The end for Muammar Gaddafi when it came was ignominious and violent. From Tripoli to Benghazi, this is the gripping story of the overthrow and its aftermath.

Libya ebook

Libya: Murder in Benghazi and the fall of Gaddafi
Martin Chulov & Luke Harding


In the brutal hours before and after Gaddafi’s overthrow and throughout the revolutionary aftermath of the past year, Luke Harding and Martin Chulov have reported for the Guardian from inside Libya. In this Guardian Short, brand-new reportage gives in vivid, personal detail, an eyewitness account of the moment of Gaddafi’s capture and the current state of Libya.

The end for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi when it came, after 42 years of dictatorial power, was ignominious and violent. After months of bloody fighting, the Libyan revolutionary forces had driven their former leader from Tripoli before capturing him in a drainpipe in the city of Sirte. The gory images captured on the mobile phones of the victors were reproduced on newspaper front pages around the world, marking the end of a cruel regime. In the capital, ordinary Libyans explored the once forbidden compound that housed Gaddafi and his family. In the days that followed, they queued in the streets of the broken city for their chance to see the dead bodies of their oppressors.

Chulov and Harding tell the story of their conversations with Libyans from both sides of the conflict, the culmination of the revolution and its tumultuous aftermath with colour and intensity. From the uncertain, threatening days following Gaddafi’s deposal, to the storming of the US consulate and the death of the US Ambassador on September 11, 2012, ‘Libya’ is an immediate, gripping account that explores the events and global political influence of the Arab Spring as it continues to unfold.


About the Author

Martin Chulov (l) and Luke Harding (r)

Martin Chulov covers the Middle East for the Guardian. He has reported from the region since 2005.

Luke Harding is an award-winning foreign correspondent with the Guardian. He has reported from Delhi, Berlin and Moscow and has covered wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.



This is an edited extract from Chapter 2 of Libya


The next morning – August 24 – it was safe enough to venture out into the streets. I headed to the office of Libya’s government. A rebel showed me inside; it was as if the senior members of Gaddafi’s government had just popped out for lunch. In the meeting room, someone had left a briefcase behind on the veneered oval table. A green sign in Arabic proclaimed: “Dr Al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi, prime minister of Libya.”

Next to the now ghostly chair were places for the prime minister’s colleagues: finance, education, the environment and fisheries. In an adjacent room the air conditioning softly hummed. Portraits of Libya’s vanished dictator still hung on the walls. I discovered official papers that told their own story – petitions, a wedding invite, and a Libya investment report by Ernst & Young (“Quality In Everything We Do”). It wasn’t clear which minister had been perusing it. But the papers spoke of how rapidly Libya had reintegrated itself with the western commercial world, after the country’s emergence from isolation and sanctions.

At Tripoli’s secret police headquarters nobody had turned up for work. Nor had anyone clocked in at the foreign ministry – a charming building on Tripoli’s seafront, built in the 1960s by King Idris, the monarch whom Gaddafi deposed in September 1969 in a bloodless coup. I found the doors to the European Union section locked. A rebel tried unsuccessfully to prise a gold-framed portrait of Libya’s former leader from the wall. Frustrated, he instead smashed the glass.

A short walk from the foreign ministry was the residence of Britain’s ambassador in Libya, a building trashed and looted in March 2011 while Gaddafi’s soldiers looked on. The ornate metal gate was unlocked. I wandered inside. The art deco structure was now a spectacularly gutted ruin. Fire had completely razed the ground floor, debris covered the sweeping marble staircase. All that was left of Her Majesty’s billiard table was a charred frame. Pieces of Minton bone china and the bottom of a Whittard teapot lay next to a ravaged dishwasher.

In the sunny courtyard were the remains of four burned-out cars. Round the back the ambassador’s swimming pool was now an algae-infested pond. Vandals had smashed up the changing rooms – hurling a loo seat on the floor. A sign still read: “Please shower before entering the pool.” A second world war memorial to British troops who died fighting in the western desert against Rommel’s Germans lay smashed in small chunks.

At one rebel checkpoint I met a group of volunteers sitting on a superior black leather sofa. They had borrowed it from a nearby flat and parked it on the pavement. The rebels had also helped themselves to a coffee table.

