Video: Libyan protesters reportedly hit with more gunfire

By
updated 2/26/2011 10:07:25 AM ET 2011-02-26T15:07:25

The young men of Benghazi pounded the dreaded military barracks in the city center with everything they could find. They threw stones and crude bombs made of tin cans stuffed with gunpowder. They drove bulldozers into its walls. All under a blaze of gunfire from troops inside that literally tore people in half.

More than 100 were killed in three days of fighting. But in the end, the base fell and Moammar Gadhafi's forces fled, executing comrades who refused to shoot.

The assault on the base known as the "Katiba" was the defining battle in the fall of Libya's second largest city to the opposition uprising that has swept away Gadhafi's rule in the eastern half of the country.

Now children clamber over the abandoned tanks inside the base and families drive around inside the sprawling compound, gawking at what for years had been a sort of feared Bastille, where detainees disappeared and where Gadhafi stayed when he was in town.

  1. Top stories: Turmoil in the Middle East
    1. UN: Gadhafi's food stocks to last just weeks
    2. S. African president: Gadhafi ready for truce
    3. Libyan rebels distribute rules on POW treatment
    4. Armed residents put up resistance to Syrian army
    5. Libyan rebels distribute rules on POW treatment

The revolt in Benghazi, about 580 miles east of Tripoli, began with protests that centered in the square outside the city's courthouse overlooking the Mediterranean.

Thousands held rallies there for several days, turning it into a Libyan version of Egypt's famous Tahrir Square. On Feb. 17, the protests turned deadly, when troops opened fire, killing 14.

The next day, a funeral procession of thousands made its way to the cemetery, filing past the Katiba.

Accounts differ on whether mourners began throwing stones first or the soldiers of the Katiba opened fire without provocation. But the result was a massacre, with the city's main Al-Jalaa Hospital alone reporting 24 deaths in its morgue and hundreds of wounded.

On Feb. 19, a new procession thousands strong carried the dead from the previous day and once more passed the Katiba to the cemetery in an act of defiance.

"The people whose brothers had died the day before were in the first rank and they were the first to start throwing rocks," recalled Aboul Qassim Bujezia. "The soldiers in the Katiba opened fire and everyone in the first rank died."

Slideshow: Conflict in Libya (on this page)

The slight 27-year-old lay in his bed at home, recovering from his wounds that day. His father proffers an X-ray showing the 7.62 mm Kalashnikov slug lodged in the muscle of Bujezia's calf. The doctors say it is too dangerous to remove for now.

"People around me were shot in the neck, head and eye, some twice, God was with me that day," Bujezia said, describing how under heavy gunfire that day, the wounded were ferried to safety.

The city's only trauma ward, at Al-Jalaa Hospital, was buckling under the flood of casualties.

"It was miserable for us, it was a very bad three days, like in Gaza," recalled Dr. Hossam Majli.

Overflowing morgue
What shocked the doctors most was that the soldiers were clearly shooting to kill, with most shots concentrated in the chest and heart, they said days later when the clean, brightly lit walls of the hospital showed little sign of the blood bath.

One of the few bodies remaining in the hospital's overflowing morgue attests to the ferocity. As the drawer slides open it reveals a bearded man's peaceful face. His body ends below his chest. His lower half was a red mix of shredded bone and muscle with a charred protruding spine — the likely effects of being hit by a rocket propelled grenades, guess the doctors.

Dr. Abdullah, who insisted his last name not be used, is the hospital's head of surgery and casualty unit, and has dealt with effects of violence several times in his career, including after U.S. airstrikes and attacks by Gadhafi's security forces. Most of his colleagues, though, were not ready for these kinds of injuries.

"There is a shortage of professional people to deal with these cases," he said. "Our nurses are from the Philippines and other countries and their embassies are withdrawing them and we will have no nurses."

Video: Cornered in Tripoli? Gadhafi still defiant (on this page)

Ayman Salam, a frail 28-year-old shot in the abdomen walking in the Feb. 19 funeral procession, was one of eight gunshot victims still in the hospital Thursday.

