Officials say they’ve figured out where the Libyan strongman is hiding – but they’ve been wrong before.
Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time that the rebels’ optimism has led them to overstate the situation on the ground.
UPDATE Friday at 10:08 a.m.: The situation in Libya remains much as it has been over the past several days. Rebels are doing their best to secure Tripoli as they encounter isolated pockets of resistance from those still loyal to Muammar Qaddafi, who remains at large.
Meanwhile, the hunt for the embattled Libyan strongman and his sons continues. Rebel leaders say they are now using special forces and intelligence units in their quest to capture or kill the 69-year-old former leader.
Reuters explains the situtation on the ground:
Rumors of Qaddafi or his sons being cornered or sighted, swirled among excitable rebel fighters engaged in heavy machinegun and rocket exchanges. But even after his compound was overrun on Tuesday, hopes of a swift end to the war were still being frustrated by fierce rearguard actions.
UPDATE Thursday at 12:28 p.m.: A rebel claim that they had Muammar Qaddafi surrounded in an apartment complex in Tripoli has still not been independently confirmed and it’s beginning to appear as though it may be the latest example of optimism-fueled exaggeration by the group, Reuters reports.
Meanwhile, loyalist TV channels broadcast a short audio speech by the Libyan strongman Thursday in which he called on his supporters to march on Tripoli and “purify” it of the “rats, crusaders and unbelievers.”
“Libya is for the Libyan people and not for the agents, not for imperialism, not for France, not for Sarkozy, not for Italy,” he said. “Tripoli is for you, not for those who rely on NATO.”
UPDATE at 10:03 a.m.: Rebels say that they have Muammar Qaddafi cornered.
Reuters reports that a group of rebels are currently exchanging fire with Qaddafi loyalists inside a cluster of apartment buildings near the Libyan strongman’s compound. The rebels say that they believe that the embattled Libyan strongman and his sons are inside the building but have not said why.
“They are together. They are in a small hole,” one of the fighters involved in the battle, Muhammad Gomaa, told the news wire. “Today we finish. Today we will end that.”
UPDATE Thursday at 9:29 a.m.: Rebels stepped up their assault on Muammar Qaddafi’s last remaining strongholds in Tripoli and elsewhere Thursday, as their diplomatic leaders ramped up their efforts to secure money from Europe to help them rebuild the war torn nation.
Both efforts have taken on an increased sense of urgency, the Washington Post reports: “Supplies of food, water and medicines are already running low in Tripoli, civilians are largely staying indoors for fear of sniper attacks, and the rebels are keen to prove to Tripoli’s residents they are capable of running the city.”
Meanwhile, with Qaddafi still at large, NATO admitted publicly Thursday that it’s helping in the manhunt. “I can confirm that NATO is providing intelligence and reconnaissance assets [to the rebels] to help track down Colonel Qaddafi and other remnants of the regime,” Liam Fox, Britain’s defense secretary, told Sky News.
UPDATE Wednesday at 3:59 p.m.: Libya’s rebels have put a bounty on the head of Muammar Qaddafi.
Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the National Transitional Council, announced that a group of businessmen in Benghazi is willing to pay a reward of 2 million Libyan dinars, or roughly $1.35 million, to anyone who captures or kills the embattled Libyan strongman.
“We realize that Muammar Qaddafi’s regime is not finished yet,” Jalil said at a press conference Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reports. “The matter won’t come to an end except when he’s captured dead or alive; we fear mayhem and destruction from him because these are his values, upbringing and practices.”
Realizing that a member of Qaddafi’s inner circle likely has the best chance of killing or capturing him, the NTC is also offering amnesty for any past crimes as part of the deal. “Maybe a lesser evil prevents a greater evil,” Jalil said.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that the NTC is also willing to offer Qaddafi safe passage to any country of his choosing if he renounces his claim to power.
UPDATE Wednesday at 10:01 a.m.: Muammar Qaddafi broke his silence early Wednesday morning with a radio address in which he called his retreat from his Bab al-Aziziya compound “tactical” and urged Tripoli residents to “cleanse” the capital of rebels.
“I call on all Tripoli residents, with all its young, old and armed brigades, to defend the city, to cleanse it, to put an end to the traitors and kick them out of our city,” he said.
The Libyan strongman also made it clear that he has no plans to turn himself in, promising either “martyrdom or victory.”
Rebel fighters, meanwhile, fought Wednesday to consolidate their hold on Tripoli and continued their search for Qaddafi, the New York Times reports.
While his location remains unknown, some observers have speculated that he may be in (or headed to) either Sebha, which has an air force base that could provide an escape, or his hometown of Sirte, which has been a stronghold of his loyalists, the BBC reports.
UPDATE Tuesday at 12:48 p.m.: The fighting may not be over but the rebels appeared to secure a major victory Tuesday when they fought their way into Muammar Qaddafi’s fortified Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli.
Reuters reports that rebels could be seen firing their weapons into the air in celebration after successfully storming the Qaddafi stronghold. It was not immediately clear whether the Libyan strongman or any of his family members are in the compound.
