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Special report: The secret plan to take Tripoli

Sep 6, 2011, 6:50 a.m.
Libyan rebels celebrate at Bab Al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli August 23, 2011. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

THE DIGITAL GIFT

Planning began in April, two months into the uprising. Rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril and three other senior insurgents met in the Tunisian city of Djerba, according to both Mlegta and another senior official from the National Transitional Council (NTC), as the alternative rebel government calls itself.

The three were Mlegta, who by then had fled Tripoli and joined the rebels as the head of a brigade; Ahmed Mustafa al-Majbary, who was head of logistics and supplies; and Othman Abdel-Jalil, a scientist who became coordinator of the Tripoli plan.

Before he fled, Mlegta had spent just under two months working inside the regime, building up a network of sympathizers. At first, 14 of Gaddafi's officers were prepared to help. By the end there were 72, Mlegta says. "We used to meet at my house and sometimes at the houses of two other officers... We preserved the secrecy of our work and it was in coordination with the NTC executive committee."

Brigadier General Abdulsalam Alhasi, commander of the rebels' main operation center in Benghazi, said those secretly helping the rebels were "police, security, military, even some people from the cabinet; many, many people. They gave us information and gave instructions to the people working with them, somehow to support the revolution."

One of those was al-Barani Ashkal, commander-in-chief of the guard at Gaddafi's military compound in the suburbs of Tripoli. Like many, Ashkal wanted to defect, but was asked by the NTC to remain in his post where, Alhasi says, he would become instrumental in helping the rebels enter the city.

The rebel planning committee -- another four men would join later, making seven in all -- knew that the targets on the memory sticks were the key to crippling Gaddafi's forces. The men included Hisham abu Hajar, chief commander of the Tripoli Brigade, Usama Abu Ras, who liaised with some cells inside Tripoli, and Rashed Suwan, who helped financially and coordinated with the tribes of Tripoli to ease the rebels' entry.

According to Mlegta and to Hisham Buhagiar, a rebel colonel and the committee's seventh member, the group initially drew up a list of 120 sites for NATO to target in the days leading up to their attack.

Rebel leaders discussed their idea with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a meeting at the Elysee Palace on April 20.

That meeting was one of five in Paris in April and May, according to Mlegta. Most were attended by the chiefs of staff of NATO countries involved in the bombing campaign, which had begun in March, as well as military officials from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

After presenting the rebels' plan "from A to Z", Mlegta handed NATO officials three memory cards: the one packed with information about regime strongholds in Tripoli; another with updated information on regime sites as well as details of 65 Gaddafi officers sympathetic to the rebels who had been secretly supplied with NATO radiophones; and a third which contained the plot to take Tripoli.

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