Rebels mock, pose at former Gaddafi bastion

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 26, 2011 5:35 PM
Rebels mock, pose at former Gaddafi bastion

By Mohammed Abbas

TRIPOLI (Reuters)- The fly-blown, rotting corpses of Muammar Gaddafi's soldiers lie inside the Bab al-Aziziya compound, killed making a last stand in what was once his stronghold.

The names of the rebel brigades who captured it are now commemorated in graffiti sprayed all over the walls.

From here, the flamboyant Gaddafi had derided his foes as "rats." Now he has fled and the rats are savoring their revenge.

"Here we are!" rebel fighters chanted outside the ruins of the building from where he blustered and bragged in televised speeches.

The compound was seized after heavy fighting on Tuesday and since then the rebel fighters have burned, looted and defaced what for years was a forbidding symbol of Gaddafi's power.

"We felt terror around here. You wouldn't even look at the place," said Omar Shabshab, 23, one of several rebel fighters milling around the building.

Some burned the green flag that Gaddafi had created. Others posed for photos in a sea of spent bullet casings.

Many posed in front of a statue of a golden fist crushing a fighter jet, a memorial Gaddafi erected outside a building that was bombed by the United States in 1986 and he dubbed "the House of Resistance."

Although scattered skirmishing has taken place in some areas of Tripoli even after Gaddafi's escape, the rebel fighters at the compound cared little, whizzing around in cars and shouting "Libya is free."

Photos of dead rebel fighters were plastered on the car windshields.

Scorched earth and charred air conditioning units were all that remained of the tents in which Gaddafi used to receive dignitaries.

"Gaddafi said: 'Tripoli, flush out the rats'. We are Tripoli," shouted rebel fighter Nesmayeh Karayam, 32.

TUNNELS USED FOR GREAT ESCAPE?

Under the House of Resistance the fighters had discovered what appeared to be an extensive underground bunker complex, accessed by hatch and a ladder.

The main tunnel was about 4 meters across and 6 meters high. A wrecked golf buggy, apparently used to transport people down the vast corridors, lay there.

After a junction about 30 meters along was what looked like a film studio, an office and storerooms.

Different sections were sealed off with steel doors and electronic security panels mounted with closed circuit cameras.

"Look at him, living like a rat. And he calls us rats," said one of the rebels scrambling through the tunnels.

An exit opened yards from a playground with fairground rides, including revolving tea cups and a carousel, possibly used by the families of Gaddafi's inner circle.

People living near Aziziya said they never wanted the site to be used as a military base again after they suffered constant harassment by Gaddafi's security agents then had to dodge the shrapnel that spattered their houses during NATO bombing raids.

"All we saw was fear. A civilian wants to live in a civilian area. A guy one street back had the top of his head sliced off by shrapnel," said Abdul Nasser Amer, 47.

Neighbors pointed to where Gaddafi's forces had shot their way into their homes to get onto the roof in a bid to check the rebel advance.

Most said they wanted the site to be turned into a park, a hospital, a school or a hotel. But one man touring the site with his son had a different idea.

"I want them to keep it this way. I don't want anyone to forget what happened here, the lessons we've learned," said Mohammed Ryani, 62, a retired pilot.

"My biggest fear is a day will come when we'll forget."

(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Angus MacSwan)