“In our home we didn’t have anything like this,” Moaied al-Nadami, 30, explained, pointing to his new suite. “Gaddafi has many expensive things. He spent our money on parties and buying guns.” Al-Nadami said he worked as a dentist and lab technician. He showed off a 10mm revolver he had seized from Gaddafi’s compound. “I was there. We found many, many guns,” he said.

But while most rebels were friendly, some were not. In a warren of alleys near Gaddafi’s compound one excited group demanded to see my ID and passport. The rebels were suspicious, hostile, and armed; they claimed they were looking for informers and traitors spying for Gaddafi’s regime. “How do we know you are not spies?” one asked. In the days that followed – with Gaddafi toppled, but still alive and in hiding – his ruined complex became Libya’s premier tourist attraction.

The sprawling Bab al-Aziziya compound filled with cars as ordinary Libyans got their first opportunity to peer inside it. The main ceremonial building – stormed by the rebels and a bombed out wreck – echoed with crazy gunfire. Smiling locals took snaps on their mobile phones, or peered from the balcony at Tripoli’s shimmering skyline. By the following summer, the compound would become an unofficial municipal rubbish dump, with a few intrepid squatters taking up residence in the former army mess.

Just up a grassy knoll I joined other visitors to the discrete villa belonging to Saif al-Islam, who would later be captured in the desert by Zintani rebels. Dozens wandered in through the concealed entrance: two green doors led to a shady garden of figs and lime trees. Fires still burned. In one ravaged bedroom a man knocked on the wall. “Are you there, Gaddafi?” he joked.

“I’m taking photos to show to my brothers and family still in Tunisia,” Salah Ermih explained, recording the ransacked interior on his mobile phone. Ermih, a surgeon, said he had dashed out from his overworked hospital to have a look. He added: “A month ago I knew this would happen. Gaddafi was getting weaker and weaker.” What would happen to Libya now? “We should be a democracy. But in our own way.”

The villa spoke of a luxuriously European lifestyle – a state-of-the-art kitchen, a large store cupboard smelling pungently of looted spices, and a collection of videos. A DVD of the Hollywood film Open Season sat among the debris; on the floor of Saif’s study was the cover from a January issue of The Economist. It read: “The Eurocrisis, Time for Plan B”. Christmas cards addressed to Saif were scattered about.

Some of those who turned up had brought their kids. Children leant through the back windows of saloon cars, waving V-signs. One of the most remarkable aspects of Gaddafi’s compound was its sheer size: office and residential buildings dotted around an enormous four-kilometre grassy space, a city within a city. A thick forbidding wall sealed off the compound from ordinary citizens. It housed senior regime officials and the government’s formidable security apparatus.

Another newly popular attraction were the tunnels – a network of subterranean passages. Locals queued up to go inside via a small manhole and down a green ladder outside the building used by Gaddafi to show off American cruise missiles. The most accessible complex was something of a disappointment – though you could pop up pleasingly several hundred meters away, next to Saif al-Islam’s grassy residence.

There were few clues to where Gaddafi might be hiding. His regime had cynically built a children’s fairground above the main tunnel entrance. The cups and saucers from one of the rides were intact, but the teapot had toppled over. The complex was strewn with the remnants of battle: bullets, crates used for mortars, expensive leather sofas stacked up in a lavish reception room as an improvised defensive wall, a dead kitten.

“Gaddafi is mafia! Gaddafi is Al Pacino!” cried Omar Naaji as he and a group of rebels combed through a suite of trashed regime offices. A red-carpeted staircase led to an upper storey containing a barred interrogation area. “This is where lots of people were arrested,” Naaji said, showing off a security protocol detailing the names of those rounded up. “My brother was held here two years ago. I’ve come to have a look,” Walid Shara, 27, from Misrata, added.

A large man burst into the office, incredulous he had penetrated into the heart of Gaddafi’s fallen empire. “Allahu Akbar!” he shouted, dancing up and down. Minutes later he was frantically carrying box-files containing prisoner details to his car. “I’m not a thief. I’m going to give these to Al-Jazeera,” he insisted. “I’m very happy. Gaddafi is finished.”


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