Her sudden expulsion cast light again on one of the most widely covered incidents of alleged abuses by Gadhafi's forces, as NATO continued its relentless nightly bombing raids on Libyan military and security bases, backing rebels who are trying to unseat Gadhafi after a four-decade dictatorship.
A series of at least 10 NATO strikes hit targets in and around the Libyan capital early Friday. The attacks targeted military barracks close to Gadhafi's sprawling compound in central Tripoli, a police station and a military base, said a government official speaking on customary condition of anonymity. He said it was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.
|Libyans gather at the site of an explosion in front of the Tibesty hotel in Benghazi, Wednesday, June 1st, 2011|
The U.S. government on Thursday expressed concern for the safety of the Libyan woman, Imad al-Obeidi.
In March, al-Obeidi rushed into Tripoli's Rixos Hotel where all foreign correspondents are forced to stay while covering the part of Libya under Gadhafi's control, and shouted out her story of being stopped at a a checkpoint, dragged away and gang-raped by soldiers.
As she spoke emotionally, and as photographers and reporters recorded her words, government minders, whose job is to escort reporters around the area, jumped her and dragged her away.
She disappeared for several days, then turned up in Tunisia and later Qatar. She was heard from little until Thursday, when she was suddenly expelled from Qatar and ended up in Benghazi, the Libyan rebels' de facto capital. No explanation was forthcoming from Qatar.
Rebel spokesman Jalal el-Gallal said al-Obeidi arrived in Benghazi by plane. "She's welcome to stay, this is her country," el-Gallal told The Associated Press.
The U.N. Refugee Agency's Sybella Wilkes said al-Obeidi should have been allowed to stay in Qatar, and her deportation runs contrary to international law.
Al-Obeidi "is a recognized refugee, and we don't consider there is any good reason for her deportation," Wilkes told the Associated Press.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. was "monitoring the situation" and working to ensure al-Obeidi's safety.
"We're concerned for her safety, given all that's happened to her. And we're going to work to make sure that she's kept safe, first and foremost, and that she finds appropriate asylum," Toner told reporters in Washington on Thursday.
Libyan authorities have alternately labeled al-Obeidi a drunk, a prostitute and a thief.
Al-Obeidi has maintained that she was targeted by Gadhafi's troops because she is from Benghazi, the rebel stronghold.
Al-Obeidi's rape claim could not be independently verified. The Associated Press identifies only rape victims who volunteer their names.
Human rights violations are one aspect of the rebels' complaints against the Gadhafi regime. This week a report by a U.N. body said it found evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Gadhafi's government, and also charged that the rebels have committed abuses.
Four of the early morning blasts Friday shook and rattled the city, targeting an area where military barracks are located, said the government official. Those barracks, which had been hit in the past, are close to the sprawling compound of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in central Tripoli.
The blasts shook windows of the hotel where reporters stay in Tripoli. The official said it wasn't immediately clear if there were any casualties.
Six earlier strikes targeted a police station and a military base outside of Tripoli in the areas of Hera and Aziziya, said the official.
The strikes appeared to be the heaviest to strike Tripoli since South African President Jacob Zuma visited Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in the capital last week in an effort to find a peaceful resolution to the country's crisis.
The conflict in Libya is nearly four months along, but the situation on the ground appears mostly stalemated. NATO airstrikes have kept the outgunned rebels from being overrun, but the rebels have been unable to mount an effective offensive against Gadhafi's better equipped armed forces.
Gadhafi's regime has been slowly crumbling from within. A significant number of army officers and several Cabinet ministers have defected, and most have expressed support for the opposition, but Gadhafi's hold on power shows little sign of loosening.
NATO warplanes bomb targets in Tripoli, including Gadhafi's sprawling Bab al-Aziziya residential and command compound, on a nightly basis.
Gadhafi has been seen in public rarely and heard even less frequently since a NATO airstrike on his compound killed one of his sons on April 30. Questions are arising about the physical and mental state of the 69-year-old dictator, who has ruled Libya since 1969.
Rebels have turned down initiatives calling for cease-fires, insisting that Gadhafi and his sons must relinquish power and leave the country.