The Mitiga military base on the outskirts of Tripoli was taken by the anti-Muammar Gaddafi forces on 20 August, a key step in encircling the city, to gain eventual control.
One of our correspondents in Libya, Jamel Ezzidini, met some of the successful combatants. They are mostly young. But Fethi is one of the older fighters, a former judge and supreme court lawyer. He said his side were waiting for the call to act from Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the former minister of justice and one of the foremost figures in the Banghazi-based National Transitional Council.
Fethi said: “We called the night of the liberation of Tripoli the ‘Night of the Mermaid’. We were prepared. I won’t deny that we had been armed well ahead of that date, and we were split up into several groups. We didn’t want fighting, didn’t want bloodshed. We put out calls from all the mosques around the base, asking our brothers to surrender. They responded with rockets and mortars.”
Mitiga lies roughly eight kilometres east of Tripoli’s city centre, and the ultimate strategic prize: the ill-reputed Bab al-Azizia barracks compound and residence of Libya’s ousted leader. This the rebels managed to penetrate on August 23.
A fighter named Mahmoud said: “We found prisoners and got them out. We found huge stocks of munitions and weapons, cells with prisoners, and strange underground passageways that went on forever. When we entered them we walked for three or four kilometres. Then we turned back because everything was black. We found Gaddafi’s brigades, men of different nationalities, some of them from Chad and Nigeria, also Libyans. They were all together, armed, living here. We found passports also, Libyan passports, but it was written in them that these men were from Chad. They had given them these with the idea that after things stabilised they would be given Libyan nationality, and would settle here definitively.”
Jamel Ezzidini concluded: “The seizing of the Mitiga military base by the rebels, who, for the most part are residents of the surrounding area, had a great effect on the moral of those who attacked Bab al-Azizia, Gaddafi’s fortress, the fall of which symbolised the crumbling of a regime which had lasted for 42 years.”