TRIPOLI (Reuters) - All hell breaks loose when Gaddafi forces open fire, apparently with anti-aircraft guns, on a compound in Tripoli where rebel commanders are discussing how to secure the city.
The rebels scatter, some taking cover and others shooting back, and their mood turns in an instant from confidence to apprehension.
Minutes earlier, the rebels had been waving flags in front of the main gate of the compound, a female police academy they had just captured.
“Libya is free, Libya is free,” several fighters in camouflage uniforms shouted. Others fired guns into the air, dancing in front of the academy.
Dozens of rebels looted the two main academy buildings not far from the central Babiziya gate, tearing down posters of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
“Gaddafi is finished. He’s gone,” said a rebel carrying an automatic rifle over his shoulder.
One of his comrades used the still-working phone in an abandoned office. On one desk lay orders signed by a Libyan official to supply officers with petrol rations, dated Saturday. Other papers approving holiday plans for academy students were issued on the same day.
Inside the compound -- where government forces had left the air-conditioning running in some rooms -- rebel commanders gathered to discuss the next steps.
“We just arrived and our priority is to secure the city,” said Hisham Bourajad, one of the commanders of the Tripoli Revolutionary Guard, one of the best-organised of the often ill-trained opposition forces.
Five rebels dozed on the lane in the inner courtyard.
That’s when the attack began.
“THIS IS NO GAME”
A bullet killed a fighter inside, while a passenger in another car trying to seek shelter inside the gate died an instant later, rebels said.
A rocket hit a car parked at the front of the compound and smoke billowed from the wreckage. Rebels frantically sought shelter inside the academy.
Many rebels -- some of them just teenagers -- dived to the ground, while some opened fire with handguns. Many didn’t bother to take close aim.
Commanders called out orders to aim anti-aircraft guns at the suspected source of hostile fire.
“Allahu Akbar!,” rebels shouted. They put up a brave face, but fear was evident.
“This is no game, this is serious,” said a rebel called Ahmed, carrying an ammunition belt, who sought cover on the floor.
“Get down, get down,” an old man in the same room said, sheltering behind a dusty desk. Others crouched behind cars.
Then more shooting erupted from the direction of a hospital on a square just behind the academy. One sweating young fighter buried his head in his hands.
After the shooting subsided some rebels started leaving the academy with gun-mounted trucks, apparently to form a new fighting line next to the academy.
“It’s not a good time now to leave. There are still snipers out there shooting randomly at cars,” a rebel manning the front gate tells Reuters when asked whether the road is clear.
“It’s difficult out there.”
Editing by Richard Valdmanis