By Essam Mohamed
Smoke billowed from the headquarters of the electricity company and fires raged at hotel buildings. Despite the signs of destruction, Bani Walid residents celebrated their watershed victory over of one the last two bastions of the former regime.
Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters captured the desert town, 70 kilometres southeast of Tripoli, on Monday (October 17th).
Revolutionaries from north, northeast and west converged on the city centre and launched an assault on Kadhafi loyalists. Public institutions, factories and administrative centres fell under the rebels’ control.
Magharebia entered the desert town with rebels and toured a large house belonging to a former official. A large bag containing three Kalashnikovs and one F-rifle were found in the house garden. Boxes of ammunition, military uniforms and supplies of food were also found.
The Kadhafi brigades retreated after they saw the revolutionaries’ supplies and heavy weapons as well as their positions on the front, NTC fighters told Magharebia. Some of them fled through the rough valley, the rebels described.
“A number of African mercenaries from Chad, about twenty, were arrested,” said Youssef, a fighter from Az-Zawiya. “A number of Touaregs were arrested, and four snipers from Kadhafi brigades in the city centre were also detained.”
Fighting still rages in some parts of the town, including the area of al-Dahra, said Abdullah Abu Shnaf, a member of Bani Walid local council.
“The brigade members fled towards the valleys to an area called al-Qarjuma, which is located 90km from the city of Gharyan at the direction of west,” he added.
“Bani Walid has been liberated and combed,” said Saleh Maatuq, head of the military council of Gharyan. “It is now under revolutionaries’ control, and we are now hunting down some remnants. A large number of them were arrested, including some mercenaries. The commander of Kadhafi brigades in town was arrested.”
Nevertheless, he said it is “not yet possible to have civilians return to the city centre, but they can return to areas located near the city”.
“Assistance and fuel will be provided, and the hospital will be rehabilitated. Meanwhile, humanitarian efforts are ongoing to help the city,” the military commander added.
“When the revolutionaries entered, the brigades fled with their vehicles, which had their lamps off, to the direction of al-Arban in very small groups,” Ahmed, who resides in al-Dahra area in Bani Walid, told Magharebia.
Meanwhile, Magharebia visited the field hospital near the area of al-Fuqaha, where we found two bodies of fallen fighters from Ganzur, west of Tripoli. Their bereaved colleagues said that the fighters had been killed by snipers when entering a house. One of the shooters was arrested.
Upon return to the city centre, we found a group of Bani Walid revolutionaries detaining a sniper in their vehicle. A group of rebels also held an alleged African mercenary.
In the centre of Bani Wali, a roar of celebration rose up. Fighters shot in the air in jubilation and sang songs hoisting NTC flags on administrative buildings and headquarters.