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Man behind Gaddafi's capture dies

Abduction and death of the man who found Muammar Gaddafi underscores deep rift with ex-leader loyalists in Bani Walid.
Last modified: 26 Sep 2012 19:02
Fighters chanted 'Misrata wants to erase Bani Walid' during Shaaban's funeral procession [AFP]

Omar Shaaban was given all the honours of a fallen national hero. He is the man credited with finding Muammar Gaddafi in the drain pipe where the Libyan leader was hiding.

Shaaban was part of Misrata's "Ghiran Brigade". After the capture of Gaddafi, his brigade was absorbed into the government Shield Forces and deployed to Bani Walid, where he was abducted.

"They were ambushed in a petrol station on outskirts of Bani Walid by Gaddafi supporters.  All four were tortured but Omar Shaaban was the one who got it worst," says Ibrahim Beit Al Mal from the Misrata military council.

When Shaaban was finally released he was paralysed and otherwise in very bad shape. He was flown to Paris for treatment but did not make it.

On Tuesday, he made his last trip to his hometown on a French plane.

The government issued a statement giving  Bani Walid 10 days to handover the culprits. It also gave full power to the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of the Interior to deal with the issue if necessary. But for the fighters in Misrata, 10 days is too much. During the funeral procession on Tuesday evening, they chanted, "Misrata wants to erase Bani Walid".

Bani Walid never joined the uprising. It's the hometown of the Warfallas, the biggest tribe in Libya. I visited the town a few days after Gaddafi was captured - the mood was sombre and no one hid their support for Gaddafi. There was graffiti everywhere, warning "the Warfallas have not used their power yet". The rift deepened after fighters tore apart the town with a vengeance, looting and stealing nearly every house as a punishment for not siding with the revolution. Those who did so were the Zawya Brigades, who accused Bani Walid of crushing Zawya in the early stages of the revolution.

"The head of the military council cannot enter Bani Walid" says Beit Al Mal. "The 28th of May brigade is there but they stay on the outskirts."

According to several fighters, there are areas inside Bani Walid where the green flag of the former regime is hoisted and they play the old national anthem to underline their support for Gaddafi.

Beit Al Mal says the fighters in Misrata are "on edge. They want to go in as soon as possible, 10 days is too long", but so far they do not have the green light from Tripoli.

When I asked him if he thought any important Gaddafi supporters were in Bani Walid, he said that Gaddafi's son Khamis, who was leading the 32nd Brigade and was in charge of the Misrata front, might be there. The 32nd brigade pulled out of Misrata and was stationed in nearby Zliten until the end of the war.

Khamis was reported dead several times during the conflict but it was never confirmed. "Everyone from Misrata is at risk," says Beit Al Mal.

Follow Hoda Abdel-Hamid on Twitter: @HodaAH