Libyan turmoil persists year after Gadhafi death
These groups, especially the armed militias, have often pursued their own agendas, some dating back to longstanding feuds inside a country Gadhafi controlled unchecked for more than four decades.
After Gadhafi was killed, the former rebels negotiated a takeover of the Bani Walid and then looted it, prompting the angry citizens to form their own militia and throw out their new rulers in January.
The tensions boiled over when one of the rebels celebrated for being among those who captured Gadhafi, Omran Shaaban, was captured and allegedly tortured by the Bani Walid militia.
He later died in a French hospital and stencils of his name and face can be seen painted on buildings in Tripoli. As the militias gathered for revenge, the government authorized them to retrieve those responsible for the killing, setting the stage for the current siege.
‘‘We are protecting Libya because there are pro-Gadhafi people in Bani Walid. There are many wanted people there — they are devils,’’ said Omar Saleh, a militiamen with the Libyan Shield manning the Umm Rashrash checkpoint 60 kilometers (40 miles) from Bani Walid. ‘‘We haven’t started to bombard them yet — we could if we wanted — but we are afraid of hitting civilians.’’
Libya is still building a national army and transitional authorities depended heavily on ex-rebel forces such as Libya Shield to secure the country.
The civilians, meanwhile, streamed out of the town as the steady thump of heavy machine guns could be heard from miles away.
They said the main road was blocked but they had taken dirt roads through olive groves toward the nearby town of Tarhouna.
Trucks piled high with mattresses and filled with children and women wearing all-encompassing robes were searched by the militia before being sent on their way.
‘‘I left Bani Walid at 5 a.m. There is random shelling there and people are dying, including women and children,’’ Ghaith Hadi Ghaith said as he waited for his car to be inspected. ‘‘There is nothing to eat or drink.’’
He said the shooting was coming from all sides. He claimed the city only had 150 to 160 pro-Gadhafi people, but that was hotly disputed by the militiamen who said there was a list of 400 wanted figures from the old regime and hundreds more gunmen.
Associated Press writers Esam Mohamed in Tripoli and Sarah El Deeb in Cairo contributed to this report.