News Column

Rebels Storm Gadhafi Compound

Aug. 23, 2011

Libyan rebels fought their way into Moammar Gadhafi's Tripoli compound Tuesday, overrunning troops loyal to the dictator.

The New York Times reported hundreds of rebel combatants stormed the Bab al-Aziziya compound, and gunfire and explosions were heard throughout the capital as the apparent end of the Gadhafi regime played out.

However, Gadhafi's whereabouts remained a mystery, the Times said.

A spokesman for the rebel government in Benghazi told the Times the rebels assumed Gadhafi had not left Libya.

"We believe that he is either in Tripoli or close to Tripoli," rebel spokesman Guma el-Gamaty told the BBC. "Sooner or later, he will be found, either alive and arrested -- and hopefully that is the best outcome we want -- or if he resists he will be killed."

The Times said there was looting of the compound buildings and al-Jazeera aired video footage of rebels mounting one of Gadhafi's favorite sculptures, a giant fist crushing an American jet fighter.

CNN showed footage of fighters emerging from one building with what it described as medical files of the Gadhafi family.

One of Gadhafi's sons, who had been reported arrested, taunted rebel forces, witnesses said.

Saif Gadhafi conducted a news conference Tuesday at his father's compound before it was overrun, denying reports of being arrested by rebels as they stormed the capital, several media outlets reported.

The son, whose capture the rebels had trumpeted since Sunday, told foreign journalists his father's government was still "in control" and lured the rebels into a trap, the Times reported.

Saif Gadhafi also went to the Rixos Hotel, one of the remaining strongholds of pro-Gadhafi forces.

It was unclear whether he had been in custody and escaped or was never held at all.

Saif Gadhafi said his father and several of his sisters were in a safe location in Tripoli, CNN reported.

Another son, Mohammed Gadhafi, escaped from house arrest Monday. A government representative said he was rescued by Libyan government troops and was in a secure place, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

It was unclear whether Saadi Gadhafi -- a third son claimed to have captured -- was in custody, CNN said.

Leaders of the rebel National Transitional Council, which had announced the captures of Saif and Mohammed Gadhafi, declined to comment. However, a rebel leader in the town of Gharyan told al-Jazeera Saif Gadhafi was arrested and managed to escape.

Moammar Gadhafi's green flag flew in parts of Tripoli and over at least two major Gadhafi strongholds -- Sabha in the southwest and Sirte, the Libyan leader's birthplace.

Rebels said Gadhafi's four decades of rule had ended but fighting continued. Clashes were reported in Zawiyah, a strategic city west of the capital that had been recently captured by rebels.

NATO confirmed three surface-to-surface missiles were fired from Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte Monday. Initial reports indicated the missiles landed near Misurata, another city controlled by rebels.

Rebels controlled most of Tripoli and its suburbs and set up a network of checkpoints, Xinhua reported. Explosions could be heard near Gadhafi's compound and clashes were reported in several locations of the city, with Gadhafi forces using mortars and other heavy weapons.

People injured because of the clashes faced a shortage of doctors, facilities and medical supplies, CNN reported.

One clinic "has 40 beds and all of the beds are taken," said Robin Waudo of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Tripoli. "Some of the people have been treated or discharged and taken to other houses nearby in order to be treated."

Relief for foreign nationals trying to flee Tripoli was delayed after a boat scheduled to arrive at Tuesday was delayed, the International Organization for Migration said.

The European Union said Monday it started planning for a post-Gadhafi era. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he would fly to Benghazi to meet with rebel leader Mustafa Abdel-Jalil.

Egypt formally recognized Libyan rebels Monday. The country's foreign minister, Mohammed Amr, said the NTC would assume the Libyan Embassy in Cairo and Libya's seat on the Arab League, the Times reported.

U.S. President Barack Obama issued a cautious statement Monday saying, "This much is clear -- the Gadhafi regime is coming to an end and the future of Libya is in the hands of its people."

He pledged the United States would help Libya and its allies establish democracy.

The Pentagon said Obama's promise not to commit U.S. troops in the rebels' ground war would also rule out deployments after the battle against Gadhafi.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday he had been unable to contact Gadhafi. Ban also said he wants to call a high-level meeting soon to discuss Libya with the African Union, the League of Arab States and the European Union.

He said the United Nations was prepared to help with any rebel-government request, from writing a new constitution to coordinating humanitarian assistance.

Source: Copyright United Press International 2011