Residents of Benghazi have jailed those they say are mercenaries and set up defences around this eastern city now out of the control of leader Muammar Gaddafi, who has lost control of swathes of Libya.
A court compound in the centre of Benghazi, on the Mediterranean coast, has become a focal point for those seeking to reimpose law and order after a bloody rebellion against Gaddafi loyalists who relinquished the city to residents.
Defences were being prepared in some parts of the city for the chance of an attack by Gaddafi’s forces, said organisers who have set up committees to run the city. The airport was closed because residents feared more mercenaries could be flow in, Reuters reports.
“We expect an attack, but we are not afraid,” said Soliman Karim, a 65-year-old lawyer involved in the organisation, adding the city had enough food but hospitals were low on medicine.
“There is plenty of food, thank God. Our problem is a lack of medicine,” he said, sitting in the courthouse as demonstrators gathered outside, chanting “Free Libya, Free Libya” and waving monarchy-era flags.
A Reuters correspondent was shown about a dozen people held in a court building. Residents said they were “mercenaries” backing Gaddafi, some were said to be African and others from southern Libya. The correspondent could not speak to them.
“They have been interrogated, and they are being kept safe, and they are fed well,” said Imam Bugaighis, 50, a university lecturer now helping to organise committees to run the city, adding that they would be tried according to the law.
“There will be a trial for them, even Gaddafi will have a trial. Murdering and assassinations without trial were their (Gaddafi’s government) language, Our language is the language of the constitution,” she told Reuters.
The men they said were mercenaries wore sports tops and a couple of them had bandages. Several wore sports tops. They appeared to be tired, not frightened and obeying orders.
Residents said they used live rounds from assault rifles on demonstrators. Some of those detained might be innocent and would be released after questioning if they were, guards said.
After a week of violence in which it threw off government control, this elegant port of about 700,000 is being run by committees of citizens as the dust of rebellion settles. In the east of Libya, many soldiers have withdrawn from active service.
In the street, some youths with the words “organising committee” emblazoned on their tops directed traffic.
One committee communicates with the army, one talks to the police, and one with the media, for instance. Others are in charge of providing food and ensuring security.
Citizens in the area were selected for the committees based on their skills. The groups include lawyers, judges, doctors and academics and others. “We don’t have any institutions. Everything is done by the people,” Bugaighis said.
Organisers said oil was also being sent into the city from fields in the area to make sure electricity was running and there was enough gas to go around.
They also said the airport was taken over by protesters on February 18 and was closed now but would open again to civilian aircraft when it was safe. People were worried the airport might be used to bring in more mercenaries if it was opened now.
Egyptians had sent trucks carrying medicine across the eastern region and they were expected to arrive in Benghazi soon, he said.
Many stores in the city were shuttered due to recent violence, but pharmacies, groceries and other stores that were open appeared to be well-stocked and did not have long queues.
Angry residents of Benghazi have destroyed the compound they say was used by African mercenaries recruited by Gaddafi.
The building where residents said the mercenaries’ battalion was holed up stood in ruins with its shattered walls scrawled with graffiti condemning Gaddafi, saying “Libya is Free” and “Down with Gaddafi”.
A lawyer in Benghazi said a security committee formed by civilians there on Monday after they took control of the city had arrested 36 “mercenaries” from Chad, Niger and Sudan who were hired by Gaddafi’s Praetorian Guard.
Tractors and diggers were used to destroy the mercenaries’ building and one machine was lodged in the wreckage. A nearby police station was charred nearby, riddled with bullet holes.
“Even if they bring all the mercenaries in the world we will stand here and fight in our country,” said Aowath Hussein Sady, 45, standing in the compound. “The Libyan people are one”.
Benghazi residents at the compound vowed to fight on.
“Many people attacked this base and the army used heavy, heavy guns … Many people died,” said Ahmed Sowesy, 40, a microbiologist, adding:
“All the people in this area hate Gaddafi and we are ready if he attacks again. We haven’t got guns but we are ready to die.”
One police officer said it was now safe for him and his colleagues to be back on the streets. “We didn’t go out before because people didn’t want police on the streets. But we are with them and couldn’t leave them,” Mohamed Huweidy, 24, said.
In another eastern city, Tobruk, one resident said the clans will never back Gaddafi.
“With 1,000 people dead, none of the clans will go back to Gaddafi,” said one man, who just gave his name as Breyek. “We don’t know who will govern the country now but Libyans must act with one hand. No one should rule just the east or the west.”
An Interior Ministry building in central Tobruk was burned out and on its wall was scrawled “Down with American spy Gaddafi”. Charred shells of 15 vehicles were in its courtyard.
“All these were paid for with money stolen from the people and were used to oppress the people,” said a young man who identified himself as Mustafa. “Before we were killed if we spoke. Now we are free,” he said, raising hands in the air.
In one Tobruk square, a group of about 30 men, young and old in civilian clothes keep guard near the burnt out Interior Ministry. They had put up tents to shelter against the rain.
“We will go from here to Tripoli to fight if it is necessary” said Fathi Ashour, a young student in the group.
Ali, who declined to give his full name, said:
“I am a revolutionary … The Libyan people have been hurt too much. The people woke up on February 17 … There is not really an army in Libya, you should know that, just a few people to protect the regime for Gaddafi and his sons.”
Ali, a tourist guide, said: “There was one of his security camps here in Tobruk. The resistance took control of the police station here and held it. After we took weapons from these people and brought safety to our city.”
“Everything will get back to normal, the banks will open, that one is already open,” said Ali, pointing to a queue at a bank which had its door open.
“The army is with us. There is not any al Qaeda here, the people from some TV talked about Qaeda taking over. But there is no al Qaeda. Some people from the (long time anti-Gaddafi) rebels are supporting us from outside Benghazi but we don’t want their help. They can stay where they are.”