Gaddafi diehards seize former regime base
Bani Walid - Diehard supporters of slain Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi seized control on Monday of Bani Walid in a brazen attack on his one-time bastion that killed five people, officials told AFP.
The assault on a base of former rebels who helped oust Gaddafi was the first major offensive launched by his loyalists since the "liberation" of Libya on October 23, shortly after the fall of Bani Walid.
"The loyalists of Gaddafi took control of the entire city of Bani Walid," said M'barek al-Fotmani, a former member of the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) in the desert oasis, 170km south of Tripoli.
Fotmani said the daylight attack on the base of former rebels killed "five thuwar (anti-Gaddafi revolutionaries) including a commander." Around 30 former rebels were also injured, he said from inside the base.
Monday's attack follows an outburst of opposition to the NTC in the eastern city of Benghazi last week that prompted its chair, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, to warn of possible "civil war" in post-conflict Libya.
Mahmud Warfelli, spokesperson of Bani Walid local council, said the attack was launched by "a group of remnants of the old regime," and called for outside help against a feared "massacre".
"There are around 100 and 150 men armed with heavy weapons who are attacking. We have asked for the army to intervene, but the defence ministry and NTC have let us down," he said.
"[The gunmen] took control and hoisted the green flag on some districts, some important districts in the centre of the city," Warfelli added.
"We're out of the frying pan into the fire. We've been warning about this for the past two months."
Army on the way
A senior NTC member, Fathi Baja, said reinforcements had been sent to protect the town.
"Two hours ago orders were given for the army to go and they are on the way. The fighting is between some Gaddafi supporters and thuwar," he told AFP.
Fotmani said the assailants had surrounded the base.
"The compound of [the] thuwar is surrounded on all sides by loyalists of Gaddafi who are attacking it with all kinds of weapons," he said.
"The attackers are carrying green flags," symbol of the Gaddafi regime, he added.
Fotmani said the base belonged to the May 28 Brigade, a unit attached to the defence ministry.
"The attackers shouted 'Allah, Muammar, Libya and that's it!" he said, referring to a slogan popularised by Gaddafi loyalists during his rule.
"Yesterday they had distributed leaflets saying "We will be back soon. We will take the rats out,'" Fotmani added.
"I call upon Libya to save Bani Walid thuwar urgently. Their ammunition is almost over."
He also said ambulances were unable to evacuate those wounded because there were "snipers positioned on a school and a mosque in the vicinity" of the attack.
Fotmani said later he had "fled the base and Gaddafi fighters are now occupying it and have taken control of all heavy weapons that were inside," adding the assailants set alight the local council's main building.
Bani Walid was one of the last pro-Gaddafi bastions to fall in the bloody uprising against the former dictator's rule.