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26 Sep 2012 10:03
Thousands of residents pay their respects before the coffin of Omran Shaaban during his funeral in Misrata, Libya on September 25 2012. (AFP)
Twenty-two-year-old Omran Shaaban was kidnapped, beaten and slashed by Gaddafi loyalists – the latest victim of persistent violence and instability in the North African country.
The death of Shaaban, who had been hospitalised in France, raised the prospect of even more violence and score-settling. The newly elected National Congress has authorised police and the army to use force if necessary to apprehend those who abducted Shaaban and three companions in July near the town of Bani Walid.
Libya is battling lingering pockets of support for the old regime, and its government has been unable to rein in armed militias in a country rife with weapons.
Earlier this month, a demonstration at the US consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi turned violent, killing four Americans, including the US ambassador.
Shaaban was praised as a "dutiful martyr" by the National Congress, although his family says he never received a promised reward of 1-million Libyan dinars ($800 000) for capturing Gaddafi on October 20 2011 in the former leader's hometown of Sirte. The eccentric dictator was killed later that day by revolutionary fighters.
The Libyan government said it would honour Shaaban with a funeral befitting a hero.
Photos on social media websites showed a wooden coffin with a glass window that revealed Shaaban's face, with white gauze covering his head.
Captured and 'sliced with razors'
Shaaban's family said that he and three friends had been en route home to the western city of Misrata from a vacation in July when they were attacked by gunmen in an area called el-Shimekh near Bani Walid.
Shaaban and his friends, who like many Libyans were armed, fired back, the family said. Two bullets hit Shaaban, and he was paralysed from the waist down, his relatives said. The men were captured by militiamen from Bani Walid, a town of about 100 000 people that remains a stronghold of Gaddafi loyalists and is isolated from the rest of Libya.
President Mohammed el-Megarif visited Bani Walid this month and secured the release of Shaaban and two of his companions. A fourth is still being held.
When Shaaban was finally brought home, he was "skin and bones" - still paralysed, frail and slipping in and out of consciousness, according to his brother, Abdullah Shaaban. "It was clear he was beaten a lot," Abdullah said. "His entire chest was sliced with razors. His face had changed. It wasn't my brother that I knew."
Omran Shaaban later was flown to France for medical treatment.
He was a member of Libya Shield, a loose coalition of the country's largest militias relied on by the Defence Ministry.
Khalifa al-Zawawi, the former head of Misrata's local council, said the government reneged on paying the reward to Shaaban.
Abdullah said his brother, the second youngest in a family of nine children, did not mind as he considered capturing Gaddafi to be his national duty.
Justice to be served
In the capital of Tripoli, several hundred protesters gathered outside the headquarters of the National Congress to demand that the government avenge Shaaban's death.
Libya's president released a statement on Tuesday vowing that those responsible for the violence against Shaaban would be punished. But apprehending and disarming the militants in Bani Walid are among the most daunting tasks facing the government. The town is heavily armed with rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons and artillery left over from last year's civil war.
Residents of Bani Walid say that pictures of Gaddafi are displayed during weddings and youths play his speeches on their cars' stereos. Students refrain from singing Libya's new national anthem and teachers refuse to follow the revised curriculum.
Bani Walid fighters were blamed for many of the sniper attacks, shelling, rapes and other violence against the city of Misrata during the civil war, and there were new calls on Tuesday from residents of Misrata for vengeance against Bani Walid.
Shaaban's eldest brother, Walid, insists there will be justice for the family, regardless of whether the government is the one to administer it. "I plan to pursue his rights legally and join if there is a military incursion. We are going to death, God willing," Walid said.
Family friend Abu-Shaala echoed that sentiment. "If the government does not go in, we are going in," he said. "We are all patient. But our patience has limits. – Sapa-AP
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