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Gaddafi Blames Al Qaeda For Libyan Unrest

Tripoli, Feb 24: Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has said in a speech on Libyan state television that al-Qaeda is responsible for the uprising in Libya, reports Al Jazeera."It is obvious now that this issue
PTI February 24, 2011 22:56 IST
PTI
Tripoli, Feb 24: Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has said in a speech on Libyan state television that al-Qaeda is responsible for the uprising in Libya, reports Al Jazeera.

"It is obvious now that this issue is run by al-Qaeda," he said, speaking by phone from an unspecified location on Thursday.

He said that the protesters were young people who were being manipulated by al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden, and that many were doing so under the influence of drugs.

"No one above the age of 20 would actually take part in these events," he said. "They are taking advantage of the young age of these people [to commit violent acts] because they are not legally liable!"

At the same time, the leader warned that those behind the unrest would be prosecuted in the country's courts.

Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has said in a speech on Libyan state television that al-Qaeda is responsible for the uprising in Libya.

"It is obvious now that this issue is run by al-Qaeda," he said, speaking by phone from an unspecified location on Thursday.

He said that the protesters were young people who were being manipulated by al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden, and that many were doing so under the influence of drugs.

"No one above the age of 20 would actually take part in these events," he said. "They are taking advantage of the young age of these people [to commit violent acts] because they are not legally liable!"

At the same time, the leader warned that those behind the unrest would be prosecuted in the country's courts.

Ali, an eyewitness to the shooting, told Al Jazeera by phone that soldiers began shooting at peaceful protesters on Martyrs' Square with heavy artillery at around 6am and had continued for 5 hours.

"They were trying to kill the people, not terrify them," he said, explaining that the soldiers had aimed at the protesters' heads and chests.

He estimated as many as 100 protesters had been killed. Approximately 400 people had been injured and were now in the town's hospital. He said he had filmed the bodies after the shooting had stopped, but was unable to send the footage because internet access has been cut off.

"The people here didn't ask for anything, they just asked for a constitution and democracy and freedom, they didn't want to shoot anyone," he said.

Gunfire could be heard in the background as Ali spoke, and he said the protesters were expecting the soldiers to launch another direct attack on Martyrs' Square later in the evening.

Despite the risk of more shooting, he said he and the other protesters would continue their protest, even if it cost their lives.

Mosque 'attacked'

Also on Thursday, a Libyan army unit led by Gaddafi's ally, Naji Shifsha, blasted the minaret of a mosque being occupied by protesters in Az Zawiyah, according to witnesses.

According to witnesses, pro-Gaddafi forces also attacked the town of Misrata, which was under the control of protesters.

They told Al Jazeera that "revolutionaries had driven out the security forces", who had used "heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns".

They said the pro-Gaddafi forces were called the "Hamza brigade".

Similar clashes have also been reported in the cities of Sabha in the south, and Sabratha, near Tripoli, which is in the west.

Anti-government protesters appeared to be in control of the country's eastern coastline, running from the Egyptian border through to the cities of Tobruk and Benghazi, the country's second largest city.

Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, one of Gaddafi's top security official and a cousin, defected on Wednesday evening, saying in a statement issued by his Cairo office that he left the country "in protest and to show disagreement" with "grave violations to human rights and human and international laws".

Al-Dam was travelling to Syria from Cairo on a private plane, sources told Al Jazeera. He denied allegations that he was asked to recruit Egyptian tribes on the border to fight in Libya and said he went to Egypt in protest against his government's used of violence.

Communications blocked

Libyan authorities are working hard to prevent news of the events in the country from reaching the outside world.

Thuraya, a satellite phone provider based in the United Arab Emirates, has faced continuous "deliberate inference" to its services in Libya, the company's CEO told Al Jazeera.

Samer Halawi, the company's CEO, said his company will be taking legal action against the Libyan authorities for the jamming of its satellite.

"This is unlawful and this in uncalled for," he said.

The company's engineers have had some success in combating the jamming, and operations were back on almost 70 per cent of the Libyan territory on Thursday, Halawi said. The blocking was coming from a location in Tripoli.

The Libyan government has blocked landline and wireless communications, to varying degrees, in recent days.

Some phone services were down again on Thursday. In the town of Az Zawiyah, phone lines were working but internet access was blocked.

Nazanine Moshri, reporting from the northern side of the Tunisian-Libyan border near the town of Ras Ajdir, said that security forces were confiscating cellphones and cameras from people crossing into Tunisia.

"The most important thing to them is to not allow any footage to get across the border into Tunisia," she reported.

Capital paralysed

Tripoli, the Libyan capital, meanwhile, is said to be virtually locked down, and streets remained mostly deserted, even though Gaddafi had called for his supporters to come out in force on Wednesday and "cleanse" the country from the anti-government demonstrators.

Libyan authorities said food supplies were available as "normal" in the shops and urged schools and public services to restore regular services, although economic activity and banks have been paralysed since Tuesday.

London-based newspaper the Independent reported, however, that petrol and food prices in the capital have trebled as a result of serious shortages.

Foreign governments, meanwhile, continue to rush to evacuate their citizens, with thousands flooding to the country's borders with Tunisia and Egypt.