Feb. 23, 2011— -- A mass exodus of foreigners from Libya accelerated today after Col. Moammar Gadhafi threatened a fierce crackdown on protesters and reports emerged that as many as 1,000 people may have died since the uprising began over the weekend.
Italy's foreign minister Franco Frattini said today that estimates of a 1,000 people killed in the violence appeared to be credible, but he added that he didn't have complete information. Human Rights Watch pegs the number of deaths at around 300. With the country virtually sealed off, it has been impossible to confirm casualties, but footage being leaked on the Internet shows a violent picture.
Eyewitnesses continue to describe a bloody scene unfolding in the streets of Tripoli, the nation's capital, with African mercenaries recruited and trained by Gadhafi killing indiscriminately, shooting anyone in sight.
"A woman went looking out the balcony of her house. They shot her dead, looking out of the balcony. She wasn't shouting, she wasn't even protesting. Just looking out of the balcony. They shot her dead," one resident, crying, told ABC News by phone. "These are not humans. These are gorillas."
Throughout the night, gunfire rang out as residents hunkered down in their homes.
Time Magazine reported that Gadhafi, who has controlled the country for 42 years, had ordered his security forces to sabotage oil facilities and start blowing up oil pipelines to cut off flows to ports in the Mediterranean.
The uprising in Libya has rattled oil markets. Crude oil prices closed at the highest level in two years on Tuesday as the uprising threatened to disrupt exports. Libya, an OPEC member, is the 17th largest oil producer in the world, producing 1.7 million barrels per day.
There were reports of aerial attacks in Libya's second-largest city of Benghazi, where violence seized in the last few days as civilians took over.
A Benghazi resident told ABC News Tuesday that the city was under control of police and civilians who were working hand in hand. But reports today emerged that Libya's second-largest city may once again be the subject of attacks by Gadhafi's regime.
Protests Spread Across Middle East and North Africa: View ABC's Interactive Map.
Tunisian radio interviewed an emotional woman in Benghazi today who said there had been overnight attacks on that city.
Meanwhile, reports emerged that protesters had claimed victory in other cities, including Misrata. If that's true, it would be the largest city in the west of the country to fall out of Gadhafi's control.
In nearly an hour-long, often rambling speech, an angry Gadhafi vowed to fight to his "last drop of blood," blamed the protests on foreigners and "rats," and said he would unleash a massive crackdown if protesters don't back down.
The violent clashes in Libya in the past week between security forces and protesters have many people scrambling to leave Libya.
Foreigners Leave Libya
The U.S. State Department was attempting to evacuate Americans out of the capital of Tripoli by ferry to the nearby island of Malta today. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday said, "this bloodshed is completely unacceptable." But President Obama has yet to make a statement and U.S. officials haven't made any direct public comments regarding Gadhafi.
In an interview, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States could not quickly enforce a no-fly zone over Libya -- a plea many protesters and dissenters have made -- and that Italy and France would be better poised for that.
At the Saloum border crossing on Libya's eastern border with Egypt, chaos erupted as a non-stop stream of Egyptians returned home to escape the violence.
The road leading to the border essentially turned into a parking lot and a line of white vans stretched out into the horizon as far as the eye could see. There were so many cars and people carrying everything from bags of clothes to TVs, doors and washing machines that everyone was stuck.
The Egyptians – mostly migrant workers coming from the second largest city of Benghazi – reported stories of widespread, brutal killings.
A father of six said he had seen fighter jets attacking people and criminals being released into the streets. "It's a war."
Another said he ran into gunmen on his way to the border and had to kiss their feet to pass.
One man told ABC News African mercenaries were everywhere.
"They are killing everyone they meet," he said. "Over there is a slaughterhouse. It's not a joke. It's a slaughterhouse. No one is in Benghazi now. Shooting is everywhere, all shots in the head and the chest."
On the western front with Libya, there was a slightly slower flow of people, with groups of 10 to 20 at a time crossing the border here in Ras Ajdir.
The Tunisian expatriates told ABC News they were leaving both because of the violence -- telling stories of gunfire in the night -- and because of fear that Gadhafi has stirred anger at foreigners in his country.
One worker from Az-Zawiyah in northwest Libya said all symbols of Gadhafi in that town, including pictures and signs, were set on fire. He said there was a lot of gunfire but it was mainly police firing in the air to regain control of the streets.