Following a deadly attack against a base in Bani Walid, loyalists of slain Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi have reportedly gained control over his one-time bastion.
"The loyalists of Gaddafi took control of the entire city of Bani Walid," former National Transitional Council (NTC) member M'barek al-Fotmani said on Monday.
The latest developments follow an attack by loyalists against a base, killing at least five “thuwar” (anti-Gaddafi revolutionaries) and injuring tens more. A commander is reportedly among the dead.
According to Fotmani, the loyalists were carrying green flags and chanting pro-Gaddafi slogans.
Bani Walid, 170 kilometers (110 miles) south of Tripoli, was one of the last pro-Gaddafi bastions to fall in the deadly uprising against the former dictator's rule.
Meanwhile, the US has sent some 12,000 troops to Libya. The deployment is said to be aimed at generating stability and security in the region, the troops are expected to take control of the country's key oil fields and strategic ports.
The security situation in the country remains fragile months after the overthrow of Gaddafi. Militias have largely refused to heed calls to disarm.
In Libya, protesters have been holding regular demonstrations for weeks, demanding the ouster of Gaddafi-era officials and more transparency about how the NTC is spending Libyan assets.
TRIPOLI, Libya — A small crowd of boys huddled around the open door of a concrete shed turned recording studio to gawk at a trio of Libyan rappers in black baseball caps and oversize hoodies mixing tracks on a wide computer screen.
The men paid little attention to their wide-eyed audience and labored through take after take of their latest project: a public service announcement for a local television station urging trigger-happy rebel fighters to lay down their arms, something they still have not done four months after Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi was driven from power.
“Don’t open fire into the air; our lives are more valuable than the cost of bullets,” said Siraj Kamal Jerafa, 28, locked inside an improvised sound booth whose walls were covered in worn sofa upholstery. At the end of the night, he emerged smiling to a roomful of high fives. With nothing more to see, the little boys outside wandered back to their homes.
Mr. Jerafa, who performs under the stage name Lantern, is part of the GAB Crew, a Libyan hip-hop group whose members, like many young people, are reveling in and grappling with the new freedom of expression that has flourished here since the fall of Colonel Qaddafi.
Libyans lived for decades in the shadow of the long-ago revolution that swept Colonel Qaddafi, who called himself “Brother Leader,” into power. His rule was nasty, brutish and long. But it is over now, ended by a revolution whose fighters are overwhelmingly young.
Under Colonel Qaddafi’s repressive rule, Libyans kept their personal and political opinions to themselves, and unedited thoughts were shared with only a trusted few. Now all that has changed. In a country where politics and public life were for generations violently and obsessively policed, young people are now breathing and speaking more freely than ever before.
Mocking graffiti have replaced the reverential portraits of Colonel Qaddafi that once hung on walls across the city, and a new generation of colorful, independent newspapers speculate on the activities of his surviving children the way Western tabloids cover the lives of celebrities.
Even on a day when there are no classes, students gather on the campus of Tripoli University, where political prisoners were once publicly hanged. The students swap stories from the revolution and debate the merits of the postwar transitional government.
Many find the new freedom to speak one’s mind both exhilarating and disorienting.
“We are free, but we don’t know how to live as free people,” said Kareem Saqer, 23, a student studying economics. “So we talk.”
The new political environment offers a virtually unrestricted creative license to artists like Mr. Jerafa, who can finally try to make music with a message.
“Before the revolution, music was just a way to kill time because we didn’t have any freedom of speech,” he said. “If you talked about politics or stepped on any of the government’s red lines, they would put you behind bars. You’d be dead.”
His group traditionally avoided politics altogether. The bandmates performed primarily in English “to stay off the government monitor,” he said, and sang almost exclusively about partying with girls, in a conservative country with no nightclubs. “We had our own nightclubs, up here,” he said, tapping his temples.
In 2008 they recorded one song, titled “Pain,” with a hidden political message about the bleakness of life under Colonel Qaddafi. Its vague lyrics were easily passed off as an unremarkable song about teenage angst.
“I open my eyes, and am cursed with pain,” they sang. “I try to smile, but end up with tears again.”
Today, they laugh at the memory of that song, a sly act of rebellion that pales in comparison with all they have seen since. They have recorded several overtly political songs in the past several months, some attacking Colonel Qaddafi and his government and some dedicated to the memory of those who died in the revolution. Other songs urge Libyans to drop their weapons, embrace nonviolence and work together for the good of the country.
They wrote their first anti-Qaddafi song in March, “Libya Bleeds Just Like Us,” a track inspired to varying degrees by both rebel fighters and the American rapper Notorious B.I.G. The song mockingly quotes Colonel Qaddafi’s televised diatribes against the rebels — “He asks: ‘Who are you? Who are you?’ Like he never knew us!” — and its chorus is punctuated with gunshots.
“When we were doing the song I just thought, I am going to write this song and then whatever, I am ready to die,” said Hamad Araby, 25, a member of the group with a scraggly beard and black baseball cap who performs under the stage name Brown Sugar. “It was suicide, man.”
The song leaked online in May, months before Tripoli fell and shortly after a Qaddafi loyalist and family friend of Mr. Araby asked the group to record a hip-hop song that supported the government. Horrified, the group’s members went underground. While some stayed in Tripoli, Mr. Araby hid on a family farm outside the city, and Mr. Jerafa joined a rebel militia from his hometown, Zuwarah, on the front line. Security forces raided their houses, taking the Jerafa family’s car when they could not find the singer himself.
Hiding from the security forces “was a bad situation, man,” Mr. Araby said. “The first rule was that you couldn’t trust anybody. Even if a girl looked at you, you would think, What are they doing?”
The bandmates did not see one another again until rebel forces took the capital in August. To celebrate the fall of Colonel Qaddafi, they decided to film their very first music video, for “Libya Bleeds Just Like Us,” inside Bab al-Aziziya, the former leader’s fortresslike compound.
They drafted Kalashnikov-toting rebel fighters to appear as extras; the fighters, wearing dark sunglasses, bobbed their heads and struck poses atop pickup trucks mounted with antiaircraft guns. They rapped amid the shattered remains of Colonel Qaddafi’s home, and took care to stand in the same spots the ousted leader did when he delivered speeches against the uprising.
It was an extraordinary moment, a chance for the men to live out a revenge fantasy they never thought would come true. While filming in the compound, they said they thought of how much pain Colonel Qaddafi had inflicted on them, their families and their country.
“The same way he came into my house, I went into his house and I was dissing him,” Mr. Jerafa said. “He wasn’t brave enough to come to my house himself, but I went there myself."