Anti-Gadhafi Loyalists Accused Of Abusing Power

Residents of the Libyan capital Tripoli are growing increasingly angry at abuses said to be carried out by armed anti-Gadhafi groups. Some allege that once rebel fighting brigades have become criminal gangs, looting and intimidating at will.

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LYNN NEARY, host: To Tripoli now, where what was initially seen as a liberation by rebels freeing the capital from Moammar Gadhafi's rule is now turning sour for some residents. There are increasing calls for armed fighters to leave the city after complaints of abuse of power by certain groups. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has our story.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fighters from the western mountains are gingerly approaching an isolated farmhouse in a Tripoli suburb.

So members of the Zintan brigade have just gotten a tipoff that there is a family possibly storing weapons. They could be Gadhafi loyalists and so they've converged on this house. Several pickup trucks with heavy weapons and then more men fanned out, moving towards the house with their Kalashnikov rifles.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Two brothers live here and the fighters from Zintan asked them repeatedly if they are Gadhafi loyalists. The men look terrified and say they only have three Kalashnikov rifles looted from a nearby military base. They say they're simply keeping them to protect their families. It's hardly a massive weapons cache but the Zintan fighters take the older brother back to their base for further questioning. It's a sign of the rising tensions in this city. Rebels from Zintan in the western mountains and from the once-besieged city of Misrata were greeted like heroes when they helped push Gadhafi and his loyalists out from the capital. But these days, Tripolianians say it's feeling more like an occupation than a liberation. Fighters from outside the city have been accused of being behind looting and acts of intimidation, acting more like criminal gangs and keepers of the peace, some here allege. It's a charge that fighters from Zintan vehemently deny.

OSAMA RUMI: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At their base located near the civilian airport, Zintan fighter Osama Rumi points to their rundown and threadbare digs. There's no evidence of stolen goods or fancy cars. He says allegations against them are just rumors set to sow fear. He says their manpower is needed right now. There are still Gadhafi loyalists in the city, he says, intent on causing chaos. He says we will go back home once we know the capital is safe. But while acts of abuse are difficult to prove, what is clear is that there's no central unified command in this city. The fighters from Misrata and Zintan operate independently, nominally under the auspices of the National Transitional Council. The man in charge of the fighters from Tripoli is Islamist Abdel Hakim Belhaj. There's a lot of tension and suspicion between him and the groups from Misrata and Zintan. They allege he's trying to amass power at their expense, and the fighters from Misrata and Zintan refuse to follow Belhaj's orders. But Belhaj has his supporters.

MOHAMMED SHABBU: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mohammed Shabbu has recently formed what he terms a civilian organization called the Tripoli Support Group. He says he wants to see all the fighters with heavy weapons from other parts of the country leave the capital. And those who stay should be under the command of Belhaj. He said he's petitioning the National Transitional Council for just such a move. But what's not clear is if the Tripoli support group is any more legitimate than any of the other myriad organizations that have popped up here in the past month, all pushing their own specific agendas. When NPR contacted an NTC spokesman, he said he's never heard of the new group. He also said for now there are no plans to remove any of the fighters in Tripoli as security is still fragile. This confusing situation, with its attendant power plays, is playing out in neighborhoods across Tripoli, much to the consternation of the residents.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARKET)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The market in the southern Tripoli neighborhood of Abu Selim is slowly being rebuilt after being partially burned down in the fighting here. Despite that, the shopkeepers here are furious.

AHMED: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ahmed, who owns the carpet shop, doesn't want his last name used for fear of reprisals. He says to hear the sound of gunfire every night, it's terrifying. There's no security, he says.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Another shopkeeper says nothing is organized. The fighters here put up checkpoints. We don't know who they are. They're all wearing different uniforms. Who gives these people the right to carry guns? He says we want all the weapons to be taken off the streets and these people to get out of our city. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Tripoli.

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