Evidence emerged Friday that Moammar Gadhafi's retreating forces executed scores or even hundreds of political prisoners this week, even as victorious rebel fighters appear to have carried out their own abuses.
Survivors of an attack by pro-Gadhafi troops said they had watched as fellow prisoners were mowed down by machine-gun fire, minutes after being told they were free.
But Gadhafi loyalists were also targets of apparent extrajudicial killings. Those deaths have cast a dark shadow over Libya's newfound freedom and call into question whether the rebels will break with Gadhafi's blood-soaked style of governance or merely mimic it.
"In Tripoli, we are seeing the same pattern in recent days that we saw earlier in the east," said Diana Eltahawy, Libya researcher for Amnesty International. She described a record of abuse, torture and the extrajudicial killing of captured pro-Gadhafi fighters that has followed the rebels from east to west as they have taken over.
The civilian leaders of the anti-Gadhafi uprising have publicly condemned reprisals against loyalist troops. But the officials are in the eastern city of Benghazi, far from the most intense fighting in recent weeks, which has been focused in western Libyan. Even in the east, the civilian leadership appears to have had little success in preventing fighters from carrying out revenge attacks.
The reprisals could become a powerful element in persuading Gadhafi loyalists in the holdout city of Sirte to fight to the death, said Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute in London.
The abuses have hardly been limited to the rebel side. Gadhafi's troops apparently executed more than 100 political prisoners in two separate incidents before they fled, according to survivors.
Trader Abdel-ati Bin Halim, 42, said he had been arrested at a checkpoint in the coastal city of Zintan two weeks ago, taken into custody after his car alarm went off and soldiers accused him of signaling to NATO with the flashing lights.
After being bound, gagged and beaten, he was kept for a week with up to 200 other people, packed in a hangar at the Yarmouk military base in Tripoli, with only enough water for the oldest people to wet their lips. Then, as the balance of power in the capital started shifting toward the rebels, the guards said they were leaving the door open.
" 'Wait half an hour, then leave,' they told us," Bin Halim said. But when the prisoners pushed open the doors, they were greeted with a hail of machine-gun fire. As bodies piled up on the floor, Bin Halim took refuge behind some tires before making a run for safety with several others.
Escaping with bullet wounds to his knee and elbow, he eventually arrived at a hospital in central Tripoli where he was admitted.
Eltahawy said Amnesty had received "very strong testimony" to back up Bin Halim's account. She said she believed at least 23 people had escaped out of a total of 150 or 160 captives from the incident he described, with four in the hospital.
Friday, rebels fought isolated pockets of resistance as Libyan special forces hunted for Gadhafi and his sons after clearing one of his loyalists' last major strongholds in the capital.
Abdul Majid Mgleta, a rebel commander, said he expected the rebels to mop up the last remaining pockets of resistance in Tripoli within 72 hours. He said he hoped to capture Gadhafi in a similar time frame.
In a new advance for the rebels in western Libya, fighters took control of the main border crossing with Tunisia after battling Gadhafi loyalists who had held out there, Tunisia's official news agency reported.
In eastern Libya, rebel fighters remained stalled outside the coastal oil terminal of Ras Lanuf, which was coming under rocket fire from pro-Gadhafi forces based in his home town and tribal power base of Sirte, about 130 miles to the west.