TRIPOLI, Sept 3 – When Muammar Gaddafi threatened to chase rebels “street by street, alley by alley (zenga, zenga), house by house,” it was no idle threat, thanks to his army of informants and gunmen posted in every area.
Tucked away in an innocuous office building on Baladiya Street, an offshoot of Martyrs’ Square, or Green Square as it was known under Gaddafi’s regime, lies one node of the regime’s intricate spy network.
“This was the control room for all of Tripoli,” said Abdelkarim Gadder, gesturing at three expansive satellite maps veined with the smallest streets of the capital and marking every major landmark.
Green thumbtacks show a myriad of gates from which security operatives could funnel into a neighbourhood in search for regime opponents.
“Checkpoints and communication channels doubled after the resistance,” said Gadder, referring to the protest movement that erupted mid-February, escalated into civil war, and forced Gaddafi and his clan into hiding.
Street camera footage shown on massive television screens, he said, helped security services and neighbourhood informants to identify those who took part in anti-regime protests.
Door-to-door house arrests would promtly follow.
“There was a snitch for almost every household,” said Gadder. “Gaddafi’s regime knew who lived in each apartment, who is with him, who is against him.”
By way of example, he points to the neighbourhood of Souk al-Jumaa in southeastern Tripoli which was an early pocket of resistance against Kadhafi’s regime after February 17.
“Just this one, small neighbourhood had five fixed checkpoints, 14 mobile checkpoints, 170 armed men and 90 backup forces,” ready to move and smite the opposition, he said, leafing through a binder with records of the manpower available in each area of the city.
Gadder said security services consisted in a mixture of military men and civilians.
Massive file folders document the names of agents, most of them armed, drawn from more than 15 branches of security including the armed forces, interior ministry, foreign ministry, intelligence services, national security, military police, Tripoli security forces and revolutionary councils.
There were at least 500 low-level spies, including taxi drivers, working in metropolitan Tripoli under Gaddafi.
They earned no more than 400 Libyan dinars (330 dollars) per month but the salary was supplemented by material perks.
Mid- to high-ranking officers stood in their thousands and earned up to 1,200 dinars.
“It was not the salary that counted. It was the cars, the homes, the money for medical treatment,” he said.
The majority of these men are still at large, said Gadder, adding he was now tasked with tracking their whereabouts so that those involved in crimes could be brought to justice.
Those without blood on their hands could be brought into the fold of new security services.
But telling the two apart might prove a difficult task as a large amount of evidence disappeared – Gaddafi’s men destroyed digital databases on their way out when rebel forces overran the capital on August 20.
“They destroyed all the computers so we have to rely on the written documents,” he said.
Another loss of data came from NATO’s air strike that pummeled the headquarters of Abdullah Senussi, Gaddafi’s former right hand man and spymaster, he said.
“We never know what was lost. Many things are missing,” including the records of mercenaries who fought to defend the regime, he said.