Libyan fighters jubilant after taking desert redoubt

BANI WALID, Simon Martelli- Wild celebrations erupted on Tuesday in the oasis town of Bani Walid, the penultimate bastion of Moamer Kadhafi loyalists, following its fall to Libyan fighters after a six-week siege.
The forces of the National Transitional Council (NTC) paraded through the streets in armed pick-up trucks and filled the central square, shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) and letting off deafening bursts of celebratory machinegun fire.

"I've never felt as free as I do now. It feels like all of Libya is free, and all Libyans are my brothers," said Ali Asaghar, 30, as he fired his assault rifle into the air.
"The blood of the martyrs will never go away," chanted a group of fighters nearby.
The town's airport, which the Kadhafi loyalists had recaptured after a bloody battle last week, was fully under the control of the Surman Brigade, one of the NTC units that drove out the fugitive strongman's forces.
Sitting on the floor of a room in the airport's main building was a group of around 10 African migrants captured on Monday, paid fighters of Kadhafi according to the NTC militiamen.
The militia's commander, Ibrahim Busefi, said he had waited for 38 days outside Bani Walid, which finally fell after heavy fighting on Monday morning, when Kadhafi's troops fled.
Like many others, he was surprised by how quickly the town had been taken.
"Today there is no fighting, because everybody has left. It's just thuwar (rebels) here," he said.
"Now we are here to protect the airport and the houses in the town centre from looting, so that the families can return when the war is finished."
The town was virtually empty of civilians, who the NTC fighters said had fled as the fighting intensified in recent weeks.
One of the few remaining residents, Naji al-Ashab, said he welcomed the arrival of the NTC forces.
"There was no fuel and no water. We went for 25 days without electricity." The 63-year-old said his wife and eight children left eight days ago, but he had stayed behind to protect his home.
"Here it is just me and God. I am not afraid, because I have not done anything wrong," he said.
On the road outside Bani Walid, there was a long line of cars pulling vehicles the NTC fighters had found back to Tripoli, one of them piled high with mattresses, also apparently looted from the desert town.
Wail, 19, from Zlitan, was among those celebrating in the town centre.
"The houses were looted before the rebels arrived. And they are only taking the cars that belonged to Kadhafi's forces. They will be used by the army," he said.

Tuesday, October 18th 2011
Simon Martelli

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