LIBYA: Inside Kadafi’s compound, toppling an icon and his hat
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With Moammar Kadafi still at large, rebels who assumed control of his Tripoli compound late Tuesday seized symbols of his regime instead to vent their rage.
The Feb17 Voices group posted an audio interview with rebel fighter Bassem Masoury shortly after he returned from storming Kadafi’s compound Tuesday.
‘Before we couldn’t even pass near that place, but today we entered,’ Masoury said. ‘It’s amazing, just amazing. People were crying and hugging each other,’ he said.
He said he was shocked to see the inside of Kadafi’s home.
‘This man was stashing a lot of things: gold and weapons ... everything,’ he said. ‘We found everything in that place; when the Libyan people were hungry....’
A rebel fighter who identified himself only as Al Windi appeared to have taken Kadafi’s iconic red military cap, bedecked with gold braid, as well as a large gold medal chain and scepter.
He spoke with Alex Crawford of British Sky News at the compound, smiling from beneath the cap as he hoisted the scepter in one hand, the chain looped casually around his neck.
Crawford began by asking the rebel where he had been in recent days.
‘I’ve been in the western mountains, fighting Kadafi troops,” he said. “I’m really proud for this moment. The Libyans have waited for 42 years.’
What did he plan to do with the items he claimed?
‘I’m going to give this to my Dad as a present because he has suffered a lot from Kadafi,’ he said.
Where did he find the hat?
‘It wasn’t really hard -- I went inside his bedroom,’ he said.
‘Col. Kadafi’s bedroom?’ Crawford said.
The rebel smiled as gunfire sounded in the background.
‘I was like, ‘Oh my God, I am in Kadafi’s room!’ ‘ he said.
Although he regretted not being able to share the moment with fellow fighters killed on the front lines in the mountains, Al Windi said he was satisfied at having claimed something for himself.
‘I’m happy now I’m having this thing,’ he said.
Other rebels took more joy in destroying iconic remnants they found within Kadafi’s compound.
One of the first targets: Kadafi’s famed Bedouin ‘flying tent.’
The structure is a replica of the original tent at Bab Azizia, which was bombed by the U.S. in 1986.
The tent was built of fabric and housed expensive furniture, rugs and chandeliers. Kadafi insisted on taking it with him when he traveled, despite the fact that it took days to assemble and carried hefty set up costs -- up to $300,000 per visit.
On Tuesday, rebels kicked and burned the tent. Inside the battered structure, wrapped in a dirty blanket, lay the body of a Kadafi supporter.
Heavily armed rebels also attacked Kadafi statues, disassembling gold images of the 69-year-old leader, kicking the heads around like soccer balls and otherwise venting their rage.
In a symbolic attack some have likened to the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad (or perhaps, given the backstory on that, it was more like the recent removal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s statue after his ouster) rebels also tackled a statue many knew well but few had seen up close.
Kadafi commissioned the statue of a gold fist crushing a U.S. warplane in 1988, two years after the U.S. bombed his compound, killing his 15-month-old daughter.
He had it erected in front of his bombed-out former home as a reminder of the attack, which came in response to the bombing of a Berlin nightclub that killed American soldiers and was linked to Libya.
Kadafi often used the statue as a backdrop during speeches broadcast on Libyan state television, including rambling speeches after the rebel uprising began in February, in which he vowed to die a martyr and to kill the rebel ‘rats’ who opposed him.
On Tuesday, rebels could be seen on Al Arabiya and other satellite networks tackling the statue in an apparent effort to dismantle it.
Abdel-Aziz Shafiya, a 19-year-old revolutionary dressed in camouflage with an RPG slung over one shoulder and a Kalashnikov over another, told the Associated Press that rebels believe Kadafi is hiding in the maze of tunnels reportedly beneath the complex.
“Wasn’t he the one who called us rats?’ he said. ‘Now he is the rat underground.”
-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske
Photo, from top: Rebel fighters trample on the head of a statue of Moammar Kadafi inside the Bab Azizia compound in Tripoli on Tuesday. Credit: Sergey Ponomarev / Associated Press
Video: Alex Crawford of Sky News interviews a man who identified himself as Al Windi, who appeared to have seized Kadafi’s iconic military hat as well as a chain and scepter that he said came from Kadafi’s room. Credit: YouTube