Gaddafi loyalists launch offensive on key oil town as counter-insurgency grows

Four killed in Bani Walid after government troops arrest supporter of former dictator

Tripoli

Fighting in the Libyan town of Bani Walid left at least four dead last night as diehard Gaddafi supporters tried to capture the former loyalist stronghold and raised the old green Libyan flag above the town's northern gate.

Mahmoud al-Warfali, a revolutionary brigade spokesman in Bani Walid, said that as many as 150 pro-Gaddafi fighters were battling forces loyal to the National Transitional Council in the formerly pro-regime redoubt, 110 miles south of the capital, Tripoli.

"There are around 100 and 150 men armed with heavy weapons who are attacking. We have asked for the army to intervene, but the defence ministry and NTC have let us down," he said. "There are at least four martyrs from the thuwar (anti-Gaddafi revolutionaries) and 20 are injured."

He added: "We're out of the frying pan into the fire. We've been warning about this for the past two months."

The loyalist fighters shouted the pro-Gaddafi slogan, "Allah, Muammar, Libya, only!" as they attacked.

The clashes were apparently sparked when NTC fighters arrested an alleged Gaddafi loyalist in the town, prompting other supporters to take up arms.

The fighting began early yesterday and was initially concentrated near the NTC fighters' base, but later spread to other parts of the town. Reinforcements have been dispatched from Tripoli to help quell the violence.

"Two hours ago orders were given for the army to go and they are on the way. The fighting is between some Gaddafi supporters and thuwar," Fathi Baja, a senior NTC member, told AFP.

The attack on Bani Walid is the first major assault launched by Gaddafi loyalists since the "liberation" of the country last October.

Bani Walid has long been a thorn in the side of Libya's new leaders. The town, which is home to the powerful Warfalla tribe, held out after the "liberation" of Tripoli in August. NTC fighters fought for months until it was eventually captured in October.

In November, 15 NTC fighters were killed in an ambush just outside the town by Gaddafi loyalists. The clashes come as Libya's new leaders struggle to stabilise the country and disarm the militias that sprung up during last year's civil war.

Rival militias have clashed on numerous occasions in recent months. In early January, two fighters were killed after a gun battle between rival groups broke out on one of the Tripoli's busiest streets.

Many complain that militias are reluctant to disband and are dragging their feet on surrendering weapons.

The tribal tensions stirred during the conflict have also left many groups in the country feeling disenfranchised. Residents of Bani Walid have complained that they have received little assistance in rebuilding their town after it was damaged in fighting between pro-Gaddafi fighters and the NTC's forces.

Libya's new leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, has warned that the clashes risked putting the country on the brink of another civil war. "We are now between two bitter options," he said in Benghazi.

The NTC has started to integrate the tens of thousands who fought in the rebel army into the new security forces or offer them vocational training through the Labour Ministry.

But Mr Abdel Jalil conceded progress had been too slow. "The fighters have not handed over their weapons despite the chances they've been given to do so through local councils," he said. "The response has been weak so far, people are still holding on to their weapons."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
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

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee