TARHOUNA, Libya—Libyan authorities are instructing civilian volunteers, some as young as 11, in the use of automatic rifles and distributing the weapons among households here to combat an insurgency against Col. Moammar Gadhafi, according to people being trained.In this photo taken on a government-organized tour, students are shown how to handle weapons at a school yard in Tarhouna district, Libya, on Wednesday.
Photo Associated Press
The extent and quality of the instruction, which the government stage-managed for foreign journalists Wednesday in this Gadhafi stronghold, are unclear. But the effort, if widely carried out, would appear to raise the risk of widening Libya’s 10-week-old conflict.
“We want every home to have a Kalashnikov in case of necessity to fight against the enemy,” Abdel al-Muftah, who oversees the training in Tarhouna, told students in a high school classroom, a pair of binoculars hanging over his desert-camouflage uniform. “Any day now, we expect the enemy to attack us here.”
Behind him as he spoke, 16-year-old Sannah Kanouni fumbled with a Kalashnikov rifle, trying to follow a trainer’s tip on disassembling it. The gun toppled on its side. Losing focus, Ms. Kanouni got swept up in a mini-demonstration by her classmates, pumping her fist and
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Adult weapons trainers led a similar rally in the courtyard of an elementary school, firing their weapons skyward. Among the participants was Abdullah Iyad, a fifth grader in a brand-new camouflage uniform his mother had purchased. Smiling, the 11-year-old said he had just received his first hour of training to take apart a Kalashnikov and put it back together.
The foreign journalists had been bused to this rural district 80 kilometers, or 50 miles southeast of Tripoli to watch weapons training at schools, the grounds of a clinic and a windswept desert plain.
As did Ms. Kanouni, many of the trainees displayed more enthusiasm for their 69-year-old leader, at least when television cameras were rolling, than competence with the weapons placed in their hands.
The government’s message was that people here and in other rural districts outside Tripoli would pose an obstacle to any advance by the rebels toward the capital from the cities they hold in eastern Libya. This community of 300,000 people is seat of the Tarhouna tribe, a pillar of Col. Gadhafi’s regime.
Yet people interviewed here about their training said they would simply defend their home ground rather than join in any government offensive. Reflecting the government’s line, many of them sounded incredulous that Libyans had risen against Col. Gadhafi, whom they said was being attacked mainly by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with an assist on the ground from militants of Al Qaeda.
“Our enemy is the barbarian, colonialist crusader aggression,” said Ms. Kanouni, who wore a black headscarf fully covering her hair. “It’s NATO, [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy and Barack Obama.”
Col. Gadhafi’s government has in the past distributed weapons to civilians, including children, and for years has put high school students through military instruction. But many adults being trained now say they are receiving weapons for the first time, and school officials here say military training is now being given to children before high school, though they say it is not required below seventh grade.
Mr. al-Muftah, the training overseer, said the new emphasis on arming civilians here began after NATO air strikes demolished a sprawling local army facility in late March in its campaign to blunt Col. Gadhafi’s armed assault on protesters seeking his ouster. The wreckage of dozens of buildings resembling hangars and the remains of scattered armored vehicles were visible behind a tall concrete wall that had been partly blasted away.
He said about 200 people were being trained for four hours each day for up to nine days at each of 15 locations in the district. Each person completing the training goes home with a Russian-made Kalashnikov, he said.
“My job is to lead a group to fight NATO; we heard NATO will bring in soldiers on the ground,” said Moamar Abugarar, a 37-year-old high school Arabic teacher who is helping to train 40 men, ages 18 to 70, on the lawn of a local clinic. He said his pupils—drivers, computer engineers, doctors and farmers—were learning to use Kalashnikovs, shoulder-fired grenade launchers and Russian-made artillery guns mounted on pickup trucks.
Those weapons, along with some M-60 machine guns, also were on display outside town along with 100 volunteers who had been bused from Tarhouna to fire them across the desert and pose for TV crews.