BENGHAZI, Libya — Moammar Gadhafi loyalists seized control of a mountain city in the most serious challenge to the central government since his fall, underlining the increasing weakness of Libya's Western-backed rulers as they try to unify the country under their authority.
The taking of Bani Walid, one of the last Gadhafi strongholds captured by the new leadership late last year, was the first such organized operation by armed remnants of Gadhafi's regime. A simultaneous outbreak of shootings in the capital and Libya's second-largest city, Benghazi, raised authorities' concerned that other networks of loyalists were active elsewhere.
The security woes add to the difficulties of the ruling National Transitional Council, which is struggling to establish its authority and show Libyans progress in stability and good government. Bani Walid's fall comes after violent protests in Benghazi, where Libyans angry over lack of reform stormed the NTC headquarters and trashed offices.
In Bani Walid, hundreds of well-equipped and highly trained remnants of Gadhafi's forces battled for eight hours Monday with the local pro-NTC revolutionary brigade, known as the May 28 Brigade, said Mubarak al-Fatmani, the head of Bani Walid local council. The brigade was driven out and Gadhafi loyalists then raised their old green flag over buildings in the western city.
Four revolutionary fighters were killed and 25 others were wounded, al-Fatmani said.
There were no signs that the uprising was part of a direct attempt to restore the family of Gadhafi, who was swept out of power in August and killed in the nearby city of Sirte in October.
The fighting seemed to reflect a rejection of NTC control by a city that never fully accepted its rule, highlighting the unresolved tensions between those who benefited under Gadhafi's regime and those now in power.
The NTC has made little progress in unifying its armed forces. It relies largely on multiple "revolutionary brigades," militias made up of citizens-turned-fighters.