By George Grant.
Misrata, 21 October:
Thirteen soldiers were killed in the assault on Bani Walid on Saturday and 121 wounded, according to a member of the intensive care unit at Misrata general hospital.
It is unknown how many were killed from Bani Walid in what appears to have been the fiercest day of fighting so far, with the Libya Herald having been unable to reach anyone at Bani Walid general hospital for the past two days.
The AFP news agency has reported that 26 people were killed in total and 200 wounded, although this has not been confirmed.
It is understood that some wounded civilians are choosing not to go to the hospital in Bani Walid for fear of shelling that is reported to have taken place nearby.
Saturday’s clashes, which commenced shortly before midday, appeared to breach a ceasefire to enable the evacuation of civilians from Bani Walid, which soldiers on the frontline said had commenced on Friday morning following instructions from Chief of Staff General Yusuf Mangoush.
Having recently condemned the assault, National Congress President Mohammed Magarief delivered an address yesterday warning of the threat posed to the country by Qaddafi loyalists still taking refuge in Bani Walid and confirming that the town had not yet been successfully “liberated”.
“The campaign to liberate the country has not been fully completed”, Magarief said. “Bani Walid’s misfortune is that it has become a sanctuary for a large number of outlaws and anti-revolutionaries and mercenaries.”
At the Kilometre 60 checkpoint south of Misrata, a staging post through which supplies are being transferred to the front, soldiers said today that the majority of Bani Walid was under now their control.
“We now control about 70 per cent of Bani Walid”, said Abdulhakim Misrati, an off-duty infantryman. “The remaining 30 per cent is being heavily populated by civilians and we cannot attack. Any families who try to escape, it doesn’t matter if it is children or old people, they kill them. Civilians are being used as human shields”.
The veracity of this claim is hard to verify, but it is one repeated continuously by soldiers involved in the assault. Yesterday, one soldier told of a young boy from Bani Walid who had been brought to their camp and said that his father had been shot in front of him as the family tried to escape.
Also yesterday came dramatic reports of the death of Khamis Qaddafi, the youngest and arguably most ruthless of Muammar Qaddafi’s seven sons, on the first anniversary of his father’s death in Sirte.
The news was greeted in Misrata with fireworks, celebratory gunfire and the blaring of car horns on Saturday night, but residents also sounded a distinct note of caution.
“If it is true, then I am very happy, but this is still not confirmed”, said Ali Buras Ali, a Misratan taxi driver.
“My brother is fighting with the army inside Bani Walid. He has seen mobile phone footage of Khamis’s capture; the soldiers are slapping him around the head. Not until I see that phone will I be sure that this is true”.
That sentiment is shared by many others, including Ali Alhemshi, a lawyer and owner of a cargo inspection company. “I will have to see it with my own eyes before I believe”, he said wistfully. “All over the internet there is a picture of a man supposed to be Khamis, but no official picture has been released. Perhaps this is a rumour to demoralise the people of Bani Walid and end this war.”
The timing of Khamis’s death is certainly something of a coincidence, and made all the more remarkable by the reported capture of more than two dozen other regime acolytes, including Qaddafi’s former military spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, on the same day.
In the Facebook clip posted shortly after news of his capture emerged, a voice sounding like Ibrahim’s said: “I am addressing you a year after the martyrdom of the great leader and his free companions and the fall of the legitimate free nation of Libya under NATO’s bombings and their criminal allies.
“About the news of my arrest … and the spreading of this news in the media, this is just to divert attention from the crimes that are being committed by NATO allies.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one European ambassador in Tripoli suggested the reports should not be dismissed too lightly. “We know that Moussa Ibrahim was in Bani Walid. We also know that as many as 30 Qaddafi supporters have been captured in the town”, he said, adding that he did not know their identities.
This is not the first time either men are reported to have met the fates respectively attributed to them on 20 October.
The government in Tripoli previously claimed that Ibrahim had been captured last October, but this turned out to be false.
As for Khamis, he was reported to have been killed on 13 March last year, then on 5 August and then again on 22 August. His most recent demise, prior to Saturday’s, was reported to have taken place on 29 August, some 35 miles south of Tripoli after an Apache helicopter fired on his Toyota Land Cruiser.
“I was in the truck behind him… when his car was hit. He was burned,” Khamis’s personal bodyguard, Abdulsalam Fagri, subsequently claimed. His body, however, was never found.