Gaddafi's spokesman arrested as clashes rage in Bani Walid
Posted Sunday, October 21 2012 at 01:09
Libya's government announced on Saturday the arrest of Muammar Gaddafi's spokesman as its forces unleashed a bloody offensive against one of the strongman's final bastions exactly a year after his death.
"Mussa Ibrahim was arrested at a checkpoint in the town of Tarhuna," read a statement issued by the prime minister's office. "(He) is being taken to Tripoli where he will be handed over to the pertinent authorities to begin questioning."
Rumours of the arrest of the public voice of the Gaddafi regime in its final months, and that of other ex-regime personalities said to be fleeing from the besieged town of Bani Walid, had swirled since morning.
Ibrahim's capture comes on the first anniversary of the death of his patron, who was seized and killed in his hometown of Sirte on October 20, 2011, after eight months of bloody conflict.
News of the arrest came after the authorities said Libya was still not fully liberated from Gaddafi's legacy, and warned that loyalists continued to pose an active threat, particularly in Bani Walid, one of his final strongholds.
Bani Walid is the heartland of the powerful Warfalla tribe, a pillar of Gaddafi's regime.
"The campaign to liberate the country has not been fully completed," Mohammed Megaryef, the head of the national assembly, said in broadcast remarks.
"Bani Walid's misfortune is that it has become a sanctuary for a large number of outlaws and anti-revolutionaries and mercenaries," Megaryef said.
Forces linked to the army, most of them former rebels, encircled the hilltop town this month in a bid to bring to justice the men who kidnapped and allegedly tortured Omran Shaaban, an ex-rebel credited with capturing Gaddafi.
Fierce fighting erupted on Saturday as pro-government forces pushed closer to Bani Walid's centre in a bid to snuff out diehard former regime loyalists, said Colonel Ali al-Sheikhi, spokesman of the chief of staff.
"The hospital has received nine people killed and 122 wounded" from the fighting, said a medical official in the city of Misrata, northeast of the embattled town, where pro-government forces are being treated.
The official news agency later said the toll rose to 14 dead, 200 wounded.
Witnesses said Misrata's main hospital was packed with wounded and their distraught relatives and that ambulances were arriving constantly.
There was no immediate report of casualties from Bani Walid itself where some of the bloodiest battles of 2011 were fought in its outskirts.
Megaryef, president of the democratically elected General National Congress, gave a sombre assessment of the post-Gaddafi period, pointing to "negligence" in the formation of a professional army and police force.
He also cited the failure to disarm and integrate former rebels.
Megaryef stressed that delays in reactivating and reforming the judiciary had hampered national reconciliation during a critical transition period for the oil-rich nation.
"This situation has created a state of discontent and tension among different segments of society and contributed to the spread of chaos, disorder, corruption and weakness in the performance of various government agencies," he said.