Car bombings rise in frequency as Libya marks a year since Gadhafi’s flight

 

McClatchy Newspapers

One year after a rebel offensive in this capital city began the final push to end the long rule of Moammar Gadhafi, a string of car bombings has spurred concerns that the late dictator’s supporters remain strong enough to wreak havoc in this still recovering nation.

The most recent bombings took place Sunday, when twin blasts set off by remote control within 30 minutes of one another shook Tripoli’s main Omar al Mukhtar thoroughfare, killing two men. A third bomb was defused before it could be detonated.

But that was only the latest attack as Libyans mark the anniversary of the Aug. 21 entry of rebels into the capital. Within hours, the rebels were in control of the city’s main Martyr’s Square, and two days later, Gadhafi’s Bab Aziziya compound fell. Gadhafi fled and remained free for two months before he was pulled from a drainage pipe near his hometown of Sirte and killed.

The targets of Sunday’s blasts were the Interior Ministry and a former women’s military academy that is now being used as an interrogation and detention center by Libyan security forces. On Monday, security forces on high alert deactivated another car rigged with explosives in a suburb of Tripoli. In Benghazi, the car of an Egyptian diplomat was blown up, though the diplomat escaped injury.

On Saturday another bomb, targeting a military vehicle, exploded outside Tripoli’s Four Seasons hotel, where a number of military officers from Benghazi were staying. A week earlier, a car bomb exploded outside the headquarters of Tripoli’s military police, injuring one person.

The city is filled with reports of other pro-Gadhafi activities, Local news reports said Gadhafi loyalists hacked into the communications system of Tripoli’s security headquarters. Another news story cited a Libyan living in London as saying he’d seen unidentified participants in an online chat room talking about the bombings before they’d been carried out, and then celebrating afterward.

The security forces announced that they’d arrested 32 Gadhafi loyalists, who they allege were behind the bombings. The authorities said the arrests were based on video taken by surveillance cameras.

Gadhafi loyalists do still exist here. Last month, in Tripoli’s Abu Salim neighborhood, a bastion of pro-Gadhafi sentiment, loyalists bragged they still had weapons that had flooded into the neighborhood as Gadhafi fled last year.

“We are all armed and we are waiting for the right time to fight the rats,” claimed one loyalist, who identified himself only as Ahmed. “If they think that the war is over, they are mistaken.”

Ahmed, who said he’d escaped from a rebel detention center where he was being held for allegedly killing four anti-Gadhafi fighters, refused to be photographed. None of the other men with him would give their surnames or allow their pictures.

There is still combat between the government and Gadhafi supporters, something one of Gadhafi’s surviving sons, Saadi, who is under house arrest in neighboring Niger, had predicted earlier this year.

Three weeks ago, an unknown number of Gadhafi loyalists were killed during a shootout with Libyan security forces on a farm outside Tripoli. Media reports said a loyalist who survived the battle was found with documents from Saadi directing sleeper cells in Libya.

Meanwhile, the bombing of the Egyptian diplomat’s vehicle in Benghazi was just one of a string of attacks aimed at foreign diplomats. Last week, gunmen threatened a car filled with staff from the U.S. Embassy. The car escaped, and it was uncertain whether the attack was a car-jacking attempt or had deliberately targeted the Americans.

Several high-ranking military officials who’d defected to the rebels after serving Gadhafi have been assassinated in Benghazi, while a number of government security buildings and a hotel there were either bombed or were the targets of attempted bombings.

The International Red Cross was forced to suspend operations in Misrata and Benghazi after a rocket-and-grenade attack three weeks ago, the fifth attack in several months. The whereabouts of an Iranian Red Crescent delegation remained unknown after gunmen abducted the group in Benghazi last month.

Frykberg is a McClatchy special correspondent.

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