Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Despite Gaddafi’s strong security and military presence throughout Tripoli, the Libyan rebels have managed to establish a secret underground movement in the city, named the “Tripoli Council.” This rebel group is working from within the capital to bring down the Gaddafi regime. Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with two members of the “Tripoli Council” via telephone, the director of the group who understandably refused to give his name, as well as the official spokesman of the Tripoli underground movement, Mohamed Qanaywa, who was recently able to leave Tripoli. The “Tripoli Council” official lifted the veil about the situation in Tripoli, stressing that this underground movement is making preparations for the “decisive battle” to put an end to the Gaddafi regime.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the “Tripoli Council?” How was it formed? Who are its most prominent members?
[Qanaywa]The “Tripoli Council” was formed during the beginning of the revolution in February, under circumstances that are now well-known; we were facing a brutal suppression at the hands of Gaddafi’s mercenaries and his military machinery. We had organized peaceful demonstrations in several regions of Tripoli, but these were met with live fire and mass arrests. The Tripoli uprising has been ongoing since the first day of the revolution when Gaddafi used anti-aircraft weaponry on the demonstrations, and Sheikh Sadiq al-Gharyani issued his famous fatwa that “taking to the streets is a duty.” Therefore the Tripoli rebels decided to join together as part of the revolution. We are working in secret because of the security situation and in order to ensure that this Council is not uncovered. We were later able to announce the formation of the “Tripoli Council” in order to show the real picture in this city…despite the intense blockade surrounding the capital.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How many people are in the “Tripoli Council?”
[Qanaywa] Many of our revolutionary youth are from Tripoli, from all walks of life; we have around 200 members, including people inside and outside of Tripoli.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you communicate with one another in light of the tight security situation in and around Tripoli?
[Qanaywa] Yes, we live under this blockade imposed by Gaddafi and his mercenaries, but thanks to God we have been able to communicate with the outside world, whether this is within the city or without. This is through simple technologies that Gaddafi and his mercenaries are unable to uncover. There are cars driving around the city searching for [our] radio frequencies but God is with us and protecting us.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you receiving any support in this regard, such as foreign technology?
[Qanaywa] There are many loyal patriots trying to help us and this country, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the Libyan patriots who are taking part in the uprising and who are trying to help their brothers, the rebels in Tripoli.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us talk about the mass arrests. How many Libyans do you believe are imprisoned in Gaddafi jails?
[Qanaywa] There are said to be close to 30,000 [prisoners in Libyan jails] although we don’t know where they all are. We have information that many have been killed and placed in mass graves. We have also heard reports that this corrupt regime is abducting youth from the streets and placing them in the vanguard of the armies to fight their brothers in other areas, and should they try to run away they are killed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, what is Gaddafi’s popularity in Tripoli, which is believed by many to be a Gaddafi stronghold?
[Qanaywa] Nobody is with him; he has hired some mercenaries and some of his own people to tarnish the image of Tripoli. He has also released many prisoners [to attend his rallies and show support for him].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What evidence do you have for this claim?
[Qanaywa]The rebels took the streets since the first day waving flags, whilst since the first day Gaddafi released the criminals from prison to wave his green flag. These mercenaries who he bought also killed our people in Tripoli and elsewhere.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the nature of your relationship with the National Transitional Council [NTC] that is based in Benghazi and which is internationally recognized by many?
[Qanaywa] We work under their patronage and with their support…and we have also supported them. They are the sole and legitimate representative in Libya. The NTC is in contact with the “Tripoli Council” despite the blockade.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you view the talk that the battle for Tripoli is on the horizon?
[Qanaywa] This is true, and the days of Gaddafi’s dictatorship are coming to an end. The regime is dying, and we are working night and day to prepare for this battle! Our fighters in Tripoli are monitoring the suspicious movements of the Gaddafi mercenaries; we want to know what hole he [Gaddafi] is hiding in, so that we can seize him and his associates. We are preparing all groups in Tripoli with arms, because the regime is confronting the civilians with arms, and we want to be prepared to destroy him, although we want him alive to hand him over for trial.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] However some would say that this conflict has been going on for four months, and Gaddafi is still in place. What is your response to those?
