Libya: Gaddafi villa looted of its usual treasures – perfumes and jewel encrusted pistols
Published 23/08/2011 | 08:06
It could have been contents of an upmarket car boot sale but the jewel-encrusted sword waved above the rebel fighter's head told a different story.
A white pickup filled with enough treasure to stock a small boutique was picked over by a unit of Libyan rebels sent to Tripoli to liberate its residents from 42 years of Col Muammar Gaddafi's rule.
On top of his Nike baseball cap, Nasir Tahrar, a 16-year old fighter, had placed a general's hat and starred epaulettes on his narrow shoulders. Despite his clownish appearance, Tahrar provided the clue to the erstwhile owner of the gear, Saadi Gaddafi, the Libyan leader's third son.
"Saadi Gaddafi's house," he said "Don't mind us, we are very tired but happy. These are nice things."
Not far down Tripoli's western Corniche, rebel lines had formed as regime gunmen fired shot after shot against the incoming tide of opposition supporters.
Three miles away the rebels had ringed Col Gaddafi's Bab al-Azizia fortified compound. But they could not contain the menace of the regime.
While the dictator languished in his bunker or, possibly viewed the spectacle from a far off refuge, the city he ruled with an iron fist had fractured into a fast-moving free-shooting zone.
It was impossible to know which area was clear or where the regime's marksmen roaming marksmen were likely to pop up.
Driving along Tripoli's streets was a lottery of timing as rebels from across the western mountains converged to confront the regime's fighters. As the day progressed the exchanges between the two sides became progressively heavier.
Artillery barrages were fired across the waterfront. Mortars landed in the old medina, a pocket of the city untouched from the Ottoman era. Assault rifle fire responded to the sharper sound of sniper rifles.
Smoke rose from Bab al-Azizia compound rendering it still off limits. A glimpse of the secret internal lifestyle enjoyed by the Gaddafi family was, however, briefly on display at the Maghreb al-Arab complex of executive homes just off Gagaresh Rd, the Oxford St of Tripoli.
Thirty or so rebels had detained two black men, forced them on their hunkers, slapped them on the head and accused them of being mercenaries still fighting for Gaddafi. "They are from Chad, they've admitted they were mercenaries even though they first claimed to be groundsmen," said Tahrar.
Either story was plausible but the condition of the compound gave credence to the squatting detainees initial claims. A sprinkler system threw up a fine mist of water over imported ferns and a clean terracotta driveway led to serene rows of marbled floored villas.
The fighters attentions switched from the captives to the contents of the pick up truck. Huge bottles of Davidoff and Armani aftershave were plucked from the back. Racks of designer label clothing were held up to the light.
One fighter lifted a 12-inch silver-plated revolver, waving it around before firing in the air. Less foreboding was the acoustic guitar plucked from the cargo.
It wasn't long before the unit commander decided that outside eyes should not witness the scene and roughly shoved strangers away. There are worst fates. Saadi Gaddafi, who used a villa in the compound as a beach house, was arrested by the rebels on Sunday night in Tripoli.
Saadi, a football fanatic, was on Monday in rebel custody.
On a hot Ramadan day, Tripolitanians can be a rare sight. Now and again huddles of women ululated in support of the rebel convoys roaring past. But the enthusiastic swarming masses that had flooded the streets the night before had dissipated.
Mohammad al-Bari, a former Libyan ambassador to Switzerland, had ventured out to a street corner after his nephew in America called to ask him to pick up some souvenirs. He had three large-calibre brass bullet casings in his hands.
Mr Bari, who retired in the 2007, said the uprising against Col Gaddafi was long overdue. "I had seen this coming. It should have happened in the 1980s but Gaddafi had the security to prevent it. I met him several times and he has a very cruel heart. He could hang on even as the people's anger rose and rose."
As the battles rolled only Green Square, now popularly known as Martyrs Square, had a morning after feeling. Shreds of Gaddafi posters blew in the wind. A few hardy spectators who had not ventured out the night before stood in its Italianate colonnades.
They were free spoken in their condemnation of Col Gaddafi. "Game over," said Abdullah Mohammad, a retired banker. "Its 99 per cent over but whatever happens he's finished."
Two weeks ago men and women spoke in riddles when asked about the situation facing the country. Now every circumstance offered an opportunity to condemn the man who been the revolutionary "guide" of the nation since 1969.
Mohammad Sweidan, an engineer, lifted a Green Flag from the debris at the side of the square and asked for cigarette lighter. After a dozen attempts when it failed to light, he threw it away in disgust. "You see this is one of his tricks," he said. "He knew that one day people would do this as they got rid of him but he made it flammable to make sure they couldn't burn it."
Mr Sweidan took a fair deal of pleasure from the Libyan leader's predicament. He pointed to the engraved position on the arch of the Red Fort on the west of the square where Col Gaddafi's portrait had stared down Chairman Mao style.
A rebel flag hung over the space that Col Gaddafi sat under to take the salute at the military parade to mark his September 1 coup.
The idea that Col Gaddafi was trapped underground was also rich with irony, he said.
"He called us rats, accused us of using drugs and being fanatical Muslims. Now he is underground scurrying for his life and we, the good people, are going to do our best to build a modern country open to the world."