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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Suicide Bomber Opens the Katiba

May 22 2011
last edits, September 30, 2011

Note Sept. 30: When I first wrote this piece I did not know the formal name of the military barracks in question here. It's often called the Katiba, as used below, but that just means something like "brigade." But it's called the Al-Fadhil bin Omar barracks, at the time housing a brigade of that name.

Three months ago the other day, the Katiba barracks fell to what was becoming the Libyan rebel army. The large, loyal, and well-stocked military base in the middle of Benghazi would arm much of rebel-held Cyrenaica after defection of general Abdel Fatah Younes there on February 21. This came the day after the base's main gate was blown open, triggering a fierce battle within the sprawling complex. The swift culmination of that episode was a major turning point in the fate of the city, Libya's second largest and soon the de facto rebel capitol.

This post focuses on the opening of the gate by an act that, in any other context, would be denounced by the Western media as an act of terrorism. Consider this still from a Russia Today broadcast, showing the effects of a very powerful blast:
Further images of the damaged gate can be seen here, here and here.

Al Jazeera had an excellent photo but nothing much on the cause, mentioning this suicide bomber not at all.
A gaping hole in the northern wall of the compound, all twisted metal bars and jagged concrete blocks, marks the spot where protesters first managed to push through under a hail of gunfire. In white spray-paint, someone has written "Martyrs' Square" in Arabic on an unhinged metal gate that hangs off the breach.
But others give due mention of Mahdi Ziu, the middle-aged executive turned Jihadist. The Guardian, for one, reported two months later:
Ziu was not classic suicide-bomber material. He was a podgy, balding 48-year-old executive with the state oil company, married with daughters at home. There was no martyrdom video of the kind favoured by Hamas. He did not even tell his family his plan, although they had seen a change in him over the three days since the revolution began.
But Mr. Ziu (see tribute  poster at left, from here) did drive an explosive car, we're told, from within a funeral procession, right at the Katiba's north gate and blew it open, probably killing some guards and helping make the heavy weapons inside available to all sorts of riff-raff. The Guardian's use of plastic language re-brands what elsewhere wouldbe termed a disaster and a heinous crime:
The Middle East. A man with a car fashioned into a bomb. He disguises his intent by joining a funeral cortege passing the chosen target. At the last minute the man swings the vehicle away, puts his foot down and detonates the propane canisters packed into the car.
It all sounds horrifyingly familiar. Mahdi Ziu was a suicide bomber in a region too often defined by people blowing up themselves and others. But, as with so much in Libya, the manner of Ziu's death defies the assumptions made about the uprisings in the Arab world by twitchy American politicians and generals who see Islamic extremism and al-Qaeda lurking in the shadows. Ziu's attack was an act of pure selflessness, not terror, and it may have saved Libya's revolution.
Admittedly, it was a rather violent selflessness, with further violent effects.
Then Ziu arrived, blew the main gates off the barracks and sent the soldiers scurrying to seek shelter inside. Within hours the Katiba had fallen.
What followed wasn't pretty. "(The revolutionaries) were beating Gaddafi people they captured, it's true. When they captured a Gaddafi soldier they said: 'What was this man doing? He was shooting us.' Gaddafi's soldiers wanted to kill anyone. They were using anti-aircraft weapons on humans. It cut people in half. People were angry," says Fasi. So angry that some of Gaddafi's soldiers were lynched. At least one was beheaded.

CNN reported the story a month earlier, but got the name a bit different, as Mendhi Ziu.
Confirmed: Hero Story of Benghazi Suicide Bomber
CNN reports that a man named Al Mendhi loaded his car with explosives and drove it into a military compound in Benghazi last week [...] Mr. Mendhi, a 49 year old oil company worker, is being hailed as a hero, because it was his sacrifice that enabled the resistance to overtake the barracks and roust Gadaffi's army, ultimately regaining the city of Benghazi. He had filled cylinders with cooking gas, packed them into his car, where he sat and prayed for half an hour before driving the car at high speed into the compound. His valiant efforts were not in vain.

