CAIRO — The Libyan man who purportedly discovered former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi hiding in a drainage pipe in his hometown died Tuesday after Gadhafi’s supporters kidnapped him.
Fears rose immediately that his death would fuel rising tensions between pro- and anti-Gadhafi forces.
Omran Shaban, a member of the Misratan brigades, died in a Paris hospital allegedly as a result of a bullet wound and torture he received after his kidnapping in July by militia members from the city of Bani Walid. They apparently were angered by the role Shaban had played in Gadhafi’s capture and subsequent death.
The city of Misrata led western Libya’s rebellion against Gadhafi, who died in October after being pulled out of a drainage pipe in his hometown of Sirte. In a new museum for the revolution set up in Misrata, video of Gadhafi pleading for his life that day play on a continuous loop.
The nearby city of Bani Walid remains one of the last strongholds of Gadhafi supporters, and many of its residents remain loyal to the late dictator.
Since his regime collapsed, militias from Bani Walid and Misrata have engaged in several standoffs that have involved the kidnapping of fighters as well as journalists.
Only last-minute intervention by government members and other negotiators prevented a final battle between the rebels and remnants of the regime.
Shaban, from Misrata, was critically injured in July after he was captured along with a colleague from Libya’s Shield Brigade military force. They had been dispatched to the city after the capture of two prominent Misratan journalists there four days earlier.
Shaban was shot in the neck and paralyzed. He was also believed to have been subjected to severe torture during his two-month captivity. Following his release several weeks ago, he had to be airlifted to Tripoli and then flown to Paris for medical treatment.
His release was a result of months of intensive negotiations led by National Congress President Mohammed Magarief. The exchange involved setting free militia members from Bani Walid who had been captured by Misratan fighters.
Shaban’s death has triggered anger in his hometown, especially among the city’s volatile brigades, as well as among members of the Libyan Parliament. Magarief has promised to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“I received with great sadness the news of the death of Omran Shaban,” Margarief said. “He was a martyr who suffered from kidnapping and torture which led, in the end, to his death. This is a punishable crime for which the perpetrators must be found and prosecuted.”
Shaban’s death comes amid the government’s struggles to disband the various militias in charge of security following the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, as a result of a Sept. 11 militia attack on the American consulate in Benghazi.
The government promised last weekend to disband the militias in 48 hours and bring security under the control of a nascent national army. While several militias agreed to hand in their weapons and step down, many others fled with their heavy weaponry.
The state’s inability to provide security was evident Tuesday at Tripoli’s parliamentary headquarters. Members of the national army and former militia members engaged in a firefight forcing the emergency evacuation of Parliament.
Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this report from Cairo.