Tripoli, 22 May 2012:
Libya Herald reporter Ashraf Abdul-Wahab has interviewed Yasser Ben Halim, the head of Tripoli Military Council’s Protection Force . . .[restrict]Unit.
Q) Yasser Ben Halim, can you tell us about yourself and your life before the 17 February revolution?
A) I am an ordinary citizen from the city of Derna. I was born in Alexandria on 1 January 1969. I studied to the middle school level because my father died when I was young.
At the time, Qaddafi had enforced on us his unjust principal by which people were held to account, under the slogan, “Where did you get all this from?” So he confiscated all our property which was the cause of my father’s stroke and which lead to his death soon afterwards. When my father died, the eldest in my family was aged 15. We lived a normal life and did not work in any state domain. Thanks be to God, we managed to get back on our feet and were able to buy back all my father’s property. We all got married and have children; I myself now have five sons. I used to work as a taxi driver between Egypt and Libya before the start of the revolution.
Q) Was there not a family tie between you and Mustafa Ben Halim who was prime minister from 1954-57, during the time of King Idris?
A) Mustafa Ben Halim is my father’s cousin. That was one of the reasons why my father’s properties were confiscated. Ben Halim managed to leave Libya but Qaddafi took revenge on us because we were relatives who chose not leave Libya.
Q) How did the revolution start in Derna; was there prior planning or did the demonstrations and protests start spontaneously?
A) Plans were in place from 14 February. We were chased by the internal security service and were even shot at but, thanks be to God, no one was hurt. We had all agreed to set off from the mosques, which we coordinated with area residents. So on Friday, we went out immediately after prayers and headed for all security departments in the city. We took control of them. We were also joined by the police force and guards.
That lasted for about four hours, then we headed for Bayda where there was one of Qaddfi’s brigades called Al-Jareh. We managed to overpower them. After that we went to Benghazi — that’s where the real battle started. Some of us were injured and some were killed. From that point on, we all continued with the revolution until the whole of Libya was finally liberated.
Q) Where you among the forces that entered Brega and Ras Lanouf?
A) Yes. I remained in Brega until 13 May 2011, and then went back to Benghazi. We were transferred on 15 May from Benghazi to the town of Rujban where we participated in all battles in that area.
Q) Prior to 17 February, Qaddafi released all political and criminal prisoners, one of those released was man called, Abdul-Hakim Hassadi known for his links with Al-Qaeda. It was also said that he had established an Islamic state in the city of Derna. Was this true? And what was the real role of Abdul-Hakim Hassadi in respect of the news currently reported about him in Derna?
A) What he established was not an Islamic state! However, he does want to apply sharia law in the right way. This will not upset anyone, because we are a Muslim country and we follow Islamic sharia. For example, in Islam, the one who kills must be killed. This is in itself an application of sharia law. And he who steals, his hand will be cut. This is what leads people to think that they had established an Islamic state, because they were, in effect, applying sharia law.
Q) Was it true that he managed to establish Islamic Courts to apply sharia laws?
A) The truth is, many things have been attributed to this person! Simply because he was known for his Islamist inclinations despite the fact that he was with us on the battlefields along with his associates, does not mean in my personal opinion, that what he established in Derna was an Islamic state. It cannot be called an Islamic state. An Islamic state is like that established in Afghanistan.
For example, the black flag, which has “There is no god but God” written on it, and is the flag of Islam and widespread throughout the Libyan towns and cities — this flag does not exist only in Derna. I have seen it in Kufra and Benghazi. What they were trying to do is to establish justice. For instance, a person who has been known for torturing and killing the Libyan people will be punished.
Q) Does this mean a person could be executed without trial?
A) Yes, without trial. What will the court do for us! Will it give you your rights! The court will sentence the perpetrator to seven or eight years imprisonment and then he will be set free. Do you know that we will be questioned by the martyrs on Judgment Day! They will say to us, “why did you not take back our rights on our behalf?”!
Q) Did you participate in the liberation of Tripoli?
A) I am proud to say that I was amongst the first of those who was injured on 20 August. The Derna battalion was the first to enter Tripoli. We consisted of a group of 65, headed by Abdul Hakim Belhaj. I was wounded in my foot, but despite the injury, I managed to complete the mission with my colleagues. The field commanders in rank were, Belhaj, Abdurrazaq Naami and Abdul Aalim. The latter stayed in Tarhouna after Tripoli was liberated; he was Belhaj’s deputy. He lived in Britain for a long time where he worked as a company manager.
Q) We heard recently about explosions taking place in Benghazi and Derna. Could they be the work of extreme Islamists belonging to a group we recently heard about which calls itself “Hijra wa Al-Takfir”?
A) The Hijra wa Al-Takfir group is one of the most dangerous Islamic groups. Should they exist in Derna, then their numbers would be very limited. Derna is a small city and its residents know one another. Any strangers in the city would be very noticeable and, therefore, the existence of such people makes no difference. Should they attempt to do anything, they will be discovered and captured like others.
Q) Many pictures were displayed by various media sources showing pro-Al-Qaeda slogans. Does this mean Al-Qaeda has established roots in the city?
A) If such pictures existed, then there is an Al-Qaeda presence in Derna. The truth is, we heard a lot about Al-Qaeda’s existence in Derna. We heard that they were blowing-up places, killing people and oppressing girls! A rumour was circulated that Al-Qaeda members had closed down ladies beauty salons, music and DVD shops. But all this never happened, because all these salons and shops are still open and doing business as normal. There might be some people who are strict but they are few.