Re-gaining Benghazi? When was it first lost?
His best friend reports that he carried the brave man's remains out of the car, and said that "If I didn't see it with my own eyes, I would not believe it myself."
There was a car left? There were remains? Is this the car? It looks just about like an other car looted and burned within the compound. It doesn't look blown up by the blast center responsible for ruptiuring the concrete gate building. I'm no explosives expert, but there seems ample room to wonder whether this was the result of exploding gas canisters at high speed, or of something quite a bit more professional-grade.

For what it's worth, I confirmed the location from imagae analysis of the Russia Today footage. By background structures, I decided it's clearly the north gate, the west lane (inbound?) passage. These images show my work.

Update, Sept. 30: This historic bombing of the north gate and guard house - either the actiual blast or the destruction after - is something that, like protesters being shot, is simply absent from " "protester" videos. Russia today showed it, outside media showed it, but somehow the people who did it seem to have kept it mum,as if that would help us fail to notice they were"protesting" places to smithereens.

It also has a way of being glossed over or ignored in mainstream run-downs of the battle for Benghazi. For example, the UN's Human Rights Council issued a report on June 1 (PDFlink) about the early violence. It could and should have addressed this particular act but somehow missed it. They make note of an extracted "admission of involvement by a member of the security forces," in rebel detention, "in the random shooting of protestors in Benghazi on 20 February."

Their statistics show the biggest spike of daily deaths that day - 60 to the previous 20 and 20 (on the 17th and 19th). But they thought this was from an extreme, random-shooting punishment because "government opponents assumed control over the Katiba premises," in some unspecified way with no mention of a terrorist suicide bomber, "on 19 February!" No wonder their conclusions were so warped - these guys were confused on major events like this, which aren't even hard to figure out just with a Google search and no airfare required. The question remains whether this type of goof-up is accidental or part of some design.


  1. Just looking...that "suicide car" has only been lightly grilled.
    Our intrepid photographer on the ground, Evan Hill also fails to mention any car bomb in tweets..
    @evanchill Evan Hill
    by ioerror
    The katiba was the site of Benghazi's fiercest battle; multi-day conflict. Civilians with homemade bombs vs. soldiers with machine guns.

    evanchill Evan Hill
    Working on article about katiba battle tonight; also took tons of pics of burnt out security HQs, with confidential files strewn all over.

    (a week later)

    That article in the Guardian (two months later) relies heavily on Paul Schemm of AP:
    Battle at army base broke Gadhafi hold in Benghazi
    The Associated Press 2011-02-25: BENGHAZI Libya (AP) -- The young men of Benghazi pounded the dreaded military barracks in the city center with everything they could find. They threw stones and crude bombs made of tin cans stuffed with gunpowder. They drove bulldozers into its walls. All under a blaze of gunfire from troops inside that literally tore people in half. More than 100 were killed in three days of fighting. But in the end, the base fell and Moammar Gadhafi's forces fled, executing comrades who refused to shoot. The assault on the base known as the "Katiba" was the defining battle in the fall of Libya's second largest city....

    It continues...

    This procession, however, contained a surprise. As it approached the barracks, a 49-year-old named Mahdi Ziu peeled out from behind with a car rigged with four propane tanks and filled with makeshift explosives.

    Another AP piece by Schemm, dated 28 Feb Rebel force in eastern Libya faces challenges doesn't mention Katiba - also written as Al-Fudhail bin Omar barracks -

    "At one of two military bases at Shahhat near Bayda, a Libyan army officer said an effort as being made to gather all the available weapons in the base and on the streets to use to defend areas under rebel control.
    "The army units visible in the area did not inspire confidence and the main Shahhat base was the site of the climactic battle between rebel and government forces just a week before.

    The buildings were largely gutted and covered in graffiti. Spent shell casings littered the area, and burned and twisted heavy guns were everywhere.

