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LIBYA: When Caught in the Crossfire

ZINTAN, Libya, Aug 27 2011 (IPS) - Thousands have been caught in the Libyan fighting – people neither with Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s forces, or with the rebels. Ayman Agamy Abdelgawad, an Egyptian released from Tripoli’s Abdu Selim prison, shares his experiences with IPS. He narrates his experience below:

Egyptians rejoice after release. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

Egyptians rejoice after release. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

I was arrested on Mar. 16 while I was driving in Brega (east Libya). I was looking for a telephone signal in order to call my family in Egypt. On my way back home, I realised that I was being followed by Gaddafi’s soldiers.

They stopped me on the way and the asked me to lie down once they knew I was Egyptian. They checked my car and looted everything inside. Then they started beating and kicking me. I cannot hear from my right ear since that day.

After that, they took me to the intelligence branch in Brega and asked me about weapons and fighters. I told them I’m a civil engineer and that I don’t know anything about all that.

I spent three nights there facing heavy tortures. Then they shifted me to Sirte (about 450km east of Tripoli). They transported 120 of us inside a small truck without any light and just a little hole for ventilation. That journey took another three days.

Our only “crime” was to be Egyptians, we were not involved in any activity against the regime. I think that Egypt’s support of the no-fly zone resolution over Libya was behind the hatred against us. They told us that we were traitors.

Imprisonment conditions were terrible in Sirte. We had to sleep sitting down, there were 36 of us in a few square metres. Food was very scarce and we’d have an egg to share between six persons. Lunch, when served, used to be a bowl of pasta, also for six persons. Dinner was given to us just a few times. We had half a litre of drinking water for six persons everyday, so we had to drink salty water.

For the first 25 days I didn’t go to the bathroom. They would give us a plastic bottle to use. When they finally let us go to the bathroom, there was a soldier standing by the door who would count up to ten. If we had not finished by then they would beat us.

During our time in Sirte, they’d pick a few of us everyday and torture us. This guy here (Tamir Aid Mustafa) was once tortured for 16 hours because they wanted him to confess that he had been involved in the fighting in Misrata. It took him almost 20 days to recover and be able to stand up. Another prisoner had to have his right leg amputated because of mistreatment of his wound. He was in terrible pain, and he would be beaten every time he screamed.

A lot of people lost their teeth. They were told to bite the barrel of a gun, and the guard would violently pull it out. During my time in Sirte I came across people who had been badly tortured for days until they confessed on TV that they had been involved in the fighting as mercenaries. Electric shock treatment seemed to be common.

A Libyan I met told me he was being forced to say in front of a camera that he had pulled out the heart out of a soldier’s body. He was killed 20 days later because he refused to say such a terrible thing. His name was Faraj Awidet.

When they finally took us to Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) was already targeting Baba Aziziya – Gaddafi’s compound. We were all handcuffed and our eyes were covered with a scarf.

On Aug. 20 NATO shelled the place but the soldiers killed a lot of the prisoners who tried to escape. They say almost 200 political prisoners were killed that day by the soldiers.

We were released on Aug. 22. The local Libyans among us who had relatives or friends in Tripoli went to their houses. Us, Egyptians, had nowhere to go, so we were taken to a mosque until they finally brought us here to Zintan.

I had not been able to tell my family that I was safe until a few days ago since I “disappeared” in March.

Our main problem now is how to get back to Egypt. We have no transport, and the war is still going on. They say that we might either fly from here to Benghazi or be taken back to Tripoli from where we can jump on a boat bound for Benghazi, and cross to Egypt afterwards.

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