LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

In Libya, on the streets of Tripoli, crowds are clamoring to see their relatives who have been locked away by various revolutionary military councils. Some of the prisoners are former Gadhafi loyalists with blood on their hands. But family members say others were seized for motives of revenge. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.

PETER KENYON BYLINE: In the new Libya, uncertainty can be relied on. Contradictions and conspiracies proliferate faster than street demonstrations now that the iron fist of the regime has been lifted.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATION IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

BYLINE: Outside the Hudba el-Gassi compound, once a military police facility, families have gathered to demand news of arrested loved ones. A bearded militiaman in green fatigues, Hisham Toumi, shouts at one woman, where are you from? She names a neighborhood and he says well, go to the police. Open a file. To which she replies that she went to the station and there are no police there.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATION IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

BYLINE: During a lull in the commotion, Toumi tries to explain what passes for due process so far in the new Libya. He says they need to know where the prisoner was arrested, by whom and for what reason. But when people are rounded up from their homes at night by unidentified armed men, those questions are hard to answer.

A man approaches Toumi, saying he's Walid al-Bahi and he is looking for his brother Ibrahim, seized three weeks ago. His nephew Ahmed translates a bit of Walid's frustration.

WALID AL BAHI: (Foreign language spoken)

AHMED: He said, my brother not missing. My brother inside. We saw him.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Walid and Ahmed were allowed into the prison the day before and saw Ibrahim. He didn't complain about mistreatment but they're still worried.

BAHI: Everyone talking with us say, I am the one in charge, so we don't...

AHMED: Nobody's the boss of anybody right now.

GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language)

KENYON: Soon chants that once were shouted at the Gadhafi regime are being aimed at the men who consider themselves the liberators of Tripoli. This one says our revolution was for freedom. This is for revenge.

But the story of Ibrahim al-Bahi turns out to be a bit more complicated. This prison is staffed by militiamen loyal to Abdelhakim Belhaj, an Islamist militant turned anti-Gadhafi commander. Bahi once fought with Belhaj in Afghanistan, and was jailed by Gadhafi with other Islamist militants in the 1990s. But Bahi was released much earlier than most of his colleagues, and family members admit he was forced to inform on some of them, hence their fears that his arrest now is for revenge.

A tall man in a white tunic who gives his name as Suleiman Said says some of the men in this prison were high-ranking Gadhafi officials, including, he claims, former Prime Minister Abdel Ati al-Obeidi. This is not about revenge, he insists, it's about justice.

SULEIMAN: These people are accused of killing people. Some of them are accused of stealing money, of assisting Gadhafi against, you know, against this revolution. But revenge, that's what they're saying because, you know, they just want to say anything, you know, to get the people out.

GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language)

KENYON: Libyan officials acknowledge that they don't have a handle on who's being arrested and why. And the justice system isn't prepared to handle these cases quickly. Meanwhile, the anger builds outside the prison walls, highlighting just one of the urgent and difficult tests facing Libya's new leaders.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Tripoli.

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