Tripoli's secretive rebels lose faith in battle with Gaddafi

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Over coffee in his apartment in a quiet residential suburb of Tripoli, the Libyan activist in his fifties willing the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi is wondering aloud about whether he should try to leave the country for a while.

Not because he has lost his nerve. If he had, he would hardly take the exceptional risk of driving foreigners round the city, let alone smuggle them into his home. Rather it's because he knows that if he is arrested, "I'm no good to anyone".

Among the 3,000 to 4,000 people he estimates have been arrested since the uprising began, one is a close friend, while four others are neighbours. "They came out on a Friday demonstration weeks ago. They ran away. Saturday morning, machine gun outside the house. Firing in the air. The children were screaming. Put them in a car. Bye bye," he explains.

More Maquis than jasmine revolutionary, he is not an easy man to meet. The routine goes like this. Go to a café away from Tripoli's centre, and call him on his mobile phone. No answer. A few minutes later he rings back from another mobile number. Another quarter of an hour and he is parked in his grey saloon on the other side of the street, staying behind the wheel, watchful.

"Get in," he says. "Let's get out of here." As we hit the main coast road he says: "If we're stopped, just tell him you asked for a lift, that I spoke a bit of English and you wanted to go somewhere." In fact we are on the way to his apartment which we approach through a side street to avoid being seen by the man next door, whom he suspects of being an informer. We wait in the car while he ensures the coast is clear and phones his wife to open the back door.

His estimate of the numbers arrested are the more credible for being actually relatively small – the rebel leaders have claimed that 20,000 have been arrested in the Libyan capital.

Our host says he was one of 3,000 protesters who managed to march from outlying districts in the east on Green Square in late February, one of the last mass acts of dissent in the capital. The arrests are only one reason why such protests have all but stopped. Another is the impossibility of co-ordinating dissent when the internet has been shut down across the city, and calls are likely monitored.

"There are groups of our boys, but it's still small. It's difficult to meet at the moment. The risk of getting caught is big," says the activist. He uses several SIM cards to avoid detection. Then there are the informers. "People are arrested because of grassing – there are informants among us. They can earn $5,000 [£3,000]. They hear that you are anti-regime and they report you," he says.

Another problem is the heavy presence of armed security forces, along with the AK-47 and machete-brandishing civilian volunteer militias, who stand guard in the streets and outside mosques where protests have taken place. Our contact speculates that 25 per cent of the population in Tripoli supports Gaddafi, while 50 per cent is opposed and another 25 per cent "afraid and uneducated".

"People are boiling inside," says the Libyan, who spent around a decade in Britain. "They can't wait to come out but you have to come out with a 50-50 chance. What's the point of doing it with a 1 per cent chance?"

There has been some stockpiling of AK-47s in opposition members' houses, he says, and talk among "the boys" of guerrilla action that could help create the chaos and stir a resumption of street protests. Predictions of the use of Molotov cocktails to set fire to petrol stations may be bravado, but he says that a few weeks ago, two checkpoints in a poor neighbourhood manned by pro-Gaddafi militia were shot at from cars.

This is the third time I have met him – the first just after the coalition bombing started – and each time he seems a little less confident that things are going well. He is unimpressed by the defection of foreign minister Moussa Koussa, dismissing him as "one of Gaddafi's boys".

Nor has he been encouraged by third-party peace efforts culminating in the African Union's latest attempt at forging a peace deal, which was rejected on Monday by the rebel leadership. He is relying on the rebels coming from Benghazi, hoping that they will advance on Tripoli and stir people in the capital into action. But he is sober about the alternative.

Whether exaggerated or not, his predictions for what may happen if Gaddafi wins are apocalyptic. He declares: "If he takes over again and gets the whole country again, from the seven million population he will kill half of it in a quiet way, like [the 1996 massacre of inmates in the prison of] Abu Salim."

Mubarak has 'heart crisis'

Egypt's ousted president Hosni Mubarak suffered a "heart crisis" last night during questioning over the killing of protesters and embezzling of public funds and was in intensive care, state media said.

Mr Mubarak, 82, who left office on 11 February, was summoned on Sunday by public prosecutor as part of the investigation. His sons, Alaa and Gamal, were also summoned over embezzlement accusations. In his first public comments since stepping down, broadcast by Al Arabiya on Sunday, Mr Mubarak described the allegations as "lies". Reuters