STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton investigates.
OFEIBA QUIST: Adam Thiam is a political analyst and journalist from Mali, home to nomadic Tuaregs who also live in other Sahara Desert nations.
ADAM THIAM: What I know is that thousands of Tuaregs who were enrolled in the army of Gadhafi were demobilized in the '90s.
QUIST: But, says Thiam, some fighters some stayed behind.
THIAM: Ten thousand - that's the figure which was given to us at that time - remained in Libya and they are enrolled in Libyan security forces. And I was told that 600 of them was forming the special unit in Benghazi and probably part of this group was used in the repression of the Benghazi movement.
QUIST: That was in eastern Libya, where the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi began.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
QUIST: Unidentified Woman: He got killed, he got killed by the Africans. They shot him. Four bullets. We're getting shot at and we have no protection. We have nothing.
QUIST: Unidentified Woman: What kind of person brings people from outside of his own country to kill people in their country? If he claims to be Libyan, how can he bring people from outside to shoot and kill? And he knows that his people, they have nothing - not even just weapons.
QUIST: It's hard to separate fact from fable regarding the definition of foreign fighters, or whether such hired guns would be part of an elite unit built up over the years, all fresh recruits. Plus, there's confusion about where in Africa they may come from. Their origins vary, from Mali to Niger, Chad and Sudan. All these countries have been mentioned. The reality is hard to pin down, says Arab affairs specialist Mohamed Yahya.
MOHAMED YAHYA: The first we've heard about the use of foreign mercenaries was last Friday - that the government has been getting African mercenaries and telling them that they are fighting foreigners, that foreigners have invaded Libya. Now, of course we couldn't verify it or confirm it in any way.
QUIST: Thiam, the Malian political analyst, warns that whether they are leftovers from regional civil wars in West Africa or the Sahel, these presumed foreign fighters could spell trouble for countries like his, if Gadhafi is swept out of power in Libya.
THIAM: That is exactly what is worrying us in Mali. In case Colonel Gadhafi goes, we don't know what will happen to 10,000 armed Tuaregs living in Libya. I mean, the likelihood for them to come back to Mali is so high that(ph) it's frightening.
QUIST: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Accra.
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