    A tank had been driven in front of the ruined gate to block it, while another parked outside the base was covered with graffiti. "Libya is free," read one inscription

    No mention of Katiba, yet he had written about it three days earlier.

    Strangely, Schemm also filed from Benghazi, apparently, on 24 February: Gaddafi forces strike back at Libya uprising - where there is no mention of Katiba nor Shahhat. Nor was there mention on Feb 23

    And no mention of a suicide bomb when the five charred bodies were reported by France24 on 22 February, thanks to a helpful Swiss (again!)blogger Hassan Al-Djahmi

    A mechanical digger is seen breaking into a barracks, allegedly at Shahhat on 19 February in this video Actually, a tank broke out first

  2. You're right about the car, and I need to work that in. I doubt that's the car in question, just one of the many found burnt. I doubt the friend's story of pulling out and recognizing his friend's body, at the very least. Just look at the bomb damage! There would be parts of a car, and scraps of charred flesh. Nothing to pull anything out of, nothing to recognize. Not that I'm an expert.

    Was there ever a car? Likely ... a rocket launcher won't do that. All I can think of is a good car bomb, or dropped bomb. Makeshift? Perhaps, but it lacked no punch.

    And it's true that this historic event is onlysporadically mentioned. It's not coveredup, but not headlined either, despite being so important. No protester videos I've seen of the procession, the car, the explosion, or the aftermath. The last, maybe I'm wrong and there is, but even a lack of footage of that important damage is odd - who was telling people what to share and not, and making sure they did so?

    Dead "mercenaries" okay. Heroic suicide bomber's work that "saved the revolution," too militant?

    As for other attacks there, Goheda's video shows the bulldozer attack, on Feb 18 IIRC, confiscated from some company working nearby. And I hear a tank was used, perhaps same day, taken from a base on the outskirts of Benghazi (a defector, I think).. Apparently it came with no shells, was just driven through the wall.

    I'll check your videos...

  3. There is a very full report about the alleged Mahdi Ziu incident - no doubt told to the credulous journalist - penned by Robert F Worth (worth@nytimes.com), and published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine,p32, 30 March 2011 (corrected 3 April) ,entitled On Libya’s Revolutionary Road. See especially pages 2/3 online. Another victim, who was somehow not killed also has his story, by now quite old, recounted, one Emad al-Imam. continues......

  4. He's also known as Shaheed Mehdi Ziu.

    At 20.54 of this "official story of the Benghazi uprising, featuring Oliver Miles Sajeda Ziu talks, as related to her by her uncle, Adil. (would have been better to get Adil) (Press TV, Iran)
    There is also footage of the leader of the protests in London outside the US Embassy on February 23, Mr Naji El-Fallah, ناجى الفلاح who appeared in the Al Jazeera Video Libya @ a State of Terror , seen from about 4.17 onwards.

    At about 16.47 in the Benghazi Uprising video "Libyan activist" Khalid Mohamed talks about the Khatiba. (see 17.46 to 18.01-18.14 especially regarding the death of a boy said to be the son of Tariq Shamsa, Abdul Hafeedh عبد الحفيظ. What caused the injuries? The name appears on 1000 Libyans Libya remembers as عبد الحفيظ طارق شينفى Abdulhafeeth Tariq Shinfa , no date of death recorded. I can find no YouTube reference to Abdulhafeedh Shinfa or variations, english or arabic. Very odd for a martyr.

    At about 19.05 in the Press TV video, Salim Ziu, Mehdi Ziu's brother talks. "Mehdi had a plan to boost the morale of the protesters...." . At about 19.50, a neighbour appears, who helped him load the gas canisters. ..he kept going... and the car exploded....Benghazi was liberated...

