Libya rebels chase Gathafi cells, arrest 63
BENGHAZI, Libya - Libyan rebels on Sunday rounded up at least 63 people in an ongoing bid to tighten security in the eastern city of Benghazi and rout armed groups loyal to Moamer Gathafi, a spokesman said.
"This morning we caught about 38 and later today more than 25," Mustafa al-Sagazly said.
The arrests come hot on the heels of a five-hour raid on a roadside factory, which rebels said was the base of operations of an armed group taking orders from Gathafi's regime and suspected in the assassination of their army chief.
"Four of our fighters were killed in the operation," said Sagazly.
He said five Gathafi loyalists were also killed in the clashes.
Traffic in Benghazi returned to normal on the eve of Ramadan and there were signs on the streets in support of the rebel forces that carried out the raid by order of the ministry of interior.
"We all support the February 17 brigade," read a banner hanging from a highway overpass in reference to one of the key forces behind the operation to dismantle the group that was blamed for prison breaks last week.
"There were high ranking prisoners of war" among those who escaped from two detention centers last week, February 17 brigade leader Ismail al-Salabi told reporters.
He said only a "small minority" escaped his brigade during the dawn raid.
The site of the fierce shoot-out that left surrounding residences pockmarked by bullets became a magnet for curious spectators during the day but by nightfall rebels had beefed up security in the area.
Security forces patrolled the streets late into the night as shoppers stocked up ahead of the of the Muslim holy month of fasting and prayer.
"Everything is stable and secure tonight," Sagazly said. "There are no confrontations."
Rebels, he said, continued searching for members of the pro-Gathafi group.
"Some of them run away and we are trying to catch them all over the city," he said. "We are arresting them, that's all."
The NTC this week issued repeated warnings to militia groups --or kataebs -- that remain outside its command to either join its fighters on the front or security forces in Benghazi.
British Defence Secretary Liam Fox on Sunday warned that Islamist militants may have been behind last week's assassination of rebel Libyan military chief General Abdel Fatah Yunis.
Fox told BBC Radio that the death, attributed by the British press to Al-Qaeda elements within the rebel movement, remained a mystery but that militant influence within Libya was inevitable.
"It's not yet clear who actually carried out the killing," he said.
"Of course there are going to be militants in Libya -- there are militants right across the whole of the Middle East -- it would be a great surprise if there weren't some in Libya itself," added the defence minister.
Britain last week recognised the rebels' National Transitional Council (NTC) as the legitimate Libyan government and Fox vowed Britain would continue to back the group despite the assassination.
"There has always been a mixture of people who make up the opposition forces in Libya...and it will be for the Libyans themselves to sort out exactly how any power structure develops post-Gathafi," he continued.
"We've known from history that there have been radical elements there.
"The aim will have to be as we move into the development phase and we go into the growing of the democracy in Libya, to ensure that these people are marginalised -- but to pretend they're not there would be unrealistic."
A deadly clash broke out in Libya's rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the wake of Yunis's murder, as the Gathafi regime said Sunday it was in contact with rebel leadership members.
Four rebels were killed in the clash with a pro-Gathafi group in Benghazi overnight, a rebel spokesman said.