Published March 01, 2011
At the Libyan Air Force Base in the city of Benghazi, soldiers who fought for the regime of Muammar Qaddafi now take up arms to oust the country’s leader from power.
The staccato sound of machine gun fire fills the air as men fire their weapons before foreign news cameras.
A handful of nervous journalists duck inside a building for safety.
The soldiers compete for attention and in a raised voice one man said, “We are prepared for anything,” including a surprise attack.
There's at least one thing they didn't anticipate: a jammed machine gun during a firepower demonstration. One soldier whispered to another, “the most important thing: aim up.”
Although liberated from Tripoli, this city of a million is still healing. More than a thousand people injured in the battle to free the city from Qaddafi's grip are still in hospitals.
At Benghazi’s newest hospital, equipped with 1,200 beds, one patient with his leg heavily bandaged weakly raised his hand to give the V for victory after spotting a camera.
The man said a mercenary wielding an ax attacked him and he is lucky to be alive. In addition to the physical healing, the people who live in Benghazi are trying to recover from the emotional toll of last week’s violent clashes.
Thousands assembled outside the main courthouse, where a local religious leader told the crowd, “God will help them win.”
People waived the Libyan flag and played the national anthem dating back more than four decades when the country was ruled by a king.
The green banner of the Qaddafi regime is nowhere to be seen. Children played on army tanks left standing in the street after soldiers abandoned the vehicles.
A man who called himself Mohammed said he hoped the conflict is quickly resolved, but added, “We don’t want any foreign forces to make any invasion to us. All the Libyans are so happy, especially in the eastern region, finally we are free. We have our happiness.” The leader who once terrified this city is now treated as a joke. Qaddafi hangs in effigy from street lamps.
He is mocked on posters and graffiti throughout Benghazi. But the legacy he left behind brings only sadness and outrage. One man outside the courthouse said, “killing Qaddafi would be too merciful, I hate him.”
Another Beghazian agreed and, in broken English, said, “he is not a man, he’s like an animal, even an animal have a heart inside, so everybody knows that an animal has a heart, so we can’t call him anything.
"He’s not animal, he’s not human, he’s nothing, nothing, nothing.” People nearby nodded in agreement and broke into applause.