Earlier Tuesday, a Russian official said that Qaddafi told him by phone that: “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.”
UPDATE Tuesday at 9:55 a.m.: This thing isn’t over yet.
Rebels and Muammar Qaddafi’s loyalists continued to clash Tuesday, with fierce street battles taking place one day after the rebels had swept into Tripoli with relative ease and had appeared to have most of the capital under control, the Associated Press reports.
But one day later and all of a sudden it isn’t so clear that the rebels are only inches away from the goal line, reports the Wall Street Journal. For starters, Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, whose arrest had been widely reported on Monday, made a surprise overnight appearance at the Rixos Hotel, demonstrating that he is still very much a free man.
“My father is safe and in Tripoli… They (rebels) said they control Libya, they can’t. Tripoli is under our control,” he told reporters at the hotel.
The Washington Post with more on the uncertainty on the ground:
After a day of confusion, frequent firefights and explosions, it was unclear who was in control. But loyalist attacks forced rebels to retreat from several strategic locations, and [Qaddafi’s] forces were still firmly entrenched in the area around his Bab al-Aziziya compound, tempering earlier hopes that the battle for Tripoli was all but over.
Meanwhile, rebels and NATO are continuing their search for Qaddafi, whose whereabouts remain unknown.
UPDATE Monday at 1:20 p.m.: As Libya’s rebels continue to clash with Muammar Qaddafi’s loyalists, the big question on everyone’s mind is: Where is the Libyan strongman?
It remains unclear whether Qaddafi remains holed up in his Tripoli compound, but rebels on the ground and U.S. officials at the Pentagon say that they believe that he remains in Libya.
“We believe he’s still in the country,” Marine Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday. “We don’t have any information that he’s left the country.”
Rebels, meanwhile, say they believe he remains in the capital. They are currently in the process of setting up checkpoints to make sure that he is not able to escape, theWashington Post reports.
UPDATE Monday at 9:54 a.m.: President Obama and other world leaders are calling on Muammar Qaddafi to surrender now that rebels have secured roughly 95 percent of Tripoli.
Qaddafi “needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya,” President Obama said in a statement issued late Sunday. “He needs to relinquish power once and for all.”
Britain, France, Germany, and other European countries joined the call on Monday, while also urging the rebels to “respect human rights and not to exact revenge” on Qaddafi loyalists, the Washington Post reports.
Qaddafi’s exact whereabouts are still unknown. If the Libyan strongman is able to escape the country without being captured, his most likely destination would be Angola or Zimbabwe, Al Jazeera reports.
UPDATE Sunday 7 p.m.: Today Sen. John McCain said that Qaddafi only had “days or hours” left before rebels had taken total control of Libya; and it looks like the latter was the most accurate. The New York Times is reporting that opposition fighters surging into the capitol have found little resistance in the city, suggesting the dictator’s 42-year reign may be close to over.
Rebels also claimed to have captured Qaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, who was his heir apparent. A radio broadcast message from Qaddafi claimed the leader was still in the city, claiming he would stay until the end and urging residents to take up arms agains the rebles to “fight for your politics, your oil, your land.”
Evidence of such a broad citizen force was reportedly slim however, as rebels raced into the capitol and were fighting loyalists deep in the center of the city. While NATO continued airstrikes and fighting was far from over, rebels were reportedly approaching the capital by land and by sea.
“We are coordinating the attacks inside, and our forces from outside are ready to enter Tripoli,” Tunis-stationed rebel leader Anwar Fekini told the Times. “If you can call any mobile number in Tripoli, you will hear in the background the beautiful sound of the bullets of freedom.”
Original post Sunday at 1:44 p.m.: Rebel forces captured a key military base which is part of Muammar Qaddafi’s defenses of Tripoli on Sunday, bringing closer the possibility that the dictator may soon be removed from power.
The Associated Press reports that the base, 16 miles west of the capital, is run by the Khamis Brigade—named for Qaddafi’s 27-year-old son Khamis. Rebel forces reportedly overcame the property after a brief gun battle, taking the base’s rich store of weapons and ammunition for their approach of Tripoli.
“This is the wealth of the Libyan people that he was using against us,” rebel fighter Ahmed al-Ajdal told the AP. “Now we will use it against him and any other dictator who goes against the Libyan people.”
Outside of Tripoli rebel and government forces still battled for control of smaller towns and cities. Rebels were reportedly beaten back in Maya, west of the capital. In Tripoli itself, clashes between government forces and opposition protesters or small groups of rebels grew Sunday, following the beginning NATO shelling on Saturday. CNN reports that the government is saying some 370 people have been killed in clashes in and around the city.
Coalition forces are presented with a challenge if rebel forces enter Tripoli: with fluid battle lines and scattered urban warfare, avoiding the civilian population with air strikes becomes more difficult. Heavy gunfire and smoke was reported near the Rixos hotel, where foreign journalists and their government chaperones were stationed.
Meanwhile the country’s Information Minister called for a ceasefire and accused rebel forces of committing atrocities in towns outside of the city, according to the BBC. He also said “thousands” of Qaddafi supporters were prepared to defend their leader from rebel fighters.