Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

DEBATE

Iraq's Christians - Nowhere to Run?

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Towards a "Third Intifada"?

Read more

FOCUS

What solutions for California's overcrowded prisons?

Read more

MIDDLE EAST MATTERS

Gaza conflict: Palestinians mark sombre Eid

Read more

WEB NEWS

Celebrities in the Israel-Gaza crossfire

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Israeli strike takes out Gaza power station

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

French newspaper apologises for Sarkozy story

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Last-ditch talks aim to avert Argentina default

Read more

DEBATE

Europe's Plan for Putin: Will Russian Leader Bend After New Sanctions? (part 2)

Read more

  • Fourth female suicide bomber targets Nigerian city

    Read more

  • Israel announces four-hour truce after deadly strike on UN school

    Read more

  • Russia defiant as US, EU unveil 'phase three' sanctions

    Read more

  • US rebounds to 4% growth in second quarter

    Read more

  • Suspect in Jewish Museum attack charged with 'terrorist' murder

    Read more

  • Women should not laugh in public, Turkey's deputy PM says

    Read more

  • Video: Coping with rocket attacks in Israel’s Sderot

    Read more

  • Rats on the rampage at Louvre museum gardens

    Read more

  • France evacuates nationals, closes embassy in Libya

    Read more

  • Dozens killed in stampede at Guinea rap concert

    Read more

  • 'Compelling' signs Kosovo leaders trafficked organs, prosecutor says

    Read more

  • Graphic: Ebola spreads across West Africa

    Read more

  • Video: How tourism is helping Rwanda’s gorillas, ex-poachers

    Read more

  • Islamists seize key Benghazi army base as fire rages on

    Read more

  • In pictures: ن - a sign of support for Iraq’s persecuted Christians

    Read more

Africa

Gaddafi's gutted edifice of power draws gaping crowds

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2011-04-28

More than two months after Muammar Gaddafi's main military base in Benghazi was stormed, the ruins have turned into a symbol of the strongman’s repression and the sacrifices people made to overcome it.

Gutted buildings spew gnarled metal grids out in the noonday sun. A charred car carcass lies belly-up in the grass. And the few standing walls – painted green and white in the official colours of Muammar Gaddafi's regime – display giant burn marks. 

A charred car carcass lies belly-up outside Gaddafi's ruined "Katiba".
Little groups of people pick their way through the detritus, dwarfed by the vastness of the destroyed complex. They occasionally use mobile phones to snap photos of the odd family member posing on a collapsed column or two. But mostly, the visitors just spend their time gaping at the ruins.
 
More than two months after Gaddafi's main military base in Benghazi was stormed by protesters, the Katiba - as the base is commonly called – is still a crowd-puller in this eastern Libyan city.
 
When Gaddafi controlled the area, ordinary Benghazi residents never entered this dreaded complex – unless they were forced to.
 
A sprawling compound in the heart of Benghazi, the Katiba once housed several brigades and included barracks, parade grounds, bunkers and prisons.
 
Although the word “katiba” in Arabic literally means brigade or phalanx, residents of Benghazi use it as a catchall term to describe this bastion of Gaddafi's security apparatus.
 
On February 20, Gaddafi lost control of this vast, fortified complex following days of deadly battles between troops in the Katiba and anti-government protesters armed mostly with rocks and homemade Molotov cocktails.
 
The fall of the Katiba marked the turning point of the Libyan uprising. The next day, Benghazi fell from Gaddafi's control. Within the next few days, other eastern cities rapidly followed.
 
The storming of the edifice has taken on mythic proportions, a sort of David vs. Goliath meets storming of the Bastille saga.
 
Martyr for a cause
 
There are many heroes, large and small, in Libya's ongoing uprising. Photographs of the shaheeds – martyrs – who have fallen in the fight against Gaddafi, line the walls of public spaces, notably the courthouse, which has turned into a defacto hub of the uprising.
 
 
But one story of bravery is repeated everywhere we go: the story of Shaheed Mehdi Ziu.
 
A 49-year-old father of two teenage girls, Ziu rammed his explosives-packed car through one of the main gates of the Katiba on Feb. 20, instantly incinerating himself while hurtling into the annals of Benghazi history.
 
A graffiti tag on a wall at the entrance to the street where his brother lives in a middle-class neighbourhood of Benghazi proclaims, “Avenue of Shaheed Mehdi Ziu”.
 
Ziu's younger brother, Salem Ziu, 44, welcomes us with the restrained politeness of a grieving relative acknowledging condolences.
 
All sorts of journalists, TV crews and photographers have come here to cover the Katiba shaheed story. Salem has recounted the events several times over the past two months and he does so once more, a younger brother's tribute to a fallen sibling.
 
Salem Ziu holds a framed picture of his brother, Mehdi Ziu, who rammed his explosives-packed car through one of the main gates of the Katiba on Feb. 20.
Sitting beside a framed poster of his brother, Salem describes how, a day after the suicide bombing and a frantic 24-hour search for his missing brother, he finally heard of the incident and rushed to the Katiba.
 
“The car was still smoking from 1pm the previous day, it was such a massive explosion. We went to pick up his body, but there was no body. No body,” repeats a visibly moved Salem, rubbing his furrowed brow in an attempt to compose himself.
 
“It was all gone, it was all burned. There was no flesh, there were only bones. We gathered the bones and put them in a plastic bag and the bag weighed just around a kilo,” he notes.
More than two months later, Salem has few explanations why his brother undertook his historic mission.
 
“He wasn't particularly religious. I never had any inkling that he would do something like this,” explains Salem. “He lived near the Katiba. For days, he saw protesters being killed before him. He was helping to take the wounded to hospital. Every evening he used to return home with bloodied clothes, which had to be washed. I think he just decided he had to do something. I am grieving for a lost brother, but I'm proud of him. He did not die in vain. The Katiba was destroyed.”

 

Date created : 2011-04-28

COMMENT(S)