Forces loyal to Libya's transitional leaders looted and burned civilian homes Wednesday in the recently captured village of Abu Hadi, near ousted ruler Moammar Kadafi's besieged tribal homeland of Surt.
Smoke spires rose into the air as fighters, mostly from the western city of Misurata, threw gasoline bombs and grenades into abandoned homes in the village, a center for Kadafi's tribe, the Kadafa.
Whooping and toting guns, fighters from Misurata towed away a Ford Mustang from one garage. Other fighters loaded a Chevrolet onto a truck.
Libya's new transitional government has urged fighters not to engage in looting and recriminatory assaults. But Misurata suffered greatly during the war, and officials have conceded that reining in its fierce and
revenge-minded fighters has been difficult.
"The Misurata brigades are taking their revenge for what soldiers originally from this village did to them," said Fatih Shobash, 22, a fighter from an eastern-based brigade that was also taking part in the offensive against Surt. "They are burning houses, stealing gold and shooting animals."
The capture of Abu Hadi, a desert scrubland about 12 miles south of Surt that was overrun in recent days after fierce fighting, has been a symbolic victory for the forces of the transitional government. The village is where Kadafi is said to have been born in a Bedouin tent in 1942, though Surt has often been referred to as his birthplace.
Some fighters said they were looking for weapons.
A paramedic who worked with the revolutionaries returned to find his home in Abu Hadi ransacked and his father, a former officer in Kadafi's military, missing, possibly detained by anti-Kadafi forces. The paramedic, who declined to give his name for fear of recrimination, said he had gone from one detention facility to another looking for his father, so far without finding him.
He said he arrived at the newly "liberated" area and found his home a mess.
"This is my bedroom," he said, pointing to an upturned bed. The television was smashed, and amid the clothes piled on the floor lay ripped family photographs.
Dozens of homes were trashed, personal possessions strewn on the floors.
One group of elderly men waited in a garage, protecting their nearby homes.
"Rebels from Misurata came to patrol the houses, they took weapons, and stole mine and my neighbor's car," said Muftah Gaddadfa, 60. "They came three times in one day, shooting bullets into the walls of our houses and breaking cupboards. They did this in front of our women and children."
More than 1,100 people from the Misurata area were killed in fighting during the uprising against Kadafi, officials in the city say. The deaths of their comrades and relatives are still fresh in the minds of rebels who pushed back loyalist fighters from Misurata and then continued on the desert road east to Surt.
With a dispersed command structure, leaders of some Misurata brigades have been unable to control their men. Some said they feared even greater reprisals as Misurata militias advance.
"This is the cost of the revolution," said Col. Bashir Budafira, commander of the Ajdabiya Martyrs brigade, based in eastern Libya.
Sherlock is a special correspondent.
Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.