BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Angry residents of Benghazi have destroyed a compound used by African mercenaries recruited by Muammar Gaddafi to fight a revolt in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.
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 to fight in the city.
Tractors and diggers had been used to destroy the building and one machine was still 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 guns but we are ready to die.”
After a week of violence in which it threw off government control, this elegant Mediterranean port of about 700,000 is starting to run itself under “people’s committees” as the dust of rebellion settles. In the east of Libya, many soldiers have withdrawn from active service.
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 on its wall was scrawled “Down with American spy Gaddafi”. The 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 says, 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 have 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.
An elderly man in traditional clothes, his head covered wrapped in a scarf with a long brown robe, said:
“The people will control all of Libya. Gaddafi made no good for the young, changed nothing. He cannot control the Libyan people. We insist on the end of the regime. If he had changed things, this would never have happened but he didn‘t. My life is done, but we did this for the young. They need a future.”
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 Feb 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, who was in the navy for 25 years ago and who is now 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.”
Ali accused the Libyan leader of squandering money abroad.
“Gaddafi paid too much of our money for Africa. We like to spend our money on something useful, not rebellions in Uganda, Burkina Faso, Chad. People here are very poor. He did not want good for Africa, he wanted good for himself and his family.”