Extremist organizations have been expelled from many of their strongholds in Libya in recent months, but they have left behind ruins of broken and wounded cities.
On the outskirts of Tripoli, as well as in Benghazi and Sirte, collapsed and burnt buildings testify to the intensity of battles fought by the Libyans against these groups, which are called by the people in different names, such as “ISIS”, “Ansar” and “Brotherhood”.
From inside strings of mines, booby traps and sounds of bullets, Asharq Al-Awsat presents five episodes of fierce war battles to bring down the dens of extremists, at a time when ISIS Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was sending his defeated followers in Libya messages to go to the south and prepare to welcome ISIS members fleeing from Iraq and Syria.
As Tripoli is still suffering and waiting for an unknown future, there is only one residential block left in Benghazi, where the remnants of the defeated gunmen are holed up. It is located about half a kilometer away from the Sabri neighborhood and the Souk al-Hout.
The name of the area is “Sidi Khreibesh” and cannot be approached because it is very dangerous. The streets and the surrounding buildings were booby-trapped by the militants positioned inside the area. Militants also dug underground tunnels to move from one position to another.
From time to time, the sound of rocket-propelled grenades and shots of bullets is heard. This happens suddenly. When you lower your head and prepare to flee, your military bodyguard tells you: As long as you hear the sound of bullets, you are still alive!
Even running for your own life is fraught with danger… On many roads, military engineers are working day and night to clear mines and booby traps.
ISIS set up their first operation room in south Benghazi, at the home of former Libyan official Ali Hussein al-Jabali, after being expelled and his son killed. The leaders of the terrorist movement stayed in the house for two years.
The place consists of a large house and a courtyard planted with roses and surrounded by a wall and has iron doors. His owner, Jabali, has been the director of property and statistics in this chaotic country since 2011. The house is located on the border of the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s farm in the suburb of Leithi.
When you visit the house today, you will find destroyed and burnt walls, thousands of bullets scattered in the dust, remnants of SAM and Grad rockets, and torn papers containing the names of targeted security officers.
As he was staying home following his retirement, taking care of the flowers of his garden, Jabali noted the increasing number of militants occupying government sites, factories, shops and army camps near his home.
It was in the summer of 2014. The sound of gunfire in the nearby training yards also grew amid a hymn about the supposed “arrival of ISIS Caliphate”.
The man says that he ould not ever imagined that these groups would control the city, from the sea to the north, to Benina airport in the south, for a distance of more than 30 kilometers.
Starting from the house of Jabali, the extremists, under the huge cement factory in a strategic area of Benghazi, established bases to detain, prosecute and kill their opponents.
In the tunnels under the factory itself, they built a house called the Muslim House of Wealth, which was piled with money and jewels, taken from the city’s ancient business people.
And finally, ISIS departed from Benghazi… leaving behind a broken and wounded city. You can see that in the debris and soot that stained the commercial complex, which encompassed branches of companies from all over the world and was known as the “Islamic Daawa Complex”. You can also see destruction in the “University of Qar Younis”, where ISIS transformed a science college into a laboratory for explosives and demolished a rare planetarium, which was at the center of the university’s courtyard.
Jabali is currently renovating his house after the defeated extremists set fire to its contents.
He says, with tears in his eyes, that he and his family have had a hard time, after ISIS killed his son, and occupied his residence, destroying everything, including his library, which was full of various kinds of books.
Tomorrow in the second episode:
The last residential block where the gunmen of Benghazi are holed up: The story of “Sidi Khreibesh.”