"They came out and started firing immediately. As I was shot I saw four others go down with me and I just lay there," he said in a whispery voice, covered with tubes and bandages.

Benghazi's youth focused their rage on the Katiba, throwing whatever they could at it.

"Every time they killed one of us, more came," said Mohammed Haman, a lanky 29-year-old sporting a bandanna and an American accent from six years living in Baltimore. "When they started shooting, we hit back with bricks."

Bulldozers
Others fired homemade explosives known as "jalateen" — essentially gunpowder stuffed into a tin can normally used in the unsportsmanlike local style of fishing. They fired them over the high walls with spear guns, also used for fishing.

Others commandeered bulldozers and tried to breach the walls, often succumbing under heavy fire.

"You wouldn't believe how much they were trying to capture the barracks," said Dr. Abdullah. "The young people were making human shields for the drivers of the bulldozers," he added, describing how he received four people all shot in the chest at the same height, while guarding a bulldozer.

Video: After delay, ferry with Americans reaches Malta

As the battle wore on, a mob descended on a local army base on the outskirts of town and forced the soldiers to give up their weapons, including three small tanks. Truckers drove them into town and rammed those too into the Katiba's walls.

Days later, the burned hulks of the armored vehicles can still be seen, stuck halfway into the breaches they made.

The fighting petered out by around 5 a.m. Feb. 20, with 30 people killed in the day's fighting, according to Al-Jalaa's morgue.

With the new day, another funeral cortege wended its way past the Katiba toward the cemetery.

This procession, however, contained a surprise. As it approached the barracks, a 49-year-old named Mahdi Ziu peeled out from behind with a car rigged with four propane tanks and filled with makeshift explosives.

He rammed the imposing gates, blowing them into a twisted pile of concrete and rebar, dying in the blast.

The battle was on once more. Again, it dragged on for most of the day, with the attackers joined by people from the eastern towns of Derna and Beyda, who had liberated weapons from local security bases.

It was the bloodiest day of the battle, with 42 bodies brought to Al-Jalaa's morgue.

It only ended that afternoon when the Interior Minister Abdel-Fattah Younis showed up with contingent of special forces from the nearby base who had stayed out of the battle.

Interactive: Libya uprising: The latest (on this page)

Charged by Gadhafi with relieving the besieged barracks, Younis instead announced his defection and promised the soldiers of the Katiba safe passage out if they would leave eastern Libya.

And with that, the last remnants of Gadhafi's power left the city.

The final days inside the barracks were undoubtedly grim. In the Al-Jalaa morgue were eight badly burned bodies that doctors say had their hands tied behind them and bullets in their head. They are believed to have been soldiers who refused to fight.

Macabre attraction
The vast enclosure, filled with burned out buildings, is now a macabre tourist attraction. Children play on an abandoned tank that is still functional enough to raise and lower its huge main gun, much to their collective glee.

Metal doors open into strange dark tunnels leading underground, one to a large room with a heavy door, its purpose unknown. In one corner of the compound, people frantically dig into the soft earth with makeshift tools over rumors someone was buried within.

Soldiers now with the rebellion were also there to recover boxes of ammunition in the ongoing effort to retrieve the many weapons that fell into civilian hands during the days of chaos.

Near the entrance is the remnants of the imposing proscenium stand where Gadhafi once declared himself the king of kings of Africa, now fallen down. Nearly every building is covered with triumphant graffiti declaring "the New Libya."

"I'm 41 years old, and this is the first time I had ever been inside and its been sitting in the middle of Benghazi all this time," said Atif al-Hasiya, standing in front of the ravaged complex with a huge smile on his face.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Moammar Gadhafi

