Kim Sengupta: There were barrels of liquid, protection suits and gas masks


The sight of arms caches containing everything from Kalash-nikov rifles to surface-to-air missiles lying abandoned had become commonplace in Libya after Muammar Gaddafi's downfall. Some were stripped bare in front of us by armed gangs and even, on occasions, by families on a day out with children.

But the military camp at Ajaylat, west of Tripoli, yielded something quite alarming even in this anarchic milieu. Stacked up in a single-storey warehouse, with no attempt to secrete them, were rows of barrels with liquid, pale in colour, leaking out of some of them. Nearby, in another building were rows of yellow chemical protection suits and piles of gas masks made in the Czech Republic and Poland.

A regime soldier was produced by the rebels and told us this was "the poison place" for the army and only a selected number of troops from the Khamis Brigade, commanded by Colonel Gaddafi's son Khamis, had been allowed to the premises. A group of young conscripts taken in on one occasion on load-shifting duties, he claimed, had become very ill. But the man was clearly terrified of his captors and it was difficult to gauge the veracity of what he was saying.

At the end of our tour, Commander Rahim Magrih, the head of the group of revolutionaries, announced that he intended to blow up the place. It took a great deal of frantic talking by us journalists and some of his own men to persuade him that this would not be good idea as along with the barracks he would blow us up and the nearby village as well. He was not entirely convinced, however, and said he will get the job done later with braver men.