“People there are proud,” says Mustafa Fetouri, a Brussels-based Libyan academic who is from Bani Walid. “Trying to break it by force only made them more reluctant to support the revolution.”
The town, situated about 75 miles southeast of Tripoli, is small, but as the ancestral home of the large Warfalla tribe, it is important. Two centuries ago, the English traveler George Lyon found modest houses hugging a wadi, or seasonal river, and impoverished inhabitants.
“They were once a brave daring set of men, who defied the government of Tripoli,” he wrote, describing Warfalla support for the Ottoman pasha’s son against his father.
In 1993, Warfalla officers in the Libyan army attempted to stage a coup against Qaddafi. Several were executed. Today locals in Bani Walid voice bitterness toward fellow Libyans they say abandoned them.
When revolt erupted in February 2011, Bani Walid’s response was mixed. Faouzi joined an anti-Qaddafi protest that was assailed by regime supporters.
“I was on one side and my brother on the other,” says Faouzi. “And we threw stones.”
But days later, while visiting Tripoli, he says he saw police arresting people with bags of pills as Qaddafi accused rebels of taking drugs. He quickly joined a militia led by Qaddafi’s son, Saadi.
Outside Benghazi, he was shocked to see the column of regime forces hit by an airstrike. It was enough to convince him to quit the militia on the spot and return home.