loading photos...
  1. Col. Moammar Gadhafi is seen in Tripoli on Sept. 27, 1969, after leading a military coup that toppled King Idris. Gadhafi has maintained his rule over Libya for more than four decades since the coup. Gadhafi was killed in Sirte on Oct. 20 as revolutionary forces took the last bastion of his supporters. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Gadhafi, left, and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, right, arrive in Rabat, Morocco, in December 1969 for the Arab Summit Conference. (Benghabit / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Col. Gadhafi, left, jokes with a group of British hippies in Tripoli in July 1973. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gadhafi was purportedly a major financier of the Black September movement, a band of Palestinian militants. Its members perpetrated the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. One of the Black September guerrillas who broke into the Olympic Village is seen in this picture. (Keystone via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Gadhafi during the summit of the Organization of African Unity on Aug. 4, 1975, in Kampala, Uganda. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Flowers are laid at the memorial to Yvonne Fletcher, a British police constable who was shot dead by terrorists in April 1984 while on duty during a protest outside the Libyan embassy in London. Fletcher's death led to an 11-day police siege of the embassy and a breakdown of diplomatic relations between Libya and the United Kingdom. (Fox Photos via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Gadhafi and his second wife Safiya wave to the crowd upon their arrival in Dakar, Senegal, for a three-day official visit on Dec. 3, 1985. Gadhafi has eight biological children, six by Safiya. (Joel Robine / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. U.S. Ambassador to West Germany Richard Burt, fourth from left, and West Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, fifth from left, inspect the damage following an April 5, 1986, bombing at a Berlin discotheque frequented by American serveicemen. Libya was blamed for the blast, which killed three and injured more than 200. Then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan retaliated by ordering airstrikes against the Libyan capital of Tripoli and city of Benghazi. (Wolfgang Mrotzkowski / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. French policemen and army soldiers unload crates of arms and ammunition seized aboard the Panamian merchant ship Eksund on Nov. 3, 1987 at Brest military port in France. A huge supply of arms and explosives purportedly supplied by Libya and destined for the Irish Republican Army was found aboard the vessel. (Andre Durand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. This Dec. 22, 1988, photo shows the wreckage of the Pan Am airliner that exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people - most of them Americans. Gadhafi has accepted Libya's responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to the victims' families. Libya's ex-justice minister was recently quoted as telling a Swedish newspaper that Gadhafi personally ordered the bombing. (Letkey / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, right, welcomes Gadhafi upon his arrival at Tunis airport on Jan. 10, 1990. (Frederic Neema / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi is escorted by security officers in Tripoli on Feb. 18, 1992. Al-Megrahi was granted a compassionate release from a Scottish prison in August 2009 on the grounds that he was suffering from prostate cancer and would die soon. (Manoocher Deghati / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, left, accompanies Gadhafi on a tour at the pyramids of Giza on Jan. 19, 1993. (Aladin Abdel Naby / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian border policeman counts passports belonging to Palestinians waiting at the post in Salloum for transit to the Gaza Strip on Sept. 12, 1995. Families were stranded at the border with Libya after Gadhafi decided to expel 30.000 Palestinians, reportedly in order to call attention to the political situation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. (Amr Nabil / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Libyan women bodyguards provide security for VIPs during a military parade in Green Square on Sept. 1, 2003, to mark the 34th anniversary of Gadhafi's acension to power. (Mike Nelson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Family members of people killed in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, read documents on Sept. 12, 2003, as the U.N. Security Council votes to lift sanctions against Libya for the 1988 bombing. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, flew to Libya in 2004 to hold talks with Gadhafi inside a Bedouin tent. Here, Blair and and Gadhafi stroll to a separate tent in Tripoli for lunch during a break in their talks. Blair's role was particularly vital in Gadhafi's international rehabilitation. He praised the leader for ending Libya's nuclear and chemical weapons program and stressed the need for new security alliances in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. (Stefan Rousseau / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. U.S. President George W. Bush looks at material and equipment surrendered by Libya, during a tour of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee on July 12, 2004. Bush officially lifted the U.S. trade embargo against Libya on Sept. 20, 2004. