel, and also fund the makeshift rest stops which ply commuting gunmen with tea, tuna sandwiches and packaged cakes. No money changes hands.

Closer to home, three words recur in Misratans' descriptions of themselves and their relations: 'tarabut', or being connected to one another; 'tadamon', or solidarity; and 'takaatuf', or standing shoulder-to-shoulder.

Departures from those ideals leave some in the city, where empty shell casings that mark its bombardment have pride of place in the china cabinets of affluent homes, wondering what form wartime unity will take now.

A resident affiliated with one of the city's most celebrated brigades recounts the experience of the child of a returned family ostracized by classmates when classes resumed at the local primary school.

"This is shameful, and it frightens me, because it will turn people against one another," said this on-again, off-again militiaman. "If Gaddafi sees this, wherever he is, he must be laughing."

The ominous shades in Misrata's portrait of itself are visible in its Goushi district, once populated in part by black Libyans with roots in the city of Tawargha, which lies about 40 km south of Misrata.

Tawargha provided a staging ground and some recruits for Gaddafi's campaign to crush the uprising against him in Misrata.

The city's fighters recount a campaign of rape and other atrocities waged by volunteers from Tawargha, and circulate a Misrata battle plan purportedly seized from the headquarters of a paramilitary unit led by one of Gaddafi's sons that describes a role for irregulars from Tawargha.

Misrata's fighters sacked Tawargha in August. It is now partly in ruins and its former population displaced across Libya, including Sirte. Goushi itself appears emptier than much of the rest of Misrata, if less damaged by shells and rockets.


Fawzi Moreiweis runs a local charity with offices in the district supporting local fighters maimed in the campaign against Gaddafi. He echoes charges, leveled in the capital and elsewhere, that local authorities and the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) have betrayed the wounded, and waste or misuse funds to intended treat them.

NTC proposals to compensate the wounded with housing, and calls for reconciliation and self-control from fighters - apparently sparked by criticism of attacks on Africans and dark-skinned Libyans branded as Gaddafi's mercenaries - inspire his scorn.

"They say, don't mistreat the mercenaries, these Nigerians. Well, you are standing before heroes," he says, gesturing toward militiamen who are among the city's growing ranks of amputees.
"This money for housing should be given to the wounded directly," he says. "We have empty houses right here."

One of those fighters, Mohammed Marzouq, calls the jockeying for shares in a transitional government, in which representation of Misrata is emerging as a stumbling block, an insult.
"If it wasn't for the people who paid the price with their limbs, this revolution would never have succeeded," he says. "What right do they have to divide up seats? Did anyone ask me?

"If anyone tries to push Misrata aside, we will put him aside. Misrata will take what it is owed."
Fighters from the city who set up shop in the capital since converging there with others from across Libya to assault Gaddafi's compound in August agree.

They, like Misrata's fighters on the remaining front, roar laughter over a widely circulated recording that appears to catch a respected Misrata commander berating the NTC military spokesman, who works from a Tripoli hotel, over his absence in the field.

And like fighters from other regions, notably the western town of Zintan, they dismiss the head of Tripoli's military council, Abdulhakim Belhadj, who has called for military units from elsewhere to pull their weapons from the capital.

"Does he have the experience and the means to secure all the ministries, embassies, vital institutions?" asked Adel al-Gallal, whose Jaysh Misrata brigade runs a checkpoint outside a landmark Tripoli shopping center.

"We don't know that he does. That's why we're here," he said, a day after fighters from Zintan marched on a position of Belhadj's in the capital, before turning back. That incident came after non-Tripoli fighters distributed a derisive, mock-formal arrest warrant for Belhadj that resembled wanted posters for fugitive members of Gaddafi's regime.

Abu Bakr Mohammed, who once built platforms for wedding ceremonies, has a twisted, raised scar from a shrapnel wound on his forehead to mark his experience of the siege of Misrata.

He sees his presence in Tripoli and status as a soldier, as necessary, but ultimately worrisome.
"I'll go back as soon as things have settled down. I want to go back for good. I want a civil society, not an army existence," he says. "I want to get married, and I was going to, in April, before all this started."

"I'd never even seen a gun, let alone carried one around and shot it. I don't know how long it's good for everybody to be doing this."

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