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Terror in Tripoli: Libyan American Describes Country in State of Fear, But Hopeful of Gaddafi’s Ouster

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The Libyan regime has launched a new assault on the opposition amidst growing international pressure. Forces loyal to Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi tried to retake two rebel-controlled towns overnight, but both attacks appear to have been repelled. Speaking to Western journalists, Gaddafi said that he is loved by all his people and has denied there have been any protests. We speak to Tareq, a Libyan American just back from Libya after spending a week with his family. He discusses the situation in the capital Tripoli. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is facing mounting pressure to step down. On Monday, the United States started moving warships towards the country and froze $30 billion in Libyan assets. The European Union imposed targeted sanctions and a travel and arms embargo on the Gaddafi regime.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at the U.N. Human Rights Council, insisted Gaddafi leave.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: It is time for Gaddafi to go, now, without further violence or delay. The international community is speaking with one voice, and our message is unmistakable: these violations of universal rights are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

AMY GOODMAN: Secretary Clinton and key European allies have also discussed whether to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

In an interview with the BBC, Gaddafi said he is loved by all his people. He denied there have been any protests in Tripoli and said his people would die to protect him. He said he feels betrayed by world leaders who urged him to leave.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of refugees have gathered along the border regions with Egypt and Tunisia trying to flee the country. Clinton also announced $10 million of emergency relief assistance to Libya. According to the U.N., international aid agencies cannot assess medical or food needs around the capital Tripoli because of poor security.

Democracy Now! spoke last night to Tareq — that’s how he wanted to be identified — a Libyan American who left Libya yesterday after a spending week in Tripoli with his family. He discussed his trip to the country and the situation in the capital city, where he spent his early years.

TAREQ: When I boarded the flight to Tripoli from London, my first thought was, you know, “What have I done? Have I made a big mistake here?” And the reason I thought that was because there was only about four of us on the flight, and I believe I was the only Libyan. I think there was three other people who were American on the flight. And at that point, obviously, everybody was either thinking about leaving Libya or actually leaving Libya, and I must have been one of the — or maybe the only one who actually flew into Libya. In any case, I flew into Libya, and at the airport there was no issue getting into the country.

One of the first things I saw on that Sunday, while we were driving into the city, I saw a young man — he must have been about 18, 19 years old — who was spray-painting anti-Gaddafi graffiti on a military barracks wall, literally within maybe a hundred yards of the main gate where soldiers were standing. So I saw him spray-painting that, and then he ran away. And other than that specific scenario, everything seemed perfectly normal that day, with the exception of the fact that the city was a little too quiet. And I remember emailing a friend of mine in the U.S. saying it feels like the calm before the storm. It just felt really eerie, not like — Tripoli is normally a bustling city, normally a lot of cars out and traffic and so on. It was just eerily quiet that day.

Well, surely enough, that evening, we found out that somebody in the family had their son taken away, so we went to visit them. It was my father and I. And on the drive back home, my father took an exit off the highway, and we ended up in the middle of a demonstration. My father seemed to think it was a pro-Gaddafi demonstration, until I pointed out to him that they were burning a poster of Gaddafi and throwing stones at another one of — there are many signs in Tripoli that say “41” on them, the number 41, which is the number of years that Gaddafi has been in power. So as soon as my father saw that, he obviously understood it was an anti-Gaddafi demonstration. A gentleman came up to the car and recommended to my dad that we take a side road, which we did, and we eventually found our way home. And that was really it for Sunday.

Monday morning, we were hearing sporadic gunfire all throughout the city in all directions. We were seeing a lot of helicopters. The helicopters that I saw were transport helicopters, the ones with the two rotators, one in front and one in the back. And they were heading in all directions.

And then, Monday evening was — there was quite a big protest that came through literally in front of our house. My brother and I did join that protest. We walked around about a kilometer, so just slightly under a mile, until we reached a point where we were near the — I’m not sure what you call it in English, but it’s something like a — not quite a police station, but more a — I think they call them a Revolutionary Guard station in Libya. But in any case, it’s some sort of security apparatus. At that point, men came out, and they had machine gunfire, and they were shooting, and everybody in the demonstration just took off immediately. From my personal experiences, I had never actually heard a machine gun being fired other than on television. And when you hear something like that in real life, it’s quite intimidating, it’s scary, it’s much louder than anything I’ve ever heard on TV. I didn’t realize a machine gun could be that loud. My emotions were obviously fear, and anybody who says they’re not afraid wouldn’t be honest at that point. Quite afraid. But at the same time, it was surreal, it was unbelievable. I was like, “This can’t actually be happening. They can’t be shooting people.” In any case, my brother and I made it back home.

We got in touch with some friends who at the same time were protesting in Green Square. They were really excited when they first called, because they said, “We’ve taken Green Square! We’ve taken Green Square!” And then that was the last we heard of them, for about two days. Two days later, we finally got a hold of some of them and found out that quite a few of them were killed in Green Square. They had pickup trucks. They came up behind them with the machine guns bolted on top of the truck that just opened fire on all of them. And it was just a matter of luck for who survived and who didn’t. And my friends saw the other — their fellow demonstrators falling. And they did the same thing. They ran away.

For the next few days, it was just different pockets of resistance throughout the city. It wasn’t similar to what we saw on TV in regards to Egypt or Tunisia, where there was a huge number of people in one location. It was — you know, it was hundreds of people, but in different areas of the city. And we just heard a lot of gunfire. We saw, and I personally saw, the — what they’re calling the “foreign mercenaries” roaming around the city in open jeeps and armed to the teeth, is what I would say. They had all kinds of guns, heavy machinery, looked like, had big guns. I’m not sure what they were. Some of them had machetes in their hands, and sticks. And those were the kind of weapons they were using against the people. It definitely felt like a war zone those first few days. By Thursday, you know, every piece — every pocket of resistance that came up in the city was brutally just attacked, really, with gunfire. And the sad thing for me personally is, when I was in the demonstration, the people around me literally had tree branches in their hands. That’s what they were using to defend themselves. And it was tree branches against, you know, fourteen-and-a-half-millimeter shells, against AK-47s, just against unbelievable weapons. And it’s impossible to defend yourself in those circumstances.

I read reports of possible civil war in Libya, should Gaddafi leave and so on. I believe nothing is further from the truth. I’ve talked to people in Tripoli. I’ve talked to people in Benghazi. Everybody is united in the fact that this is a war of the people against Gaddafi and his mercenaries. It’s not Libyans against Libyans. Libyans are united. They want Libya to be united. And they want Tripoli to be its capital. Any reporter that’s now in Benghazi has seen that and has heard that. We want Libya united, and we want Tripoli as its capital. Our enemy right now is Gaddafi, who’s used Libyan money to hire foreign mercenaries to kill Libyan people.

Some of Gaddafi’s people are actually entering into people’s houses and taking people away. So, there are two people in my family that have already been taken away. One of them, they came to his house around 2:00 in the morning. It’s him and his wife and two children that live in the house, and it’s just the four of them. And about 20 people came into his house, tied him up in front of the children, took him away. It’s been about four days now. Nobody has heard from him. Nobody knows where he is. It’s just quite frightening. So I think it’s an important thing for everybody to realize that in addition to the attacks that are happening in the street, that people are actually being taken away, on whatever suspicions, and in some cases, specifically with the one case of the person I told you about, he wasn’t even actually attending any of the demonstrations. It’s confusing to the whole family as to why they took him away, other than maybe to raise fear in the people that are around him.

AMY GOODMAN: Tareq, a Libyan American who asked us not to use his family name. He’s just come out of Libya, visiting his family. He fears for them in Tripoli. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, an interview with Amr Moussa. Will he be the next president of Egypt? Stay with us.

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