Gaddafi loyalists thirst for revenge
Bani Walid - Members of Libya's powerful Warfalla tribe say they are thirsting for revenge after their bastion Bani Walid was looted and pillaged by anti-Gaddafi fighters.
"Tomorrow is another day. We will get our revenge sooner or later," said a Warfalla tribesman, pointing to shelled and burnt-out buildings in the oasis town, southeast of Tripoli.
Refusing to be filmed, and giving his name only as Suleiman, he said he fears the new regime's fighters, who defeated Muammar Gaddafi’s beleaguered loyalists in Bani Walid two weeks ago after more than a month of fierce fighting.
"We stopped fighting when we ran out of ammunition. Then we secured a safe passage for the volunteers," he said, referring to loyalists who had come from other regions.
"Most of the town's residents hid their weapons and stayed in their homes; others joined the rebels," he added.
Lingering tensions between supporters of the National Transitional Council and former Gaddafi strongholds are potentially one of the biggest problems facing Libya's interim government.
The point was highlighted in a Human Rights Watch report released on Sunday that accused NTC militia of revenge attacks on the displaced residents of Tawargha because of their alleged participation in atrocities committed by Gaddafi’s forces in the nearby town of Misrata.
Jubilant NTC fighters entered Bani Walid on October 17, after weeks of fierce resistance, astonished by the sudden capitulation and disappearance of the pro-Gaddafi fighters. The town was virtually empty.
Hatred and sadness
"When the thwar [revolutionary fighters] failed to find the Gaddafi brigades they had been expecting, they were furious. They shot at dogs, at houses, they looted and burned apartments and public buildings," said Suleiman.
"Now the whole town is angry. The thwar punished everyone, by destroying their homes, stealing their cars and killing their relatives," he added, in a voice full of hatred and sadness.
"Bani Walid is a tribal society. We don't have foreigners here. There is only the Warfalla tribe and no one can govern us... We will act sooner or later, here and even in Tripoli," he warned.
The Warfalla, Libya's largest tribe with one million members, in a country of six to seven million, are divided into dozens of clans spread across the nation, with other strongholds in the eastern Cyrenaica region.
Warfalla opposition towards the ousted despot, mainly in Cyrenaica, dates back to the 1990s, when dozens of army officers were rounded up, charged with conspiracy, and some executed.
But Bani Walid's inhabitants were staunch supporters of the Gaddafi regime.
Now the town, just 170km from the capital, epitomises the problems the NTC must resolve, especially the reconciliation process it must undertake if it is to bring cohesion to the liberated but fragile nation.
Despite an air of desolation hanging over Bani Walid, efforts are underway to repair and rebuild.
Gunbattles still common
"But it is very difficult," said Mohammed Ahmed, his hands covered in paint as he attempts to make his apartment inhabitable once again.
He says gunbattles are still common between the residents and NTC fighters.
Unlike in other Libyan cities, the red, black and green flag of "Free Libya" is barely visible, while there are signs of normal life resuming, but only very slowly.
In the town centre, where volunteers sweep away the bullet cases and rubble, one young man, Al-Sahbi al-Warfalli, sells vegetables from an improvised stall.
Speaking under his breath, he admits to fighting alongside the Gaddafi loyalists.
"Yes, I fought against those thieves. It is a revolution of thieves. They destroyed everything, they stole everything," he said.
"Bani Walid paid the price for supporting Gaddafi. But we love him, and we are waiting for the sign to take up arms again," he added.
His cousin agrees.
"We have defended our houses and our honour. We will avenge every person killed and every house raided," he said.