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. View of the remains of Gadhafi's bombed-out headquarters, now turned into a living memento, inside his compound in Tripoli on Oct. 15, 2004. The sculpture in the center represents a golden fist grabbing a U.S. jet fighter. U.S. jets bombed Tripoli, killing Gadhafi's adopted 4-year-old daughter, in April 1986 in retaliation for the Berlin discotheque bombing. (John Macdougall / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is welcomed by Gadhafi in Tripoli on July 25, 2007. Sarkozy arrived for a meeting with the Libyan leader a day after the release of six foreign medics from a Libyan prison. (Patrick Kovarik / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Gadhafi's son Saif, center, attends a ceremony in the southern Libyan city of Ghiryan on Aug. 18, 2007, to mark the arrival of water from the Great Manmade River, a project to pipe water from desert wells to coastal communities. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Gadhafi looks at a Russian-language edition of his book "The Green Book" during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 17, 2008, in Tripoli. Putin was in Libya for a two-day visit to rebuild Russian-Libyan relations. (Artyom Korotayev / Epsilon via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Gadhafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pose for a picture after signing an agreement in the eastern city of Benghazi on Libya's Mediterranean coast on Aug. 30, 2008. Berlusconi apologized to Libya for damage inflicted by Italy during the colonial era and signed a $5 billion investment deal by way of compensation. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gadhafi poses with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prior to a meeting in Tripoli on Sept. 5, 2008. Rice arrived in Libya on the first such visit in more than half a century, marking a new chapter in Washington's reconciliation with the former enemy state. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gadhafi attends the closing session of the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar, on March 30, 2009. (Marwan Naamani / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Gadhafi waves after delivering a speech during a meeting with 700 women from the business, political and cultural spheres on June 12, 2009, in Rome. The Libyan strongman drew cheers and jeers when he criticized Islam's treatment of women but then suggested it should be up to male relatives to decide if a woman can drive. (Christophe Simon / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. U.S .President Barack Obama shakes hands with Gadhafi during the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, on July 9, 2009. (Michael Gottschalk / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, top left, is accompanied by Seif al-Islam el-Gadhafi, son of the Libyan leader, upon his arrival at the airport in Tripoli on Aug. 20, 2009. Scotland freed the terminally ill Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds, allowing him to die at home in Libya despite American protests that he should be shown no mercy. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. The president of the U.N. General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki, top center, listens in apparent misery as Gadhafi speaks on Sept. 23, 2009, at U.N. headquarters in New York. It was Gadhafi's first appearance before the U.N., and he emptied out much of the chamber with an exhaustive 95-minute speech in which he criticized the decision-making structure of the world body and called for investigations of all the wars and assassinations that have taken place since the U.N.'s founding. (Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Gadhafi greets Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during the plenary session at the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island on Sept. 27, 2009. Chavez and Gadhafi urged African and South American leaders to strive for a new world order countering Western economic dominance. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Gadhafi and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a group picture of Arab and African leaders ahead of the opening of the second Arab-African summit in the coastal town of Sirte, Libya, on Oct. 10, 2010. Ben Ali and Mubarak were driven out of power by popular revolts in 2011. (Sabri Elmehedwi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Gadhafi is followed by members of the press in Tripoli before making a speech hoping to defuse tensions on March 2. Gadhafi blamed al-Qaida for creating turmoil and told applauding supporters there was a conspiracy to control Libya and its oil. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyan rebels step on a picture of Gadhafi at a checkpoint in Tripoli's Qarqarsh district on Aug. 22. Libyan government tanks and snipers put up a scattered, last-ditch effort in Tripoli on Monday after rebels swept into the heart of the capital, cheered on by crowds hailing the end of Gadhafi's 42 years in power. (Bob Strong / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A man in Tripoli holds a photo said to be of Moammar Gadhafi after the announcement of the former leader's death, Oct. 20, 2011. Gadhafi was killed when revolutionary forces overwhelmed his hometown, Sirte, the last major bastion of resistance two months after the regime fell. (Abdel Magid Al-fergany / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  1. Image: TO GO WITH AFP PACKAGE ON THE 40TH ANNIV
    AFP - Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (34) Moammar Gadhafi through the years
  2. Image: A photo said to show people gathering during recent days' unrest in Benghazi, Libya. The content, date and location of the image could not be independently verified.
    AP
    Slideshow (81) Conflict in Libya

Timeline: Recent Middle East unrest

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments