TRIPOLI HOURS after taking control of Bani Walid, a former stronghold of Moamer Qadhafi, Libyan militias from the rival city of Misrata fired ferociously at its empty public buildings.
Fighters yelling “Allahu akbar (God is greatest) and “Today Bani Walid is finished” sought to make their mark with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades on a town they say still provides a refuge to many of the overthrown Libyan leader’s followers.
The chaotic, vengeful scenes demonstrated the weakness of the new government’s authority over former rebel militias which owe it allegiance but essentially do what they like.
A sign on a bank building that bore the Qadhafi-era name for Libya, “The Great Arab Socialist People’s Republic”, was scarred with bullet holes. The central streets were empty except for the fighters who filled them with their violent celebration.
“The Qadhafi fighters are out of Bani Walid, they have gone,” said Ali Mahmoud, a Misrata fighter in a pickup truck at a central Bani Walid roundabout, patriotic music blaring.
“Some people here still wanted Qadhafi, we have to show them that he is finished.” After days of shelling that sent thousands of families fleeing from the hilltop town in scenes reminiscent of last year’s war, militias aligned with the defence ministry, a grouping known as Libya Shield, seized Bani Walid on Wednesday.
The latest fighting, in which dozens of people were killed and hundreds wounded, erupted over a government demand that Bani Walid hand over those who had kidnapped and tortured Omar Shaaban, the former rebel fighter who had caught Qadhafi hiding in a drain in his hometown of Sirte last year.
Shaaban, from Misrata, a city that underwent a harsh siege by Qadhafi’s forces, died in a Paris hospital last month from injuries inflicted during two months of captivity in Bani Walid.
The United Nations had called for restraint as militias gathered menacingly around Bani Walid, whose residents had baulked at turning over the wanted men to unruly armed groups, while Libya’s justice system remains in disarray.
“There are some wanted people in Bani Walid, and we do want to hand them over but they also have rights,” said Murad Mohammed, a student and Warfala tribe member living in Benghazi.