TRIPOLI: Akil al Mazoughi, a Libyan rebel commander from the town of Derna, rolls up his sleeves to show the only two ‘gifts’ he once received from Colonel Qaddafi. One may expect a golden watch or an expensive bracelet, but what he got instead were two disfigured wrists and scars that may never heal.
“When I returned to Libya in 2000, I was arrested”, al Mazoughi says, adding: “Qaddafi’s police bound metal wire around my wrists. It was extremely painful.”
Before you can start to grasp how much this torture must have hurt, al Mazoughi shows his leg. On it, 15 or so more blackened scars; each the size of a coin. “They would push cigarettes or hot pieces of metal against my leg,” he explains. “I could hear the terrible sizzling sound as it burned my flesh.”
As he puts his clothes back on, he says: “Would you like to see my back?”
After 11 years, the wounds on al Mazoughi’s body might have healed but the scars remain. There is also little sign of relief from the emotional trauma he had endured. “I have spent my whole life fighting Qaddafi,” he says. “Now it is finally happening, Qaddafi is going down. It is a dream come true.”
In order to avoid arrest at home, al Mazoughi went into exile in 1993. He ended up in Sudan, where he became a sheikh. Al Mazoughi, who studied Sharia, clearly remembers how some of his Libyan comrades chose to go to Pakistan in order to learn how to fight. “They came back from Pakistan around 2003 … ready to start an underground movement inside Libya,” he claims.
He strongly denies having any links with Salafis or with al Qaeda. “No, no,” al Mazoughi says, “I am much more into Sufism, which is definitely not al Qaeda’s thing.”
(Read: Key developments in battle for Tripoli)
By Thursday evening, rebel forces seem to have taken control of around 90 per cent of Tripoli. Everywhere in the capital, opposition fighters have set up checkpoints, manned by jubilant rebels. At Martyr’s Square, in the centre, hundreds of civilians can be seen dancing on the streets while firing their weapons into the air. Green flags, the old symbol of the Qaddafi-era, are thrown on the roads, only to be crushed by enthusiastic drivers.
Only the neighbourhoods of Abu Slim, Akwakh, Hadaba and the Airport road are still under the control of the loyalists. Rebel fighters have surrounded them. Every now and then, bursts of heavy machine gun fire can be heard coming from those urban battlefields. At the Al Shat cemetery, large groups of mourners bury slain rebels. Men cry while carpenters work overtime to make coffins.
It is in this chaos of war and revolution, that commander al Mazoughi tries to move 80 of his fighters from the rebel bastion of Benghazi in the east to Tripoli, 1,000 kilometres to the west. Because the central Libyan town of Sirte is located right in the middle, the rebels cannot make this trip over land.
“I have spoken to Nato and my boys were allowed to charter a plane which will bring them from Benghazi to Tunisia,” he explains. “From there, they will enter western Libya, receive arms and move immediately to Tripoli.”
(Read: Change in Libya)
According to al Mazoughi, it is extremely important to flood the capital with rebel forces. “We have to show Qaddafi’s loyalists that their game is over,” he says. “We are certainly not willing to let Tripoli be turned into another Baghdad.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2011.