National Transitional Council

BENGHAZI, Libya — Moammar Gadhafi loyalists seized control of a Libyan mountain city in the most serious challenge to the central government since the strongman’s fall, underlining the increasing weakness of Libya’s Western-backed rulers as they try to unify the country under their authority.

The taking of Bani Walid, one of the last Gadhafi strongholds captured by the new leadership late last year, was the first such organized operation by armed remnants of Gadhafi’s regime. A simultaneous outbreak of shootings in the capital and Libya’s second largest city Benghazi raised authorities’ concerned that other networks of loyalists were active elsewhere.

The security woes add to the difficulties of the ruling National Transitional Council, which is struggling to establish its authority and show Libyans progress in stability and good government. Four revolutionary fighters were killed and 25 others were wounded in the fighting, al-Fatmani said.

There were no immediate signs that the uprising was part of some direct attempt to restore the family of Gadhafi, who was swept out of power in August and then killed in the nearby city of Sirte in October. His sons, daughter and wife have been killed, arrested or have fled to neighboring countries.

Instead, the fighting seemed to reflect a rejection of NTC control by a city that never deeply accepted its rule, highlighting the still unresolved tensions between those who benefited under Gadhafi’s regime and those now in power. 

BRUSSELS — Rebels fighting to topple Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi committed unlawful killings and torture, Amnesty International said in a report released on Tuesday.

The 100-plus page report, based on three months of investigation in Libya, draws no equivalency between the crimes of Gadhafi loyalists and those of the former rebels, who now hold power in Tripoli: The Gadhafi forces’ crimes were greater, the list of them is longer, and they may have amounted to crimes against humanity, the report said.

But it said the crimes of the rebels were not insignificant.

“Members and supporters of the opposition, loosely structured under the leadership of the National Transitional Council (NTC) ... have also committed human rights abuses, in some cases amounting to war crimes, albeit on a smaller scale,” the Amnesty report said. 

It said opposition supporters “unlawfully killed” more than a dozen Gadhafi loyalists and security officials between April and early July. And just after the rebels took control of eastern Libya, the report said, angry groups of rebel supporters “shot, hanged and otherwise killed through lynching” dozens of captured soldiers and suspected mercenaries, with impunity. 

Mohammed al-Alagi, a justice minister for Libya’s transitional authorities said that describing the rebels actions as war crimes was wrong.

“They are not the military, they are only ordinary people, “ al-Alagi said. While rebels have made mistakes, he aknowledged, they cannot be described as “war crimes at all.”

In addition, the report said both sides stirred up racism and xenophobia, causing sub-Saharan Africans to be increasingly attacked, robbed and abused by ordinary Libyans.

“In February, there was this rumor about Gadhafi using black people as mercenaries; that’s wrong,” Nicolas Beger, director of the Amnesty International European Institutions office, told Associated Press Television News in Brussels on Monday. “But the NTC has not done a lot to curb that rumor and now there is a lot of retaliation against sub-Saharan Africans.”

Beger also said abuses were continuing under the new government.

“We have even spoken to guards who admit that they use force,” he said. “They say, ‘Yeah we use force in order to get confessions, in order to force people to hand in their weapons.’ So this really needs to be controlled. This is one of the priorities that the new authorities have to really get a clear act on.”

The report also listed an extensive list of crimes allegedly committed by Gadhafi’s regime. The loyalists killed and injured scores of unarmed protesters, made critics disappear, used illegal cluster bombs, launched artillery, mortar and rocket attacks against residential areas, and, without any legal proceedings, executed captives, the report said.

Thousands of Libyans were kidnapped from their homes, mosques and streets, including children as young as 12, the report said.