Bin Jawad pays price of betrayal
Burned and ransacked houses in the Libyan desert town of Bin Jawad, east of Sirte, serve as evidence that rebels have not forgotten or forgiven an act of betrayal dating back several months.
In their first rush westward, the disorganised rebel forces had been welcomed by the inhabitants in the homes and mosques of Bin Jawad after soldiers loyal to Moamer Gathafi abandoned the town.
But as they relaxed, Gathafi's troops were invited back to kill.
"Dozens of our men were struck down like dogs, as they slept or in the mosque," said Omar, a 30-year-old rebel whose combat group, the Zintan Brigade, is back in Bin Jawad with Gathafi's hometown of Sirte again in sight.
Bin Jawad, now 40 kilometres (25 miles) behind the frontline, fell on Sunday to the rebels, who wasted no time in exacting revenge.
At least 20 homes, many of them imposing residences belonging to local officials of the Gathafi regime, were pillaged and set on fire and businesses looted.
The rebels were not boastful but grudgingly admitted their responsibility, talking of "searches for weapons" in the town they call in a bitter pun "Bin Gawad," or "son of a pimp."
Many houses are untouched, and Omar insisted that only those of Gathafi supporters were targeted.
The ground floor of one rectangular villa of dubious taste was completely burned out. Omar said that back in March the owner had summoned Gathafi's troops to execute rebel fighters.
"We don't seek vengeance, but we want to find those who killed our men so they can be tried," Omar said, assuring that looting was strictly forbidden in his unit.
In Bin Jawad's mosque for the Muslim festival of Eid on Wednesday, fighters outnumbered civilians, mainly older men who had returned to test the atmosphere before deciding whether to bring their families back from desert hideouts.
Only small groups of townspeople wandered the dusty streets, while rebel checkpoints on the outskirts stopped and searched every vehicle.
An elderly man and his three sons appeared at the gate of the villa occupied by Omar's band, with munitions stacked on the verandah.
The traditional Eid greetings were cordial, but the suspicion palpable as the quartet wordlessly toured the disordered rooms watched by the fighters squatting on mattresses from the bedrooms or cooking in the courtyard.
"It's your house, we're just using it for a day or two then you'll get it back in good condition," one rebel said.
"We are glad you are here," said the owner, trying to sound sincere but obviously angry. "But our families have fled to the desert, it's very tough."
"Who are you with today, with the revolution or with Gathafi?" asked one fighter."
"You're here now, so we're with you," the old man replied.
"As soon as we go you can come back to resume a normal life," a rebel officer told him. "But you must help us restore the water and electricity, you must form a local committee to work with us, and you must give the names of those who killed our men."
"Forgive us, even in our prayers we were forced to celebrate Gathafi," one of the visitors said.
"That doesn't matter," he was told. "We only want one thing, the people with blood on their hands so they can be tried."