April 12, 2011

Article at AFP

A hail of friendly fire as Libyan rebels hunt for 'sniper'

AJDABIYA, Libya --The hunt for a sniper began after a single shot echoed across this
deserted Libyan town. It ended with a Libyan rebel falling wounded after a hail
of bullets from his disorganised comrades.

Ajdabiya has been all but deserted since an assault by Moamer Kadhafi's forces on Saturday, and while the rebels remain in control there is still shelling on the
outskirts and talk of snipers in abandoned buildings.

So when the popping noise sounded near a main roundabout and bystanders said they
had been shot at, the rebel fighters raced to the scene in pick-ups with machine guns mounted on them, blocking roads and waving civilians away.

An advance party raced to the building on foot, some armed with Kalashnikovs and others with machetes, hoping to search the upper floors.

The building had the look of a sniper's nest, with a peppering of bullet holes and yawning black holes punched in its upper floors from shelling in previous battles over the frontline town.

But the doors on the ground floor were all shuttered and locked, halting the rebels at the main entrance as the truck-mounted machine guns crept forward, raising their snouts towards a sniper that no one had actually seen.

"The town still isn't entirely clean," said Khaled Obeidi, 29, as he stood outside the building with an AK-47.

As one truck appeared ready to open fire, he and the other fighters ran towards it, calling on it to stop.

An argument ensued. The fighters in the truck wanted to spray a few rounds into
the building. Those on foot, the ones with the knives, wanted to search it first. Another truck-mounted gun crept up a few dozen yards (metres) away.

Until the outbreak of the revolt, which began as a series of street demonstrations in late February, the vast majority of these fighters were civilians, most having never held a gun.

As is often the case with the hastily assembled rebel force, there was no commander, no orders from above and no way to communicate other than yelling and waving one's hands in the air.

So both trucks opened fire, those on foot scattered, and a fighter, armed with only a long knife, fell to the ground bleeding from his head.

As his comrades loaded him onto the back of a pick-up and sped off to the hospital, a team on the other side of the building fired a rocket-propelled grenade into the side of it, sending up a plume of dust.

Back at the hospital, the wounded man's friends panicked.

"We don't know if the bullet came from one direction or the other. Maybe it was us!" said Faraj Faturi, 27, as he paced back and forth.

"It could have come from that building or it could have come from another one. We didn't see anything," said Obeidi.

Dr. Ramzi al-Awami of the Ajdabiya hospital said the bullet wound was superficial, and that the wounded man would be alright.

He was the third rebel to be wounded in Ajdabiya on Tuesday.

Another two had fallen to the ground bleeding at the western gate leading to the front
when one of them knocked two machine gun bullets together and one of them exploded.

Awami said he was not aware of anyone having been shot by a sniper.