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LIBYA: USC student fears for family in Tripoli

February 21, 2011 |  4:39 pm

Libyaprotest

Hiba Abdelgader, 19, a sophomore at the University of Southern California whose family moved back to Tripoli earlier this year, was struggling to reach relatives who feared for their own safety Monday in the embattled capital and the eastern city of Benghazi.

She was able to reach her 21-year-old sister, Rahma, in Tripoli by cellphone. (She also spoke with Al Jazeera satellite TV early Monday).

Her sister, who works in human resources at the Tripoli office of Ensign International Energy Services, an oil company, told her the family had left their home on the outskirts of the capital early Monday to stay with relatives closer to the city's center, where there was less violence.

"She said they had to leave their home because bodies are beginning to pile up in the streets," Abdelgader said.  "They’re waiting for people to be buried and they can't be because any time they try to, they get shot."

As they drove farther into the city, they found numerous roads blocked by people fleeing or by spot fires, she said.

They saw armed mercenaries, who appeared to be Tunisian, African, Korean and Bangladeshi, "roaming the streets and literally finding anyone to shoot." (Some have posted photos purportedly showing mercenaries arriving in Tripoli.)

Mercenaries "She's seen just terrible things," Abdelgader said of her sister.

When they reached their family's villa, they felt safe, she said. Two cousins in their 20s armed themselves with homemade weapons, including an old fishing gun, and stood outside to ward off the mercenaries.

"They’re just trying to defend themselves any way possible," she said.

Although the Internet has been blocked (shutting down live streaming video here), she said her sister had found ways around the closure and posted tips on that and how she managed to maintain cellphone access on Facebook on Monday.

Late Monday, she went up to the roof of the family's villa, which is at least three stories tall, to survey the city with a cousin, Abdelgader said.

"They saw a lot of burning buildings, burning cars — she just said there was fire all over the city," she said. "It’s like a war zone now. Not a protest. They’re just killing off Libyans."

Later, they heard airstrikes, and the cousin said it was no longer safe to go up to the roof.

Abdelgader said some of her male cousins had joined the anti-government protests.

"They’re ready to sacrifice their lives," she said. "It’s about being out there to show who’s in command."

She said the family heard from relatives in Benghazi late Monday that people were beginning to clean up after protesters took control of the city. Abdelgader said she thinks Kadafi's government is lashing out at Tripoli residents after losing control of Benghazi.

"It’s his revenge for not getting the east — he’s wiping them out," she said.

Also on Monday, Abdelgader said, relatives were able to visit her father, who was detained Saturday after visiting a Tripoli courthouse to check a claim he had filed for assets seized years ago after Kadafi came to power.

She said her father's blood pressure spiked after he was detained, and he was being held at a military hospital.

"He'd rather stay in the hospital than the prison itself," she said.

It was not clear how long her father would be held, Abdelgader said.

"They’re giving every prisoner the same story — we’re going to give you a court case," she said, but meanwhile, "people are scared."

 

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

 

Top photo: Libyans take to the streets in Tripoli to protest against the government, one of several images posted Monday by @DJMeddi, an Atlanta-based blogger.

Bottom photo: Photograph posted by @DJMeddi, purportedly of mercenaries arriving in Libya on Monday.

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