Residuals of Gaddafi
Yesterday the Tibesti Hotel, a former haunt of mine while staying Benghazi, was rocked by a car bomb blast. And although Gaddafi’s forces have been ousted from Libya’s second city, there exists a small minority of Gaddafi moles and sympathizers who stay underground, but surface every so often in an unsuccessful bid to spread chaos and terror.
Recently, a jovial French film maker named Stephan arrived in Benghazi to investigate the bizarre case of four French security personnel who were arrested three weeks ago. What he found, with the assistance of my good friend Ibrahim, is a case muddied by hearsay and silence, a veritable Gordion Knot of half-clues. Yet here is what we do know:
1) On May 12th, 2011, two Al Jazeera security personnel warned me in that three French people were arrested, and one killed in a firefight while I was having coffee at the Tibesti Hotel.
2) On May 13th, it was revealed that the 17th of February Katiba (brigade) became suspicious of four Frenchmen who arrived in Benghazi. The Frenchmen were working for a private security company which offered its services to the Provisional Government. The story goes that the Government accepted their story, but it is unclear if this was the case.
3) On May 14th, conflicting reports destructively interfere with each other more and more. Yet a few bits of information do become clear. The 17th of February Katiba had the Frenchmen followed just hours after they arrived. They conducted research on the web and became even more suspicious. The French government was duly contacted; a warning about these men was immediately given to the Katiba in response. The Katiba then closed in on their flat, and one of the Frenchmen was fatally shot.
4) On May 18th, Stephan arrives in Libya, and duly hires Ibrahim as his interpreter/guide/information hound. They talk to the coroner, and then visit the site where the Frenchmen were arrested.
5) On May 22nd, Stephan and Ibrahim visit the prison where the Frenchmen were held, and discover that they had been shipped out to Egypt days before. Under interrogation, the prisoners claimed that they were sent to Benghazi to “operate”.
6) On May 23rd, Stephan and Ibrahim talk to the commander of the Katiba and discover that diving equipment and maps of Benghazi were found in the flat, even though they had arrived in Benghazi only hours before. The leader also had a Tripoli stamp in his passport. They then meet with the principal injvestogator who “knows even less” than they do. Stephan and Ibrahim are now certain that both the Provisional Council and the French government would rather sweep this case under the rug.
Ten days later, and it is still quite unclear what actually occurred on May 12th. However, this bizarre case -combined with the occasional car bombings and my own run-in with one of his agents- clearly suggests that there is still a small presence of Gaddafi operatives within the city limits of Benghazi. Yet despite their best efforts, the citizens of eastern Libya continue to wave the independence flags in utter defiance of Gaddafi’s increasingly desperate attempts to break them.