Libyan rebels reinforced a key oil port Thursday following new airstrikes launched by leader Moammar Gadhafi while residents in the capital, Tripoli, reported constant surveillance, searches by armed militiamen and disappearances of those involved in protests.
Several people in the Tripoli neighborhoods of Feshloom and Tajoura say pro-Gadhafi militiamen have launched a wave of raids to snatch people who participated in anti-government demonstrations during the past week after identifying them in photos and video.
Residents in the areas, each a hotbed of resistance, say disappearances have continued all week as the security forces appear to be rounding up suspected protesters in anticipation of Friday prayer services, which has been a time for street protests across the Arab world.
One witness said dozens have been arrested from their homes in dawn raids in Tajoura. A number of residents said they feared the killings and disappearances had scared many away from demonstrating on Friday.
The developments came as rebel forces in the eastern oil-refinery town of Brega consolidated their westernmost positions Thursday, a day after they successfully repulsed an offensive by forces loyal to Mr. Gadhafi, who had seized the city's oil refinery Wednesday morning.
Libyan warplanes launched new air strikes Thursday against Brega, which lies on the Gulf of Sirte about 800 kilometers east of the capital, Tripoli. But the son of the country's embattled leader said the bombs were only intended to "frighten" anti-regime forces there. Witnesses said the strikes by Gadhafi loyalists targeted the city's airport, near the oil terminal. Oil officials say Libyan production has been "halved" due to the nationwide unrest.
Meanwhile, rumors flew Thursday of government troops regrouping and being joined by hundreds of mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa. Officials in northern Mali said Mr. Gadhafi is actively recruiting young Tuareg men from Mali and Niger, including former rebels.
The French news agency, AFP, quoted a regional leader, Abdou Salam Ag Assalat, as saying young people "are going en masse [to Libya]." He said regional authorities "are trying to dissuade them" from leaving but that it is not easy as there are "dollars and weapons" waiting for them. Assalat reportedly said an entire network is in place to organize the trip to Libya.
Mali is one of the world's poorest countries, where nearly two-thirds of the population earns less than $1 a day.