Time.com : Among Libya’s Prisoners: Interviews with Mercenaries
At the Aruba School in the Mediterranean coastal town of Shehat, less than a mile from a grassy hillside covered in Roman ruins, a poster bearing Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s picture is being used as a doormat. School is not in session. But in the current state of limbo gripping eastern Libya, or “Free Libya,” as some are now calling it, the Aruba School is currently serving a different function. It is a prison for nearly 200 suspected mercenaries of the Gaddafi regime.
Libyan soldiers who have defected from Gaddafi’s ranks stand guard at the school’s gates, draped in belts of ammunition and cradling machine guns — more to protect their hostages than to keep them from escaping, some locals whisper. A group of civilians from the nearby towns has gathered at the gate. They want to come in to get a glimpse of “the African mercenaries” who they say killed their families and neighbors last week. Shouting breaks out. The guards let them into the school’s lobby and then hold them back. “They are scared that they will hurt the Africans,” says Tawfik al-Shohiby, an activist and chemical engineer.
The soldiers have good reason to be protective. Rumors abound in this restless region on Libya’s eastern Mediterranean coast about the identity of the forces that fought the protesters for days before eastern Libya fell, as they say, “to the people.” At the ransacked airport of Labrak, on the road between the towns of Darna and Beida where clashes were fierce, Gaddafi’s government flew in two planes of foreign mercenaries on Wednesday night to fight the protesters, say the airport employees standing amid the wreckage.
The protesters accuse Gaddafi of sending foreigners — from Libya’s southern neighbors of Chad and Niger — because they believe he had no one else to support him. They say the mercenaries were rounded up and paid to fight. And they’ve found ID cards from Niger and Chad to prove it. One activist displays a traveler’s cheque for 15,000 Libyan Dinars alongside a matching national ID card from Chad, and a stack of several others.
At the Aruba School, contained in a series of cold, thinly insulated classrooms, roughly 200 suspected mercenaries huddle beneath blankets on mattresses on the floors. Captured by rebels in the streets and from nearby army bases, one prisoner says they were moved several times before arriving at their makeshift prison. Given that, they claim, there were at one point 325 of them — flown in from Libya’s southern town of Sabha — the remaining men consider themselves lucky. Many were captured during fierce clashes between residents and Gaddafi’s forces last week; and in the ensuing chaos, a group of men from al-Baida executed 15 of the suspected mercenaries on Friday and Saturday in front of the town’s court house. They were hanged, says the country’s former Justice Minister Mustafa Mohamed Abd Al-Jalil (who recently quit and joined the revolution): it wasn’t entirely planned, but the people here were enraged.