A distraught Libyan woman stormed into a Tripoli hotel Saturday to tell foreign reporters that government troops raped her, setting off a brawl when hotel staff and government minders tried to detained her.
Iman al-Obeidi was tackled by waitresses and government minders as she sat telling her story to journalists after she rushed into the restaurant at the Rixos hotel where a number of foreign journalists were eating breakfast.
She claimed loudly that troops had detained her a checkpoint, tied her up, abused her, then led her away to be gang raped.
Her story could not be independently verified, but the dramatic scene provided a rare firsthand glimpse of the brutal crackdown on public dissent by Moammar Gadhafi's regime as the Libyan leader fights a rebellion against his rule that began last month.
The regime has been keeping up a drumbeat of propaganda in the Tripoli-centered west of the country under its control even as it faces a weeklong international air campaign against the Libyan military.
Before she was dragged out of the hotel, al-Obeidi managed to tell journalists that she was detained by a number of troops who were drinking whiskey. She said a number of others who she said remained in custody. She said she was detained on Wednesday but didn't tell how she escaped this morning. She said she was raped by 15 men.
"They defecated and urinated on me and tied me up," she said, her face streaming with tears. "They violated my honor, look at what the Gadhafi militiamen did to me."
The woman, who appeared in her 30's, wore a black robe and orange scarf around her neck and identified herself. She had scratches on her face and she pulled up her black robe to reveal a bloodied thigh.
The Associated Press only identifies rape victims who volunteer their names.
"As soon as I leave here they will take me right to jail," she yelled at the journalists.
As she spoke, a hotel waitress brandished a butter knife and called her a traitor while another waitress covered al-Obeidi's head with a coat to keep her from talking.
"We're supposed to be all Libyans, we are all brothers, but this is what the Gadhafi militia men did to me," al-Obeidi cried to the hotel staff as she struggled with them and the government minders.
Journalists who tried to intervene to protect the woman were pushed out of the way by the minders. A British television reporter was punched in the face, and CNN's camera was smashed on the ground and ripped to pieces by the government minders.
"Look at what happens — Gadhafi's militiamen kidnap women at gunpoint, and rape them ... they rape them," al-Obeidi screamed before government minders pushed her into a car and drove her away.
At a hastily arranged press conference after the incident, government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said investigators had told him the woman was drunk and possibly mentally challenged.
"We have to find her family and see if she was really abused or not," he said.
Gadhafi's crackdown has been the region's most violent against the wave of anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East. Tensions have been rising between foreign reporters in the Libyan capital and the government minders who have sought to tightly control what they see and whom they talk to. Most of the international press corps is being housed at the Rixos hotel.