- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2012

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Forces loyal to the late Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi attacked the former regime stronghold of Bani Walid on Monday, killing at least four revolutionary fighters, officials and residents said.

The fierce clashes in the town, located some 90 miles southeast of Tripoli, the capital, comes as Libya’s new leaders struggle to stamp out lingering resistance from pro-Gadhafi forces and unify a deeply fractured country after eight months of civil war and more than 40 years of authoritarian rule.

Mahmoud al-Warfali, a spokesman for the revolutionary brigade in Bani Walid, said up to 150 pro-Gadhafi fighters raised the old green Libyan flag at the northern gate of the town and were battling revolutionary forces in the streets with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s.

“These are Gadhafi remnants who tried to take over the city,” Mr. al-Warfali said. “They have tried to do this before and take over the interim government’s office, but thank God we have been able to fight them off.”

He said four revolutionary fighters have been killed. He did not know how many people had been wounded.

Bani Walid resident Moussa al-Warfali said the clashes began early Monday when Gadhafi loyalists angry over the arrest of one of their men attacked revolutionary fighters in the town.

The fighting originally was centered around the revolutionary brigade’s base but has since spread to other parts of the town.

The clashes are considered serious enough that dozens of revolutionary fighters from Tripoli have been dispatched to Bani Walid to help, said brigade commander Saddam Abdel-Zein.

Bani Walid long has tormented Libya’s revolutionaries.

After the fall of Tripoli to anti-Gadhafi fighters in August, regime loyalists found refuge in the town, and from there they held off revolutionary forces for weeks, using the surrounding mountains and valleys to their advantage to pick off revolutionary forces.

Even after Gadhafi’s capture and killing in October, the city and its surrounding region have troubled Libya’s new leaders.

In November, 15 soldiers were killed in an ambush by Gadhafi loyalists just outside the town. And revolutionary fighters in Bani Walid have complained that the country’s interim government has done little to help secure the city.

Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy in Cairo contributed to this report.

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