Libya's Zintan Brigade refuses to leave Tripoli

TRIPOLI - Libya's Zintan Brigade, formed by its cult leader who died in a fierce battle with Muammar Gaddafi's forces, refuses to cede control of vital installations in Tripoli until the Libyan capital is safe.

"We are all sons of Mohammed Ali Madani" who was killed in combat on May 1, said one proud brigade member on Tuesday, echoing the feelings of his comrades, as they basked in the hot sun at the Regatta seafront complex on the outskirts of Tripoli where Gaddafi's sons had luxurious beach bungalows.

Madani died when hit by bullets from Gaddafi's forces after forming his brigade by enrolling tribesmen from Zintan, one of the first towns to rebel against the now fugitive strongman's more than four-decade old rule.

His 4X4 battered car, riddled with bullets and covered with flags and graffiti, is treasured like a relic by his fighters.

Madani was a member of the former elite Saiqa Libyan army division and had fought in Chad. He was known as a man of great charisma and military experience.

After his death his son, Salah, took up the torch and the brigade was one of the first to enter Tripoli and the heavily fortified Bab al-Aziziya compound from where Gaddafi ruled Libya.

"We control today over half of the capital and several vital installations like the international airport, the central bank, the electric company," Salah said.

"We will not return our weapons and we will not return to civilian life until Tripoli is completely safe," he said in response to a call by the new rulers of Libya asking fighters from outside Tripoli to leave the capital.

The new rulers want quickly to collect the weapons and send the fighters who swarmed Tripoli back to their homes.

"Tripoli was freed by the Misrata and Zintan brigades and if they withdraw who will guarantee that the city will not fall into the hands of pro-Gaddafi" forces, said Mohammed Roos, another fighter from the Zintan Brigade.

Fighter Akram Meftah indicated that the brigade receives hundreds of membership applications from the residents of Tripoli, but it recruits only those who are unrelated to the previous regime.

Zintan Brigade fighters are welded by months of fighting and kinship. They are mostly from tribes of western Libya such as Awlad Khlifa, Awlad Abulhul, Awlad Duib and Omyan.

But most of all it is the talent of "martyr Mohammed Ali Madani" as an organiser and strategist that continues to bind them together, even after his death.

"Before every fight, he spoke to us to galvanise us and to remind the rules of combat. He said we should not finish off the wounded and we must encourage negotiation while being firm in the confrontation", recalled Ahmed Abdel Karim, who returned from China to join the brigade.

"I fought, I killed and I took prisoners," said the young native from eastern Libya who misses the action since the fall of Tripoli on August 23 to anti-Gaddafi fighters.

And like his comrades, he spends his days cleaning his assault rifle and whiling time away in the Gaddafi's seafront complex.

Some fighters and privileged citizens visit the complex where once lived the sons of former Libyan strongman - out of sight and disconnected from the society.