Skip to main content

Once allies against Gadhafi, now fight in new Libya

By Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, For CNN
updated 5:03 AM EDT, Wed October 5, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • One controversial figure is Abdelhakim Belhaj, head of the Tripoli Military Council
  • Berbers from Nalut and Arabs from nearby Seaan clash
  • A Tripoli-based anti-Gadhafi fighter warns of tribal war

(CNN) -- Old feuds and divisions are surfacing among armed groups and local military council members of Libya's National Transitional Council, officials told CNN.

One controversial figure is Abdelhakim Belhaj, head of the Tripoli Military Council.

On Monday, Belhaj opened a news conference with a clear message calling all other military brigades to take their weapons out of Tripoli.

He claimed it is due to complains from residents who "no longer feel the safety that followed Gadhafi's fall."

Belhaj's deputy, Mahdi al-Harati, then promptly maneuvered toward the podium dressed in a flack jacket ahead of the room full of journalists.

"It is time for the revolutionaries of Libya to fall under the umbrella of the Tripoli Military Council and the national army," Al-Harati announced.

When asked about the number of "fighters" in the Tripoli Military Council, he responded, "Let 's not talk numbers. In Tripoli we are all revolutionaries, armed to fight only the external enemies -- the Gadhafis "

"Whoever doesn't recognize the legitimacy of the (military) council doesn't recognize the legitimacy of the national council," Al-Harati added.

Right after the news conference was adjourned, a crowd of journalists rushed toward Al-Harati with more questions. His security guards encircled him first and attempted to escort him as several men broke through and kissed his head.

One perplexed man dressed in the traditional "camouflage" military attire flanked by several of his men threatened Al-Harati while pointing his finger at him and yelled,"I heard what you said, its not over."

Al-Harati paused and stared at the man, and tried to respond before his followers rushed him up the stairs of the hall away from the anxious crowds and TV cameras.

An NTC spokesman who did not want to be named because he is not allowed to speak to the media about the incident told CNN "immediately after the journalist left the area, members of the rival Zintan-based Kekaa militia surrounded members of the Tripoli Brigade and stopped them from leaving."

"They had issued an arrest warrant from the Zintan Military Council for Belhaj and his deputy," the NTC spokesman added.

Zintan accuses Belhaj of conducting illegitimate raids and arrests not authorized by the NTC.

More members from the Tripoli Brigade based in Metiga airport arrived in pickup trucks armed with heavy artillery and surrounded the Kekaa Brigades and "convinced" them to leave after accusations were exchanged between the two groups and tension that may have escalated to fighting, the spokesman said.

"I saw big numbers of Tripoli militias carrying rocket-propelled grenades and setting up checkpoint on streets leading to Belhaj," said Mahmoud Al Megrab, a CNN driver at the scene.

"Their commander told me the Zintani fighters are coming to arrest Belhaj."

The NTC spokesman put the approximate number of fighters enlisted with the Tripoli militia to 10,000 fighters and estimated the Kekaa battalion alone to around 800 highly trained fighters enlisted under the Zintan Military Council.

In another incident that shows divisions among armed groups that fought under the NTC banner, Berbers from Nalut and Arabs from nearby Seaan clashed Saturday with Kalashnikov rifles and machine guns in the Nefusa mountains. A family of three caught in the crossfire was killed in the incident, Ahmed Hussein who witnessed the incident, told CNN.

"Nalut rebels were welcome to our town during the revolution, but now they barge in with their weapons searching the houses and scaring the residents," Hussein said.

Seaan Arab fighters, meanwhile, attacked Berbers from Nalut while they were posted in the Kremia neighborhood of Tripoli.

Louie Zintan, a Libyan resident who witnessed this clash and works for CNN, said he heard the two sets of anti-Gadhafi forces negotiating a truce and talking of exchanging prisoners. A Tripoli-based anti-Gadhafi fighter serving as a mediator warned that they might ignite a tribal war, should the fighting continue.

A National Transitional Council spokesman confirmed the confrontations, saying it was the second time the Amazigh -- another term for the Berber group that comprises about 10% of Libya's population and is not of Arab descent, according to Amazigh student and opposition fighter Ahmed Hatem -- had clashed with the Seaan Arab forces.

It was the first time, however, that a firefight has occurred outside mountain areas and instead in Tripoli, said NTC spokesman Abdul Rahman Busin.

"It is just an isolated incident, due to old feuds spilling into the streets," Busin said, adding he was hoping for a positive resolution to such issues. "The (opposition) security council is working really hard to unite all the brigades."

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT