Omar turned up the volume on his car stereo, playing techno dance tunes, and seemed almost to relish my unease. When we drove up to the first building, inside a gated compound, there was a stench of rotting flesh in the air. Omar turned off the car, and suddenly it was eerily silent, with the sound of eucalyptus leaves rustling in the breeze.
Inside the building, there were smashed file cabinets, with heaps of paper spilling out to the hallways and a vast, defaced poster of Qaddafi. Omar clearly knew the building well. He showed me the computer servers that stored newer records on the main floor, the old archive room and his own office in a comfortable suite with faux-leather chairs.
Afterward, he drove us to another intelligence building, where the lights and air-conditioning were still on, as if the Qaddafi men had run out earlier that morning.
Site Information Navigation
The rooms were full of odd, often sinister detritus: boxes full of Libyan and foreign passports, including blanks; a blue bag full of needles with injection tubes attached; surgical masks and gloves. Soon after we arrived, the photographer that I was traveling with, Jehad Nga, recognized the place. He had been held there in March when Qaddafi soldiers detained him for three days, subjecting him to brutal beatings and endless questioning from officers who insisted he was a spy.
Nga found the desk where he was interrogated for eight hours at a stretch. Omar guided us through the complex, pointing out a rest house where he said Moussa Koussa , who ran the spy agency from to , would sometimes play the Arabian lute for fellow officers. He said he was glad Qaddafi had been overthrown but spoke dismissively about both camps. He brushed off any concerns about his own safety, saying he had four fake passports and plenty of cash.
On the day of our last meeting, my Libyan fixer decided — without consulting me — to report Omar to one of the rebel militias that were arresting and interrogating Qaddafi officials.
Omar promptly disappeared, and I never saw the documents he had been promising to bring me. I was left wondering whether Omar had really made such a clean break with Qaddafi. But it was pretty clear that he suffered no sentimental illusions about his bosses and had seen which way the wind was blowing. Many other former loyalists made the same calculation in the final weeks and months, pulling back from their roles in the crackdown. It happened in June, Usta said, when he was on the Tunisian island of Djerba, helping to organize resistance fighters.
Usta agreed, uneasily, and they arranged to meet with the mutual contact in a cafe at noon. The man glanced through the window at the odd colleagues Usta had gathered outside the cafe, just in case. He had been following him for days. Usta said he and his friends staged a suitably gory photograph, which the man took back to Tripoli. Most of the Qaddafi loyalists with blood on their hands appear to have fled or disguised themselves. Thousands of loyalist soldiers had already been arrested and were being held at makeshift rebel bases, but almost all of them claimed to be mere cogs in the Qaddafi machine.
At Maitiga Hospital, in a reclaimed military base, dozens of wounded loyalist soldiers lay in beds. Many of them told me their cases had been referred for eventual trial, but it was hard to see who would take on that responsibility, or when: there was no legal or administrative authority in Tripoli.
It was abandoned by its Qaddafi-era staff members days earlier, and now everyone in the building was a volunteer. Some were doctors and nurses from other hospitals, and some were civic-minded local women — teachers, administrators, housewives — who were doing whatever they could. One volunteer told me about a prisoner in the hospital who admitted to killing for Qaddafi in the final days of the war. Her name was Nisreen al Furjani, and she said she executed about a dozen rebel prisoners with a pistol, possibly more.
When I met her, she was lying on her back in a hospital bed with a broken pelvis and leg. She said it happened when she leapt out of a window trying to escape from the Qaddafi soldiers. She was a slim, sweet-looking woman of 19, with wide-set eyes, full lips and plucked eyebrows. She had a rebel flag spread over her body like a protective blanket. A guard with a rifle was posted outside her door. Furjani said Qaddafi soldiers had forced her at gunpoint to carry out the executions.
The Never-Never Door by Steven Viner: CreateSpace Paperback - Books Express
She wept as she told her story, narrating the killings in graphic detail in a tiny, almost inaudible voice. They made me shoot them. In the photo — apparently rediscovered in the archives after her story emerged — she is smiling and holding a gun, standing alongside two other camouflage-clad women members of the Popular Guard.
But a few days later, when I visited Gajum at her own clinic, she said she had concluded that Furjani was lying and had killed voluntarily. I went to the building where she said she had killed the men and could not match it with her description. The rebels in charge of the hospital where Furjani had been held also concluded that she was a willing executioner and had transferred her to a prison. But the strangest part of her story was this: Furjani was her own accuser. No one else witnessed the executions. In the end, all I could be sure of was that Furjani had been part of something awful, and now she was struggling to hide from its consequences.
Of all the former Qaddafi loyalists I spoke with, only one offered a rationale that went beyond money or compulsion. His name was Idris, and he was a handsome year-old medical student with a downy wisp of beard, a pink T-shirt and jeans. I was amazed to see that Idris still had an image of Qaddafi on the screen of his cellphone. His parents felt the same way, though he insisted they had not held any position or drawn any special benefits.
Never Never Land
If he fails, there will be no one to mediate. He also said, like many loyalists, that he was misled about the rebels by Libyan state television, which portrayed them as terrorists. Yet he gave no ground in his love for Qaddafi. Our conversation began to draw interest from two men sitting at a nearby table, and Idris was getting nervous.
We got back into the car and drove to his neighborhood, Abu Selim, a stronghold of support for Qaddafi. As we drove down his own street, he pointed derisively to the new rebel flags hanging outside the houses. They are afraid.
Only those people who were directly affected, the prisoners or the very religious men, had any view. Idris gazed out sadly. But in this neighborhood, full of silent and resentful young men like Idris, the words took on a very different meaning. In most other parts of Tripoli, the dynamic was reversed. A new geography appeared overnight, visible to anyone driving through: even minor regime supporters, once feared, became outcasts, confined to their homes. Schools and hospitals, abandoned by the old Qaddafi-era administrators, were taken over by local volunteers.
The owner, I was told, was a vehement Qaddafi booster, whose sister was a notorious killer for the regime. He had also worked as an informer, passing on tips about suspicious activities in the neighborhood. He was a haggard-looking man in his 60s with dark skin and a gaunt face. He glanced anxiously around the hall behind us as we spoke to him, as if he feared someone else might leap past us and attack him.
He confirmed everything the neighbors had told me: he had a role in the Revolutionary Committees, but only as a guard. He had never harmed anyone, he said.
Hamali had barricaded himself and his family into the apartment on the day Tripoli fell. One of his neighbors, a sympathetic man with a round face and broken teeth named Muhammad al Bahri, told me he reassured Hamali through the keyhole on the first day. Young men were hunting for Hamali at the time, demanding his arrest. Bahri left two water bottles in front of the door, but Hamali had been too frightened to take them. It was Hamali, cowering in his apartment. His face was white from adrenaline.
I could see his poor little son tiptoeing behind him, so that no one would hear. I promised him he would not be harmed as long as he gave up his weapons.
He gave them to me, two Kalashnikovs and a pistol. View all New York Times newsletters. Once, as I watched a wounded Qaddafi soldier being brought into a hospital on a gurney, a rebel walked past and smacked him on the head. Instantly, the rebel standing next to me apologized. My Libyan fixer told me in late August that he had found the man who tortured him in prison a few weeks earlier. The torturer was now himself in a rebel prison.
Even amid the euphoria of victory, many Tripoli residents spoke resentfully of the rebels from other regions who virtually colonized parts of the capital, setting up checkpoints and spray-painting the names of their cities on the walls. Those divisions are likely to grow worse. Before that, it was divided into three Ottoman territories with distinct identities. Qaddafi deftly gutted the country of any real institutions; unlike Egypt, it does not even have a unified army to rally around. Many Tripoli residents seem not to have known how much they hated Qaddafi until after the rebellion broke out in February, and they realized, perhaps for the first time, that he could be overthrown.
Slowly, plans began to form for an armed uprising. His work involved spending lots of time gassing around with military officers, he told me.
He knew he disliked Qaddafi, but he thought it was a battle for his children to fight. He had a militia of about 70 men, many of them veterans of bloody street battles in Misrata and other towns, and he was still running operations against Qaddafi hideouts.