Two Libyan air force pilots who fled the country in their aircrafts rather than obey orders to bomb anti-government protesters returned to Tripoli on Sunday.
A full procession of soldiers from Libya’s new National Liberation Army saluted the plane as it touched down at Mitiga military airbase, and flower wreaths were presented to the men who are being hailed as national heroes.
Col Ali Faraj Alrabti and his colleague escaped to Malta as the country teetered on the brink of civil war in February. The pilots fled in the country’s best Mirage F1 fighter jets after they said they were ordered by Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime to bomb civilians protesting in the east of the country.
Col Alrabti said he reported to an airbase in Tripoli in early February.
“The base was on high alert. Our primary orders were to travel to Sirte, arm the planes, and start bombing Benghazi,” he said.
After a day of hesitation, and as anti-government protests spread, the orders changed for the fighter planes to attack bomb munitions stores in the south of the country, close to the city of Mizdah.
“It was a trick,” said Col Alrabti. “As more detailed instructions came it became clear they wanted us to bomb people.” “We both agreed to take the same decisions to save the lives of our people and not comply with the stupid decisions of Gaddafi,” said Col Alrabti of he and his colleague.
Under the watchful eyes of their commanders the pilots feigned that they were following the orders. With fully armed planes, and without saying a word to their families or friends, the men took off from the military base on Feb 21.
But promptly they changed the course of their journey. Flying only 250 feet off the ground, the men travelled below radar signals. As they left Libya, they contacted Maltese air control. Fully armed, the fighter planes touched down on the island.
The men are one of a number of Col Gaddafi’s air force that sought to defy the regime as unrest spread across the country. Another pilot deliberately crashed his fighter plan. He ejected from his jet along with his crew rather than bomb the city of Benghazi.
Prior to start of the Nato bombing campaign and the imposition of a no fly-zone over Libya in March, the regime used its air force to bomb dissident parts of the country. Antiquated Sachoii planes bombed the front lines in the east of the country.
“We knew we were going to hit innocent Libyan people. It was unbelievable, I could not imagine that a human being would attack his own people,” added Col Alrabti.
Source The Telegraph