  5. Felix, just checked your revolutionary road link and saw this:
    The guards opened fire, but too late. The speeding car struck the gate and exploded, sending up a fireball that was captured on a cellphone video by a protester a few hundred yards away. The blast blew a hole in the wall, killing a number of guards and sending the rest retreating into the Katiba. Within hours, it would fall to the protesters.
    Is that a video he saw? I can't find it,easily anyway. Would like to see the nature of the explosion if possible. Will report back if I find it.

  6. not this fireball?? (fortuitously (!) filmed here

  7. Nope. It'd be much smaller, presumably, and about two weeks earlier. :)

    I kept running across that while looking for ANY video of this heroic action. Found nada. Even the aftermath, per rebel videos, seems to be about zero. I sometimes wonder if someone was actively controlling the flow, and if so,how? Maybe just e-mail tips from a rebel support group urging them to make this video "removed by the user" in the name of the revolution...

  8. What I find strange here is that this alleged incident occurred in quite a populated area, yet one finds no footage of smouldering ruins. Did it really occur on the 20th? The Guardian's report, quoting his daughter Zuhur Ziu, is strangely two months late on the case. The Guardian article is strangly similar to the one written by Robert F Worth in the New York Times On Libya's Revolutionary Road on 30 March 2011. Worth reading. He refers to the daughter as Zahour. She is now 21 not 20. Worth writes:
    By Sunday, Feb. 20, protesters in Benghazi had armed themselves and were focusing all their efforts on storming the Katiba. Every day, soldiers inside the barracks were firing down on the funeral processions that used the long boulevard from the courthouse to the city’s main cemetery, killing more people and generating more funerals, more anger.

    On Sunday morning, with the sound of gunfire in the background, Ziu slipped a last will and testament under the door of a friend. He then returned to his apartment and asked the neighbors to help him load a number of full gas canisters into his black Kia sedan, parked just outside the house. They asked why, and he told them the canisters were leaking; he needed to get them fixed. His brother, Salem Ziu, told me that he thinks Mahdi used a small patch of TNT, the kind Libyans use to kill fish, as a detonator. No one really knows.

    What is certain is that about 1:30 p.m., Ziu drove his car until it was facing the Katiba’s main gate, near the police station where the first protests began five days earlier. The area in front of him was clear, a killing zone abandoned by all but the most reckless. Rebels fired from the shelter of rooftops and doorways, and snipers at the Katiba fired occasional shots down on the figures darting in the streets. Ziu put his foot down on the accelerator. The guards opened fire, but too late. The speeding car struck the gate and exploded, sending up a fireball that was captured on a cellphone video by a protester a few hundred yards away. The blast blew a hole in the wall, killing a number of guards and sending the rest retreating into the Katiba. Within hours, it would fall to the protesters.

  9. And while we are on it....see this piece on Howstoffworks? called CNN Oddly Celebrates Hero Libyan Suicide Bomber by Josh Clark, 25 March 2011.

  10. Leela Jacinto of France24 also reported from Benghazion Mr Ziu on 28 April 2011: Gaddafi's gutted edifice of power draws gaping crowds, where she tracked down Ziu's younger brother,Salem (otherwise Salim).
    "Salem has recounted the events several times over the past two months...
    “The car was still smoking from 1pm the previous day, it was such a massive explosion. We went to pick up his body, but there was no body. No body,” repeats a visibly moved Salem, rubbing his furrowed brow in an attempt to compose himself.

    “It was all gone, it was all burned. There was no flesh, there were only bones. We gathered the bones and put them in a plastic bag and the bag weighed just around a kilo,” he notes.

    The earliest western reference to Ziu I find on NPR, 28 February 2011,:Libya's Rebellion Spawns A Trio Of Unlikely Heroes Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reporting.
    Mohammed Abdelhafif was one of his closest friends. He says Ziu joined the protests in Benghazi as soon as they happened, but he became furious and saddened by the bloodshed.

    Many of the pro-Gadhafi forces were holed up around the main military base in the city; they used their guns to mow down protesters, witnesses said. The demonstrators were having no luck breaking into the heavily defended compound.