[Qanaywa] He remains in place…but he is weak. Today he is not as strong as he was in February, and you must understand that the Gaddafi family [until recently] continued to hold onto all Libyan financial and natural resources, and so were able to buy popularity and deal with the terrorist mercenaries in order to remain in power in Libya. However today the regime is weak, it does not have the same resources and capabilities as before, it is suffering from financial problems, whilst a number of the mercenaries have deserted.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about Gaddafi personally? Does he remain in strong shape?
[Qanaywa] Gaddafi is using all of his security and intelligence apparatus and resources and focusing it on this city, because this is where he is present. Therefore, when the city falls so does Gaddafi! However it is difficult to achieve this, because Gaddafi is using everything in his power to stay here, whilst we are doing everything – in coordination with the NTC – to prepare for the decisive battle with this tyrant, particularly now that he is weak and his days are numbered.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us where Gaddafi and his family are at present?
[Qanaywa] They are hiding someplace in Tripoli, Gaddafi no longer tours the Tripoli streets in the same manner that he did during the beginning of the uprising. He is desperate trying to convince everybody in order to remain in power, and the last was the attempt made by his son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, when he put forward the idea of elections and his father remaining in power. However everybody comprehensively rejects this!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, where exactly is Gaddafi hiding?
[Qanaywa] We have received information in this regard from more than one of our rebels, and there are a number of potential places where he could be hiding; including the Tripoli [Central] hospital, the Ali Askar hospital in the Sabea area [of Tripoli], as well as a compound in the Hay Al-Andulus area [of Tripoli], which belongs to Gaddafi’s relative Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, who lives in Egypt. Gadhaf a-Dam is respected by the rebels for stranding with the Libyan people [following his defection from the Libyan regime].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are the people in Tripoli eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Libyan rebels?
[Qanaywa] At this point, we are at the coordination stage, unifying our ranks. Tripoli is a large city and we are working with a number of groups, coordinating with the freed cities. When zero hour approaches, the rebels will destroy Gaddafi and his mercenaries.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] However we are seeing a lot of Tripoli citizens waving Gaddafi’s green flag and expressing their support for his regime?
[Qanaywa] Those you see waving the green flag are mostly criminals released from prison by Gaddafi, and this is something that is well-known.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there any fears that the people of Tripoli will be accused of being Gaddafi supporters should the city fall and the regime collapse?
[Qanaywa] Only his supporters from his own tribe as well as the African mercenaries [can be accused of this], however the people of Tripoli are known, we all know each other! The people of Tripoli are chanting “in spirit, in blood, we support you Benghazi!” and so there are no fears or doubts of this [false-accusation] happening…we are all one family,
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your message?
[Qanaywa] The message to our people in Tripoli is be patient and endure because this tyrant’s days are numbered. We are now coordinating with all other groups to prepare for the forthcoming decisive battle against this tyrant. The heroes of Tripoli are carrying out operations on a daily basis in various areas [of the city] in coordination with all groups to allow us to destroy this tyrant in one blow and capture him and bring him to trial. I want to tell our people in Tripoli that the days of tyranny are numbered.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us about the Egyptian community in Tripoli? There is talk about the mass arrest of Egyptians?
[Qanaywa] There is a group [of Egyptians] who escaped via the Tunisian city of Jarbah, whilst there is another group [of Egyptians] that is being oppressed and subjected by this criminal dictator [Gaddafi] by being forced to remain in the country , as well as some being thrown in prison. However I personally know of an Egyptian brother helping with the events during the early days of the revolution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some believe that it will be the ongoing NATO air raids [on Tripoli] that will ultimately lead to the end of the regime. What is your response to that?
[Qanaywa] The end of this regime will be at our hands…and all that we need now is weapons.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you believe that NATO is unwilling to provide you with the required arms to get the job done?
[Qanaywa] The NTC is dealing with NATO; our mission is to work with them to strike at Gaddafi with our own hands, however long it takes.