By Stephanie Gosk, NBC News Correspondent
TRIPOLI – Libya's Abu Salim prison is one of the world's most notorious. For four decades, Moammar Gadhafi threw "enemies of the state" behind its bars without a trial to languish for years. Stories of torture and months in solitary confinement were common.
In 1996, guards allegedly killed more than 1,200 prisoners in what is now known as the "Abu Salim Massacre." Last February, lawyers seeking justice for the families of those killed staged protests in Benghazi that eventually sparked the nation-wide uprising.
This week rebel forces successfully battled for control of the feared prison. They opened the doors and let everyone out. Some of the prisoners, unable to believe that Gadhafi’s reign is over and angry over the years of their lives lost in jail, are now driven by one goal: Find Gadhafi.
Amid the chaos at Gadhafi's recently conquered compound we met Ali Ahmed Sussi. He was released from the Abu Salim prison on Wednesday. Sussi was born in Benghazi but like many Libyans, he traveled abroad to get his education. He studied communication at the University of California and lived in Los Angeles with his family for 12 years.
Driven by hatred for Gadhafi's regime, the father of three returned to Libya to start a revolution in 2004. But when he smuggled weapons into the country from Yemen, the government caught wind of the plan, arrested him, and locked him up at Abu Salim.
Sergey Ponomarev / AP
A Libyan walks inside the Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, Libya on Friday. It is one of Libya's most notorious prisons and the scene of a 1996 massacre of prisoners.
Now, seven years later, the rebel forces have freed him.
Standing among the hundreds of armed fighters who saved him, Sussi said "I can smell freedom."
As soon as he was released the 46-year-old asked for fatigues and a gun. His hopes of staging a revolution are over, but he can still take part in the final days of one.
Fueled by memory of his years in Abu Salim, Sussi has now joined the hunt for the despot turned fugitive. He told us "I will search home to home, room to room, alley to alley. We gonna catch you Gadhafi."