Rebels wage war in Tripoli under cover of darkness
Published 07/07/2011 | 05:00
A covert guerrilla war, waged by underground rebel cells and fought mainly at night, is increasingly challenging the Gaddafi regime's hold over Tripoli.
Residents of the Libyan capital have spoken of a surge in drive-by shootings, attacks on security checkpoints and frequent gun battles once darkness falls.
Even as it fights opposition forces on three fronts to the east and south of the capital, the Libyan government has insisted that it has pacified Tripoli, presenting it as a bastion of unswerving loyalty to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
By day, the city has a veneer of normality and pro-regime loyalty, a front that government minders are keen to emphasise when guiding Western reporters on heavily-chaperoned tours.
By night, however, mysterious bursts of gunfire can be heard on a far more frequent basis than the sound of falling Nato bombs.
Minders attribute the sounds to loyal citizens shooting in the air in celebration, a partly plausible claim after Gaddafi doled out weapons and encouraged Libyans to root out dissidents.
But sometimes there are clearly exchanges of fire, including one yesterday that lasted nearly an hour.
Such violence is thought predominantly to occur in poorer suburbs such as Souq al-Juma and Feshloom, as well as in the Greater Tripoli district of Tajoura, places that were the scene of anti-Gaddafi demonstrations in February, when the uprising was in its infancy.
The regime feels confident enough to take reporters to these areas, and residents, mindful of government chaperones hovering nearby, dutifully proclaim their love for Gaddafi and express their hope that he reigns "forever".
But outside of the chaperoned tours, there's a rather different story.
Unlike in richer suburbs, most shops in Souq al-Juma are not adorned with portraits of Gaddafi, and small acts of defiance, from graffiti to decorating pets in revolutionary colours, have been reported.
Yet many in the area seemed reluctant to talk openly. One resident said: "It is too dangerous. People are afraid to talk because there are secret police and informers everywhere."
Only those supportive of Gaddafi spoke freely, although even they conceded that "30pc" opposed the regime.
But on one issue there seemed to be consensus: at night, the shabby streets are a very dangerous place to be.
Beside a DVD stall blaring music, a young Gaddafi supporter told of nightly attacks by rebels on the security forces, who arrive in force after dusk. "They drive past in cars and shoot out of the windows at the police," he said.
The extent of the rebellion in Tripoli's suburbs is unclear. Opposition officials in rebel-held areas speak of more than a dozen active cells, operating independently of each other.
Frustrated opposition leaders hope that an attritional underground war in Tripoli can pin down regime forces that could be deployed elsewhere, while demonstrating how tenuous Gaddafi's hold over the capital really is. (© Daily Telegraph, London)