“It’s a massacre in there,” said Mohamed Yehia after he crossed into Egypt at the northwestern town of Salloum, speaking of the deadly crackdown by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. “He is crazy. The world must know what he’s doing to his people.”
Yehia, 23, is one of thousands of Egyptians working in Libya who gathered their belongings and left the oil-rich country yesterday after Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, this week accused foreigners, including Tunisians and Egyptians, of inciting the ongoing revolt. Popular uprisings are spreading across the Arab world after mass protests in Tunisia and Egypt ousted their two long-serving presidents.
Egyptians drove from across Libya, from such cities as Benghazi, al-Bayda and Derna. Some came on foot, carrying blankets, suitcases, small pieces of furniture and even ovens. Vans brought men in their 20s and 30s who had worked at manual labor jobs, including construction. A few families with small children also crossed the border.
Egyptian vans drove straight through the checkpoint, while those who arrived in Libyan vehicles had to get out and walk across while carrying all their belongings.
They were met by dozens of buses sent by the Egyptian military, whose officials declared via speakers that the vehicles would drive them to major Egyptian cities for free. About 100 private minivans also lined up at the border, and more waited at two other military checkpoints farther away.
At least 300 people have been killed in the 10 days of the violent crackdown on the protests in Libya, Human Rights Watch says.
Many of those arriving said they had seen mercenaries from Africa and elsewhere, some dark-skinned and some fair, some speaking French. They had been deployed to attack anti-government protesters in Libyan cities, including the capital, Tripoli, and Benghazi, which has seen some of the worst violence since the uprising began last week, the eyewitnesses said.
Pro-Qaddafi supporters, largely mercenaries, were indiscriminately attacking anyone in Tripoli who was on the streets, said Nabil Abdel Raouf, 35, an Egyptian construction worker who lived in Derna about 240 kilometers (150 miles) from the border.
“My brother and cousins have been trying to leave Tripoli for four days, but they’re not able to,” Abdel Raouf said. “The mercenaries are in the streets and they’re killing anyone who leaves his house.”
Yehia said he saw 26 corpses at a hospital near his home in al-Bayda on the eastern coast. Several of the people who participated in the protests, which started as peaceful, were killed by live bullets in the chest and the head, he said.
“First the police attacked the protesters, but after they saw many of their people being killed, they sympathized and joined them. The army too,” said Yehia.
Mercenaries were brought in the following day but were repelled by the protesters, he said. He attended several mass funerals, he said.
“We were hearing automatic machine guns and explosions,” said Yehia. “I don’t know where those loud noises were coming from. Everyone was terrified, it was like a war.”
Similar protests were witnessed in Sabratha on the western border, said Hany Khalifa, 26, also a carpenter, who was living in al-Bayda and had friends in Sabratha.
Before reaching the coastal city of Benghazi on the way to Salloum, pro-Qaddafi policemen stopped a van carrying Egyptians, said Hany Abu El Einein, the 32-year-old driver. The passengers were ordered to sit on the ground and look down as the police pointed guns at the back of their heads, he said after reaching Salloum.
‘Destroying the Country’
“They told us Egyptians and Tunisians are responsible for the problems, that we’re destroying the country,” Abu El Einein said.
After Qaddafi’s Feb. 22 speech, in which he vowed to fight the uprising until his “last drop of blood,” thousands of his supporters took to the streets in the city of Sirte. They closed off the city and attacked anti-government protesters, said Yasser al-Badri, a 26-year-old construction worker who resided in Tripoli and was in Abu El Einein’s van.
The roads became safer between Benghazi and Salloum because armed opposition popular defense committees were in control of the eastern region, the passengers said.
“They helped us and showed us the road,” said Mohamed Hassan, 26, also a construction worker. “Since Benghazi, the people have been great with us.”