    Ziu's wife says he would come home with his clothes smeared with blood from carrying dying and wounded comrades.

    On Feb. 20, sickened by the carnage, he loaded his black Kia with propane cylinders without telling anyone.

    He drove to the base and rammed his car into the front gates, blowing them up.

    Hamed Salah, 20, was outside the base, protesting. If it weren't for Ziu, Salah says, the demonstrators would not have been able to take over the base: He sacrificed his life for them.

    Salah's brother, who was being held inside the base after being arrested by Gadhafi's elite forces, echoes the praise, saying he is sure he would have been killed if the base had not fallen.

    It proved to be the turning point in the battle for Benghazi. A few hours later, the base was overrun and the city was in the hands of pro-democracy forces.

    Ziu's wife, Samira, says she is proud of him. She has no son to carry his name — but such are the blessings of God, she says, that his name is now written in the history of this city.

  11. I have found this hilarious YouTube video of the alleged car bombing of the Katiba

    Shaheed Mohammed Mahdi Ziu -
    الشهيد المهدي محمد زيو

    uploaded by mahdeozeo on 2 July 2011.

    long distance shot of smoke rising , burnt out car, handful of bones. It is totally crazy.

    Also,the same video was uploaded by sasosaso8 on 25 May

    mahodeozeo also uploaded on the same day, 2 July, the CNN report by Reza Sayah who quotes the date 19 February for the blast, and interviews Jiu's friend Abdul Farhoud who collected Jiu's remains (i.e. the bones, I guess). he also interviews daughters Sajeda and Zahur.
    "What Al Mahdi did was pack his car full of plastic car fuel containers in cooking gas cylinders....then he sped towards the main gate where he blew himself and his car up..."

    The CNN video also appears here, uploaded 25 March

  12. The user name mahdeozeo is clearly a reference tot he alleged terrorist bomber in question. A dedicated channel. Will be useful. On thesecond CNNvideo, WTF is happening in the first few seconds there? Clearly rebels messing around with a stolen tank, and someone(?) has been hurt...

    The other video you linked, the hilarious one, will have to be added here. I see no funeral procession, no great reason to film that way as the blast happens, but at last an alleged video of it. The bones make a lot more sense than pulling the friend out of the car, but could of course be anything. The car they show, not likely. Even that I doubt it would have an inside left to pull things from anymore. I mean, feet away from that, with diminished power, the blast wave knocked apart a steel-reinforced concrete structure. That car is like the radio manual cover in the PA103 bomb. Except... I bet five different cars have been called the one, none matching the one he owned.

    February 19... things are just vague enough on the fall of Benghazi I can't rule that out...

  13. There is a video here of celebrations with commandeerd tanks in Benghazi, soldiers in uniform shooting, perhaps from TV, with title 20 February 2011 , uploaded by mbi3000 on 31 May.
    الصاعقه تتدخل لحماية بنغازي من كتائب القردافي
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZsSd_caryY At 4.50 a large excavator punches a hole in the turreted wall of a military installation.

    My feeling is that there was a spot of "internal trouble" at the Katiba, and the barracks was liberated from inside.

    But see also
    uploaded by libyahora100 on 23 May, كتيبة خميس القدافي تدخل بنغازي 19-4-2011. Looks like a big green evacuation, with bodies at the beginning. (might be 19-3 rather than 19-4)
    Where is this killing I wonder? And when?

  14. Strange that Al Jazeera did not run with the story of Ziu. At about 1.20 here is a picture of Ziu on holiday on a video by mahdeozeo

