In Tripoli, Muammar Gaddafi Surrounds Himself With Loyal Core
The Libyan leader is gearing up for what might be his last stand, counting on sons and loyalists to lead the way.
Muammar Gaddafi and his closest circle of followers are believed to hunkering down in the barracks of Bab el-Azizia in Tripoli, preparing to lead their final assault. Many of the group are family members of the self-proclaimed Guide of the Revolution's, others are friends who have remained faithful to him for the past 30 years.
First, there is Khamis, 29, the youngest of Gaddafi's sons. As Commander of Special Forces (in which he is assisted by Mansour Daou, who is also present) he directs the praetorian guard, the last bulwark of the regime. Extremely well trained and well armed, this force is capable of inflicting significant damage, provided that its members do not defect.
Two other sons stand in the barracks with the Guide. Seif al-Islam, who has hitherto assumed the public face of the regime, and once campaigned for the adoption of a Constitution. However, his threatening comments this week have eliminated any hope that he may soften again. He is specifically charged with recapturing the youth of Libya, whom he purports to represent. He is flanked by his brother Muatassim Billah, President of the Security Council, who oversees the country's security and intelligence services. Like Seif al-Islam, he is sometimes viewed as a possible successor to his father.
Then there is Abdallah al-Sanusi, brother in-law to Muammar Gaddafi, and in charge of foreign intelligence and terrorism abroad. In June of 1998, a French court sentenced him in absentia to life in prison for organizing an attack against a DC-10 UTA over Niger in September 1989. A compensation agreement was later reached between the Gaddafi Foundation and the association of victims.
Beside him stands Musa Kusa, formerly the director of foreign intelligence, who is now foreign minister and is the most recent of Gaddafi's advisors to have had contact with the West. Since 2004, he has been responsible for supplying the West with Libyan intelligence and dossiers in the fight against terrorism. He has a dark past. In the 1980s, he organized the killing of several political opponents abroad. He was sent as an ambassador to Britain for this purpose alone, and was quickly expelled from the country.
Finally, another important member of this inner circle is Bashir Salah Bashir, special secretary to Muammar Gaddafi, who is an ethnic Toubou from the south of Libya. However, this Francophone African is much more than a secretary. For a while, he was in charge of Libyan investments in Africa. Today, he is more specifically tasked with recruiting mercenaries from the country's allies in Africa.
The urgency of the current situation seems to have silenced, for now at least, the intense rivalries that normally stir within this small group of loyalists. A diplomatic cable recently revealed by Wikileaks lists a number of Libyan officials who have been dismissed or exiled for being too closely embroiled in the affairs of Gaddafi's inner circle. Like the president of the national oil company, who "resigned" after refusing to transfer $ 1.2 million to Muatassim so that he could create his own personal guard. Also according to Wikileaks, a business associate and longtime financial advisor of Seif al-Islam was forced into exile in January, as a way of controlling Seif's influence.
Experts in Libyan affairs wonder if this coalition of enemy brothers can last. In any case, this small circle continues to shrink. Yesterday, a close friend of Gaddafi announced his defection. Before that, Gaddafi's cousin, Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, who is a top security official, announced that he had left Libya for Egypt "out of protest," condemning the country's "grave violations of human rights and international law."
The barracks where the remaining diehards are closing ranks around Gaddafi is on the outskirts of Tripoli. It is a huge complex, well-protected by a double ring of high walls that encloses the heart of Libyan power: the office of Muammar Gaddafi, which is simply furnished and decorated with a large map of Africa. It overlooks a grassy courtyard where two camels graze - they provide the Guide's daily milk. On one side of the courtyard, a tent remains pitched at all times. This is where Gaddafi spends his summers. On the other side are the ruins of his house, which was bombed in 1986 by US air strikes. The structure is kept in this state as a memorial, and is decorated with a sculpture of a fist crushing an American plane. This is where Gaddafi gave one of his rambling speeches this week.
The site may very well contain underground bunkers. On the surface, it is clear that the tent hides a concrete frame. Muammar Gaddafi himself is protected by a bulletproof vest worn at all times under his clothes. And if his turban appears rigid, it's because it contains a Kevlar helmet.
Outside the barracks, the city of Tripoli remains tense. Many people remained holed up at home, scared of being targeted by planes or helicopters, or by armed thugs who threaten to reign with terror. The corpses of several helicopter pilots who refused to fire on the crowd have already been found alongside the airport road.
Read the original article in French
Photo credit - (open democracy)