Libya rebels hunt for Gaddafi after compound captured

Two powerful blasts thought to be caused by an air attack rocked the capital early in the morning as a NATO warplane flew overhead.

The explosions came during a night of shooting as fighting continued following the storming of Gaddafi's Bab al-Azizya compound by rebel fighters yesterday.

The leader of a rebel group told an AFP correspondent that pro-Gaddafi fighters were hidden on the road to Tripoli airport.

On the run and his whereabouts unknown, a defiant Gaddafi delivered two messages during the night.

In a speech carried by the website of a television station headed by his son Seif al-Islam, he said he had abandoned his Tripoli compound in a "tactical withdrawal" after it had been wrecked by NATO warplanes.

"Bab al-Azizya was nothing but a heap of rubble after it was the target of 64 NATO missiles and we withdrew from it for tactical reasons," he said.

The speech gave no indication of where he had gone. In a later audio message on Syrian-based Arrai Oruba television station, Gaddafi urged residents to "cleanse Tripoli of rats."

He also said he had taken to the streets of Tripoli without being recognised. "I walked incognito, without anyone seeing me, and I saw youths ready to defend their city," the strongman said, without specifying when he did his walkabout.

Jumpy but jubilant rebels armed with assault rifles, meanwhile, combed the streets of the capital today for remnants of the regime.

"We are the champions. We've been dying for 42 years and now we are going to live," said Sharif Sohail, a 34-year-old dentist who took up arms to patrol the city centre.

Other rebel fighters, some wrapped in Free Libya flags, some wearing flackjackets, manned checkpoints through the night, scrutinising traffic by flashlight in neighbourhoods without electricity.

"We are checking every car that passes," Brahim Mukhtar, 27, told AFP at a main intersection near Souk al-Fatah. "We are guarding the streets."

He said the first three nights after the rebels on Sunday took the capital were characterised by gunfights and "arbitrary shootings" as Gaddafi loyalists drove through residential areas unleashing a hail of lead that forced people to cower in their homes.

"Before we didn't know who was coming or going. Now we have more control but people are scared there are still Gaddafi forces in the area."

Another rebel perched on a petrol barrel freshly painted with the colours of the Libyan revolution -- red, black and green -- was more upbeat.

"We are almost done with the Gaddafi forces. Only a small number remains. God willing, in the next couple of days the country will be completely clean," he said.

Residents of the capital had celebrated into the early hours of today following the capture of the Bab al-Azizya compound, despite finding no sign of Gaddafi or his sons.

The attack on Gaddafi's headquarters followed three days of fighting in the capital which the head of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC), Mustafa Abdel Jalil, said had left more than 400 killed and 2,000 wounded.

He did not specify if he was talking of both sides.

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
Comments (+)