Feb. 22, 2011 -- Moammar Gadhafi is using foreign mercenaries from Africa who don't speak Arabic, as a private army to protect his regime and they have shown no hesitancy to fire on civilian protesters, witnesses have said.
A doctor in Benghazi told ABC News several foreign mercenaries were captured by Libyan police who have sided with the protesters. The captives, the doctors said, can't speak English or Arabic and when confronted by locals they had a hard time communicating.
The mercenaries have quickly earned a reputation for brutality.
"They know one thing: to kill whose in front of them. Nothing else," said the doctor who was reached by phone, but asked to not be publicly identified. "They're killing people in cold blood."
The doctor said he didn't know which country the mercenaries were from, but said they were black, spoke French and were identified by wearing yellow hats.
"They have special forces bringing in from outside Libya," he said. "They bring from Africa some military forces, I don't know, some special army, put them in Benghazi and in Tripoli now."
Hafed al-Ghwell, a Libyan-American activist, said his sister who lives in Tripoli and reported similar scenes.
"They are African mercenaries, a least a big chunk of them," he said.
"Gadhafi, from all kinds of sources in the past, has been training them at various camps throughout Libya over the years and I think now he knows that the military and the security services as well as diplomats are condemning what's happening -- that they can't count on any Libyan to do his bidding for them," al-Ghwell added. "So he's using his own tribesmen and under them are these thugs who are basically in it for the money, not anything else."
A Libyan-American who is visiting Tripoli told ABC News he's hearing mercenaries are even barging into people's homes and residents don't feel safe.
"They are being flown in. We can see the cargo planes taking off I've seen them with my own eyes," he said. "Our money -- Libya's money -- is paying foreign troops to kill Libyan people. That is what's happening."
Though video reports from the country have been scarce, some videos have been posted on YouTube showing locals beating dark-skinned people they said were captured mercenaries and were blamed for shootings.
Even Libya's ambassador to India confirmed the reports, telling Reuters that African mercenaries are being used to crush protests.
"They are from Africa, and speak French and other languages," Ali al-Essawi told Reuters in an interview, adding that he was receiving information from sources within Libya. Some Libyan forces defected to the protesters because the troops "are Libyans and they cannot see foreigners killing Libyans so they moved beside the people," al-Essawi said.
Experts say that Gadhafi is so paranoid about his own military that he has purposely kept it weak so they won't turn on him.
Benghazi Secure as Tripoli Turns Increasingly Violent
Gadhafi has used foreign mercenaries in past.
"They used to use them in their war with Chad.... and during the Cold War they used Cuban pilots," said John P. Entelis, director of the Middle East Studies Program, Fordham University.
"They would take people from Niger and Chad to do some of the fighting because they couldn't always trust the Libyans that were in the army because they would come from different tribes and the tribes wouldn't necessarily be loyal to Gadhafi," Entelis said.
The tribal differences are now becoming evident in Libya, he said.
"The country has never been fully unified as a national entity. It's a country of tribes with some less loyal to Gadhafi. What's happening in the eastern part of the country now has historically been a problem of consolidating power."
The uprising began in the eastern part of Libya, including the city of Benghazi. With communications to Libya cut, it has been difficult to gauge a clear sense of what's happening on the ground. But residents describe a virtually split country, with the eastern half under police and civilian control, whileTripoli and parts of the west still facing what some say is a "bloodbath" at the hands of Gadhafi's mercenaries.
In Benghazi, the doctor ABC News reached by phone described a more calm scene, saying police and military forces have joined civilians to take over the leadership of the country.
"People [in Benghazi are] very happy now because Gadhafi is gone from Benghazi. He no more control the area," the doctor said. "Now everything is secure. No more blood, but in Tripoli it's a disaster."
In Tripoli, witnesses describe a chaotic scene, with helicopters attacking protesters as Gadhafi supporters in Land Cruisers fire at people at will.
"Tripoli is burning," Libya's ambassador to the United States, Ali Suleiman Aujali, said on "Good Morning America" today. "The people are being killed in a brutal way. The people are armless."
Even residents holed up in their homes aren't safe, eyewitnesses say.
"It's really bad out there. Everyone's getting killed. I mean, it's getting worse and worse right now," said one Libyan woman based in Tripoli. "They're just killing people in the streets."