  15. Re massive explosion, VivaAlgeria123New uploaded a video Libya : Combats à Ras Lanouf : Libye معارك عنيفة في رأس لانوف وبن جواد on 10 March showing a fortuitously witnessed massive explosion. Taken from Libya Al Youm TV, I think from the titles in the picture.
    A commenter has labelled it as an explosion at Benghazi muntions store, not Ras Lanuf. Who knows what it was.
    Al Jazeera also reported on an explosion in Benghazi on 5 March :قتلى وجرحى في إنفجار مخازن للذخيرة ببنغازي (Dead and wounded in the explosion of ammunition dumps in Benghazi),involving a suspicious car(translate) ..dozens of people dead, more than a thousand wounded many Asian workers in the وادي القطّارة district - Wadi Qattara, mostly civilians ,reporter Beppe Walid Ahmadi.
    Another video by Mohamed2011Libyan shows a longer sequence, which seems to indicate there was previous knowledge, titled انفجار مخازن ذخيرة فى جنزور,,طرابلس,(uploaded 15 May) Explosion of magazines in Janzour, Tripoli

  16. More than ever I don't buy the Ziu story - reminds me of the grenades in the Khamis shed. Just another fable to re-write history quickly. But see street signs of Mahdi Ziu in Benghazi.

    1. http://cryptome.org/info/libya-protest/pict113.jpg

      could a tank , suppose younis already arrived, make such a hole? Or could this be the work done by a mig? They were active with this in that period.


      The body of a reported Libyan fighter pilot lies in the desert March 5, 2011 near Ras Lanuf, Libya. Opposition forces pushed government troops further west as they took more territory towards the Gaddafi stronghold of Surt. Getty

      the inside job is not an impossible thought

  17. As told to Paul Conroy of the Liverpool Echo,7 March 2011, Benghazi...

    Yet tales of pure heroism abound. Mr Idrice Laga, a member of the provisional ruling council, told me of a 10-year-old boy who had charged an army barracks single-handed, armed with just an axe. His fate remains unknown. Of a 70-year-old man who filled his pickup truck with home-made dynamite and gas cylinders, drove it into the gates of the barracks and detonated it whilst still at the wheel – thus allowing unarmed protesters to take the camp

  18. A Martyr: Mahdi Mohamed Zew

    On 17 February he joined protesters in front of the Court House and was very excited by this revolution, too. I saw the happiness in his eyes. He said, “I have never expected to see that our people could make a revolution”. He did not come back to our home except for lunch or he came very late at night, and then only to sleep. He used to phone us, telling us what was happening and how brave and determined the young men were. He prayed for the martyrs and went to the funerals.

    As our house is next to the military camp (katiba) we could see what was happening outside. My father was such a sensitive person that he could not stand to see somebody crying in front of him. So, when he saw so many young men dying, he was very affected because he was a patriot who was dedicated to his beloved country, Libya. He made a final decision because of his love towards his country.

    On the night of 19 February, he took us to my grandfather’s house because of the fierce shooting. On Sunday morning, 20 February, he came to us, drank coffee and talked about what had happened the night before. When he left, I had no idea what was in his mind. On the same day, at 2pm, we heard an explosion and saw black smoke far away, but it never crossed my mind that this explosion was made by my father.

    He entered the katiba from which snipers were killing and wounding the young men. He put two cylinders of cooking gas and bottles filled with petrol in his car and lay down in the driver’s seat so as not to be killed by snipers. He entered at high speed through the first door of the katiba, they shot at him with anti-aircraft guns and the car exploded in front of the second door.


  19. Benghazi fell to protesters on February 18.

    Two days later, demonstrators headed to the military compound to demolish the building they regarded as a symbol of Gaddafi’s authoritarian rule. JANA reported that the building had been pillaged by "rioters" but did not mention that the bodies of five burned soldiers had been found.

    On Sunday morning, 20 February,at 2pm, we heard an explosion
    On Sunday morning, 20 February, he came to us, drank coffee and talked about what had happened the night before. When he left, I had no idea what was in his mind. On the same day, at 2pm, we heard an explosion and saw black smoke far away, but it never crossed my mind that this explosion was made by my father.

  20. http://monde-arabe.arte.tv/en/gaddafis-katiba-in-benghazi/

    Gaddafi’s Katiba in Benghazi. The Supreme Guide’s garrison was totally demolished by locals.


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