Divisions grow in Libyan ranks after failed attack on loyalist stronghold

Rival factions turn on leadership after the attempt to secure Bani Walid ends in chaos. Kim Sengupta reports from Tripoli

Tripoli

The rebels had fought their way in through the narrow streets and alleyways when they ran into an ambush. A desperate appeal for help to their comrades, exiles from Bani Walid whose advice they had followed on the assault, was answered by instructions to fall back to a rendezvous point outside the town.

But when the revolutionaries reached their destination, having fought their way out under intense fire, there was no sign of the Bani Walid contingent. Then, as urgent attempts were being made to establish communications, came salvos of mortar rounds and rockets.

By the time the opposition fighters had brought their casualties, five dead and 18 injured, to the nearest medical facility, they were enraged, accusing the Bani Walid men of betrayal. And some of the "outside" groups returned to Tripoli in disgust.

"We were given directions by the Bani Walid men we were leading and they were supposed to be behind us," said Ahmed Ishmail Jawad, a 24-year-old student and volunteer. "We faced a lot of fighting, much more than we expected. When we called for reinforcements, there was no one. We were told to get back and arrange another attack with the Bani Walid men. But they had gone back further and we had Grads [rockets] coming on us."

His companion from Zintan, Nasr Hamid Husseini, added: "There is something going wrong here. We cannot have success if people are going in different directions. We are worried about the loyalties of some of these men."

Mohammed el Ghadi, from Khoms, believed that tribal loyalties had superseded those of the revolution. "They are all Warfalla, those inside Bani Walid and those with us. We believe there are traitors among them."

The friction among those attempting to take Bani Walid, one of three remaining areas, along with Sirte and Sabbah, in regime hands, was the most incendiary sign of the increasing schism in the ranks of the opposition which has begun to appear within weeks of Muammar Gaddafi's overthrow.

Before Sunday night there had already been discord, with groups of local fighters demanding that certain areas within the town should not be attacked because members of their clans were there. Fighters from other parts have claimed, however, that they had received incoming fire from some of those areas.

The most potent sign of the divisions in rebel ranks in the past was the assassination of the commander Abdul Fatah Yunis, supposedly by Islamists in the ranks of the rebel forces he commanded.

The level these tensions have since reached were illustrated by a press conference the caretaker Prime Minister, Mahmoud Jibril, was due to hold on Sunday night at the Radisson hotel in Tripoli, being used as a base by the rebels' Transitional National Council (TNC). This was twice postponed and then had to be moved to another venue.

A senior member of the Tripoli Military Council, and spokesman for Abdelhakim Belhaj, the commander of forces in the Libyan capital, was blunt: "Jibril represents no one. He is not welcome here. We have just fought to get rid of one dictator, we don't want another one."

The antipathy towards the unelected members of the TNC forming the new administration is increasingly widespread and vocal. Most of them are former members of the Gaddafi regime, viewed as opportunistic converts from the old order. There is also the charge that some of them have been in Europe, the US and the Gulf states while young volunteers had been dying in the cause of the revolution.

Abdulbasit Abu Muzairik, a senior member of the council of Misrata, the port city which withstood a siege from Gaddafi forces, expressed what he said was widespread frustration. "We are worried about a lot of things which are happening politically. We have not seen Jibril in Libya, he has spent all the time we were suffering outside the country. Suddenly he is here and we have to accept he is the Prime Minister.

"What are people trying to do about it? Well, he will have to be replaced. We are looking at ways this can be done. The people who actually fought for the revolution must be allowed to have a say in how the country is now being run."

Mr Belhaj, who, The Independent revealed, was subject to rendition and torture with the help of British intelligence, has been the focus of media attention. Mr Muzairik pointed out that Mr Belhaj, a former head of the LIFG (Libyan Islamist fighting Group), "is just in charge of fighters in Tripoli, that's all. He is not in charge of Libya, even if he thinks he is."

So far, Mustapah Abdul Jalil, head of the TNC, has escaped criticism. But he has his own concerns about the future. The former Justice Minister under Col Gaddafi has warned of the existence of "extremist fundamentalists within the ranks of the revolution" and threatened to resign unless they, and other armed groups, handed in their weapons.

Abdurrahman Shalgham, an ally of Mr Jalil who was Foreign Minister in the Gaddafi regime, focused on the role of Mr Belhaj and his conservative Muslim followers, maintaining that he was "just a preacher and not a military commander". Another TNC member, Othman Ben Sassi, insisted: "He [Belhaj] was nothing, nothing. He arrived at the last moment and organised some people."

But there has been little sign of organisation on the Bani Walid frontline. One TNC officer, Mohammed el-Fassi, said yesterday: "The problem is that now that Gaddafi has fled, people are just thinking about themselves, their tribes, their own cities. They are not thinking about Libya."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Extras
indybest
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate / Junior C# Developer

£18000 - £25000 Per Annum + bonus and benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

Nursery Workers x3

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Nursery Workers x 3 Greater Manches...

Part Time SEN 1:1 Teacher

£40 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an experience SEN Te...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits