By Rob Crilly
The young gunmen at the roadblock took no chances. They put a knife to the throat of the driver before hauling the three men and one woman from the car, dragging them through the street into a nearby mosque for a rough round of interrogation.
“They were beaten on their feet and the woman was slapped around the face until she admitted planning an attack on the mosque,” said Basim Mohamed, muezzin at Quiche mosque.
Inside the car they say they found an AK-47 and 10 cartridges of ammunition.
A frenzied mob formed outside the mosque as word spread that Gaddafi assassins had been cornered. It only dispersed when rebel gunmen arrived to take away the suspects to an uncertain fate.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this in free Benghazi. After throwing off the shackles of Gaddafi’s brutal rule, Libya’s young opposition movement is rounding up suspected opponents and delivering its own brutal form of justice in a city living in fear that they have been penetrated by a fifth column of government loyalists.
Rebel leaders admit that dozens of Gaddafi supporters have been arrested or killed.
Every night, gangs of vigilantes assemble at makeshift roadblocks – made from piles of rubble, oil drums or piping – to control entry and exit from their neighbourhoods.
On Sunday, gunfights echoed around the city as gangs sought to mop up pro-Gaddafi elements after government troops had been fought back a day earlier.
Foreign workers fled the city long ago in fear of being mistaken for a government-hired mercenary.
Many residents are now too frightened to drive through the dark streets at night, fearing a shakedown or worse at the proliferating checkpoints.
“If they don’t know who you are, and are in their part of town, and you have a nice car, then they are going to think you are a car thief or they say you are with Gaddafi,” said one driver who now stays close to home after dark.
“Maybe you hesitate or seem nervous and they will think you have something to hide.
“Not all of them are good people.”
The rebel’s interim government is made up of professionals academics, businessmen and lawyers often educated in the UK or US who make all the right noises about democracy, human rights and the rule of law.