These kind of rumours are being circulated by Qaddafi loyalists. Their intention is to cause mayhem and confusion amongst people and to try and convince them that Qaddafi’s era was much better.
I have to be honest, there are things taking place here in Tripoli which never used to happen in Qaddafi’s time. Some individuals have attacked people in the sanctity of their homes. Nowadays you find drugs and alcohol in the streets. During Qaddafi’s time such behavior was not tolerated. How can a new Libyan leader control all these issues?
I have a suggestion that I hope I am given the opportunity to broadcast on radio and TV. I am speaking on a personal level and not as the leader of the protection forces of the Tripoli Military Council. I’m sure I can convince the revolutionaries. I want to ask the true revolutionaries one question and that is: “Why did you start the revolution?” The true and genuine revolutionary would say: “In order to establish freedom,” because the true revolutionary strives earnestly to solve people’s problems, even at the cost of his own life.
On the other hand, the strange and fake revolutionaries’ understanding of freedom is to get drunk, have sex and take drugs. The best example of such “revolutionaries” is when you get stopped by one of them at a checkpoint. The first question he asks you is if the car you’re driving is registered in your name! They were working for Qaddafi in the past but now they merely swapped sides. They’ve done away with Qaddafi’s picture and replaced it with the striped flag but they have not changed inside. I do urge the government to be firm because the country seems to be going backwards.
Q) What are expecting from the coming elections, and will you be participating in them?
A) We have to be hopeful. However, the most important thing is that those chosen are God-fearing and, secondly, that they remember the blood of the martyrs who gave up their lives in order for them to get to these positions. We want them to apply the law of Allah and Islamic sharia law. If so, we will, of course, be with them.
For instance, when you are put in power and you make a mistake, you should not get angry if we hold you accountable. Likewise if we commit a wrong doing, then you have every right to hold us accountable according to sharia law.
We are going through sensitive times, and if this government does not become stronger, it will falter and elections will not succeed.
I do wish that the government would stop paying out money because it is causing mayhem. We noticed that as soon as they started to make payments, people changed. There was disorder and chaos. Road blocks became widespread as people demanded to be paid. They [the government] gave money to people in Abu Salim before giving it to Suq Al-Juma. Yet Abu Salim was known for its loyalty to Qaddafi. There, money was paid to 17,000 “revolutionaries” whereas those in Suq Al-Juma, the first area to rise up, still have not been paid. Unfortunately, we are still living with nepotism and favouritism. Three-quarters of Qaddafi’s former brigades are back in service.
Q) Zintan has refused to hand over Saif-Islam Qaddafi claiming that he would not be safe in Tripoli. They want to hold his trial in Zintan. Do you think Tripoli is safe enough to hold Saif’s trial? And if you were assigned to protect it, would you be able to do so?
A) We totally refuse to have his trial in Zintan. Zintan does not have the means of holding such a trial, which will certainly be attended by various international bodies. There is not even a single hotel in the place. It does not have the infrastructure to host international observers and delegations. We are more than capable of providing a safe trial for Saif Qaddafi and keeping him under constant guard under the supervision of Abdul Hakim Belhaj.
Q) You’ve mentioned Abdul Hakim Belhaj several times. What is his official position within the state?
A) Abdil Hakim Belhaj is the president of Tripoli’s Military Council.
Q) What is Tripoli Military Council; is it an official body? Is it an armed militia run on donations, is it run from abroad? Is it a governmental body under the direct command of the government or the NTC?
A) It is supported and supervised by the state and coordinates with the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense as well as the NTC.
After Tripoli’s liberation, the Tripoli Military Council was formed to bring all rebel brigades and military councils in Tripoli under one leadership. The council is now solving most of Tripoli’s military and civil problems.
At present, the Tripoli Military Council is only in place so people can turn to it to bring complaints. People visit it at all times. We try to solve their problems day and night. Sometimes they wake us from our sleep to solve conflicts between people. At times we resolve family disputes — it is not our specialty but we have to do it. There is no state as yet. When one is formed we will not need to do it. When that happens and someone comes to us with a complaint, we’ll direct him to the court or to the police station.
If you were to go and make a complaint nowadays at a police station, they would say to you that they are unable to go to the person [causing the problem] because he could be armed. But we can take an official arrest warrant, negotiate with the person peacefully and if he refuses, we would arrest him and place him in custody.
We now cooperate with the Attorney General’s office; they issue an arrest warrant and we go and make the arrest. The Attorney General knows well that the police are unable to do it.
Even so, we face many problems, so much so that Tripoli’s military council building was shot at and the bullet marks still remain.
Despite all of that, we are still working as volunteers. We receive no wages or any financial rewards except for the allocated grant [LD 4,000 or LD 2,400 depending on marital status] and even that some of us did not receive yet. We did receive a grant of LD 400 before the Eid Al-Adha.
There are 35 of us and only one car has been allocated to us, the rest of us use our own cars. We even pay for petrol, engine oil changes and maintenance from our own pockets.
These sacrifices we are making for the sake of our country. We are offering all this work for the sake of Allah because we’ve seen oppression being practiced on some people — and we know what it is like to be oppressed.