- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Thousands of people in Tripoli live in fear of secret police as they struggle with a shortage of food and fuel approaching a humanitarian crisis, several current and former residents of the Libyan capital said Tuesday.

As protests against longtime dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi have erupted across most of the North African nation since early February, the regime has terrorized most residents of Tripoli into submission, they told The Washington Times.

Security forces have rounded up a large number of residents, and parents have kept their children from school to avoid prying questions from teachers about loyalty to Col. Gadhafi. Facing a shortage of bread and gas, Tripoli is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, many Libyan sources said.

Even a simple telephone call from an unknown person can cause panic among Tripoli residents.

“It is very dangerous. I could be in big trouble for talking to you,” Rehna, whose last name has been withheld out of concern for her safety, told a Times reporter calling from Washington.

Then after a brief pause, she explained: “Youre a journalist. And youre calling from America.”

Rehnas reaction is a symptom of the pervading fear described by residents of Tripoli and their relatives in the West.

They said security forces routinely arrest people on the mere suspicion that they have corresponded outside Libya by computer or phone.

Mohammed Ghennewa, a Libyan-American who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli until he was evacuated in February, said the city is under siege.

People living in high-rise buildings tell him that pro-Gadhafi snipers have occupied the top floors. Mercenaries loyal to the regime are seen occasionally in the streets.

Gadhafi has most of his security apparatus in the city. Tripoli was always tightly controlled by Gadhafi, and now it is even more,” said Mr. Ghennewa.

“People are afraid to talk to their neighbors because they dont know if they support Gadhafi.”

Mr. Ghennewa was kidnapped by Libyan intelligence agents in 2007 and accused of being a U.S. agent. He was kept in custody for 14 months.

Tripoli residents said the main reason for the absence of a full-blown uprising in their city is that they have no arms to take on the regime.

“In Tripoli, most people are against Gadhafi. But they don’t have weapons, so they can’t do anything,” Mr. Ghennewa said.

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