His ‘arrested’ son seen in Tripoli
Rebels overran Muammar Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli Tuesday, raising their flag and ripping the head off his statue as they celebrated a symbolic, if not yet real, end to the strongman’s iron-fisted 42-year rule.
The streets of Tripoli erupted into celebratory gunfire when news spread that the insurgents had breached the walls of Bab al-Azizya compound in the centre of the capital and had sent Gaddafi’s forces fleeing.
As rebel leaders proclaimed they had “won the battle,” fighters inside the compound celebrated by firing automatic weapons into the air, chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest), and raiding the armoury for ammunition, pistols and rifles.
There were no obvious signs of resistance by yesterday evening, despite reports that hundreds of Gaddafi loyalists had been tasked with guarding the compound.
The Bab al-Aziziya complex is reported to be connected by underground tunnels to various key locations across the city.
It houses military buildings, Col Gaddafi’s main residence, a library and government offices.
The whereabouts of Col Gaddafi and members of his family are not clear.
The BBC’s Rana Jawad in Tripoli says there is a real sense that this is the end of Col Gaddafi’s rule, but the proper celebrations will not begin until he and his family are found.
There are still pockets of resistance in Tripoli near to the Hotel Rixos, where many foreign journalists are staying.
Reports said retreating government troops had been pouring back to Sirte, and rumours circulated suggesting that the colonel may have fled there.
In the rebels’ eastern bastion of Benghazi, where residents too poured onto the streets in celebration, commander Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani said there had been no trace of Gaddafi or his family.
“Bab al-Azizya is fully under our control now. Colonel Gaddafi and his sons were not there; there is nobody,” Bani said. “No one knows where they are.”
“We have won the battle,” Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the insurgents’ Tripoli commander told Al-Jazeera television from inside the complex at the end of the massive assault that began in the morning.
“The military battle is over now,” he said.
An AFP correspondent said rebels first breached the surrounding cement walls before entering inside.
“They have taken Bab al-Azizya. Completely. It is finished. It is an incredible sight,” he said, adding that the bodies of a number of apparent Gaddafi fighters were lying inside, as were wounded people.
The fighting for Gaddafi’s headquarters was the most intense in the city since rebel fighters in their hundreds came surging into the capital three days ago.
Bab al-Azizya had been the site chosen in the early hours of yesterday by Gaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, to make an appearance before journalists to refute reports that he had been arrested by the rebels.
“Tripoli is under our control. Everyone should rest assured. All is well in Tripoli,” Seif said at the compound, smiling broadly and flashing the V-for-victory sign.
“I am here to refute the lies,” the 39-year-old said about reports of his arrest, and accused the West of waging a “technological and media war to cause chaos and terror in Libya.”
Seif, like his father, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. He said Gaddafi and his entire family were still in Tripoli, denying rumours he had fled but without specifying the exact location.
His comments were backed up by the Russian head of world chess who said yesterday Gaddafi had told him in a telephone call that he was in Tripoli and would remain there.
“I am alive and healthy. I am in Tripoli and do not intend to leave Libya. Do not believe the lying reports by Western television companies,” Kirsan Ilyumzhinov quoted Gaddafi as saying in the conversation, the Interfax news agency reported. Ilyumzhinov had met Gaddafi in Tripoli in June.
In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he had agreed with his US counterpart Barack Obama to continue military action against Gaddafi until he lays down his weapons.
-With Agencies/The Daily Star input