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In Kadafi compound, looters take place of loyalists

Inside Moammar Kadafi's Bab Azizia compound in Tripoli, rebels and ordinary Libyans pillage and plunder, making off with valuables and weapons. The looting appears to be limited to the compound.

August 23, 2011|By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times
  • A Libyan rebel tackles a statue inside Moammar Kadafi's Bab Azizia compound in Tripoli.
A Libyan rebel tackles a statue inside Moammar Kadafi's Bab Azizia… (APTN )

Reporting from Tripoli, Libya — A large, half-packed suitcase on the floor of Salem Farhani's house showed just how fast he and his family bolted from their home — which had the bad fortune to be located within Moammar Kadafi's Bab Azizia compound.

Inside the once-feared residential and leadership complex, the base that allowed Kadafi and his most trusted lieutenants to menace this country of 6 million for decades, rebels and ordinary Libyans pillaged and plundered. Some were rummaging through Farhani's home in search of valuables, others were snatching the thousands of weapons and ammunition stashed throughout the area.

A band of rebels climbed to the balcony of the main building to hang the red, black and green flag that predated the strongman. Then they peered out onto a grassy field, as Kadafi would, and even modeled garish military hats found inside that the Brother Leader might have worn.

Photos: Battle for Kadafi's compound

And all the while, exuberant Libyans flowing throughout the compound grabbed whatever they could.

"The money of the Libyan people is now going to the Libyan people," said Mohammad Manjoub, a 40-year-old bank employee making off with an electric space heater, a satellite receiver and a massive dagger from the homes of now-vanished regime loyalists.

For decades, Libyans could only imagine what it was like behind the heavily fortified walls and green gate of Bab Azizia. Sure, they caught glimpses when adoring supporters would be bused in to show adulation during speeches Kadafi would deliver from the balcony of the palace-turned-museum that President Reagan bombed in a 1986 airstrike.

But few ordinary Libyans had an inkling of what went on inside the drab buildings and military barracks — until Tuesday. And after getting a close-up look at the place, they decided to take a lot of it home.

One man made off with a print of a Koranic verse. He said he wanted to protect it from looters. Another carried a sword he had found in someone's home. A few were carefully trying to hot-wire Toyota Land Cruisers.

Abdullah "Lucas" Mohammad, a 27-year-old engineer, commandeered all the printer cartridges he could find. "I'm a businessman," he said with a laugh.

More than a few young men had an eye out for caches of guns, with some cradling as many as three assault rifles in their arms. The common refrain was that they intended to hand the weapons over to leaders of the interim government. But the potential disaster of the gun looting became apparent immediately, when a particularly choice cluster of assault weapons sparked a ferocious, if short, gun battle.

Unlike Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein, though, there were few, if any, reports of looting outside Bab Azizia.

"They are only stealing and looting Bab Azizia, not banks or even government institutions," said Mustafa Bahrouni, 25, a rebel supporter inside the compound who was sporting a new assault rifle. "We took things because, for 42 years, he took everything from us."

Some rebels, however, preferred to bask in their status as fighters for a cause instead of being seen as soldiers enjoying the spoils of war.

His fight against Kadafi over for now, Misurata native Addullah Hamid Ahmad took it upon himself to guard two foreign journalists as they made their way through the riotous compound.

"I was in this war for seven months," the 25-year-old physiotherapist said. "My uncle was killed. My sister was abducted. I don't want any more weapons."

Photos: Battle for Kadafi's compound

daragahi@latimes.com

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