Rebels Intensify Hunt for Qaddafi
Some believe he's still in Tripoli while others think he's escaped to loyalist strongholds
If the Libyan rebels needed a reminder that their mission to topple Muammar Qaddafi's regime is not yet complete, they got it last night when the Libyan leader issued a defiant radio address suggesting that he'd been moving about Tripoli "discreetly" and vowing "martyrdom" or victory. "As long as Qaddafi remains in Libya, then there will be no security," rebel leader Abdel Hafiz Ghog told Bloomberg. "He must be finished off, either through death or capture." On Tuesday, the rebels stormed Qaddafi's Tripoli compound, coming away with hats, weapons, and a golf cart but no Qaddafi.
Now the rebels are broadening their hunt for Qaddafi. The BBC notes that while it's unclear whether Qaddafi and his relatives were in their Tripoli compound when it was attacked, the family is "believed to have access to numerous safe houses in Tripoli and beyond" and may be trying to reach Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte or the southern city of Sebha, from which Qaddafi could escape through the desert to neighboring Niger and Chad. A rebel official in London suggested today that Qaddafi had escaped to a farm on the outskirts of the capital--a claim, The Telegraph notes, that's supported (however thinly) by "what sounded like chickens squawking in the background of Qaddafi's audio message" (another rebel official speculated to Reuters that Qaddafi is in southern Tripoli where clashes are underway). The Telegraph adds that tunnels beneath Qaddafi's compound may lead to Tripoli's port, an airport in eastern Tripoli, and the Rixos Hotel, where government minders are carefully guarding around 30 foreign journalists. The BBC's Jon Leyne suggests that Qaddafi could very well be hiding out among the reporters. "One gets the impression that there's possibly a high value target in the Rixos hotel," he writes. "It's hard to understand otherwise why the Qaddafi people are defending it so strongly, unless they're just leaderless and carrying on with the orders they were given as no one has countermanded it."
Meanwhile, there is persistent fighting in Qaddafi strongholds like Sirte and Sebha and in Tripoli itself, even as rebel leaders prepare to move into Tripoli from their base of operations in Benghazi. Loyalist forces have fired mortars and rockets at Qaddafi's compound and the Tripoli International Airport while engaging rebels outside the Rixos hotel, according to CNN, and The New York Times adds that NATO is still striking at targets in Tripoli. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev gave a stark assessment of the still-precarious situation in Libya today, noting that "despite the successes of the rebels, Qaddafi and his supporters still have a certain influence and military potential." Even as the Qaddafi regime appeared poised to collapse, Medvedev refrained from officially recognizing the rebels and urged the two sides to negotiate an end to the fighting. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been much more aggressive than his Russian counterpart in supporting the rebel cause, will meet with rebel Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril later today in Paris. France and its allies at the U.N. are hammering out a draft resolution that would unfreeze Libyan assets and roll back international sanctions as the opposition prepares to rule Libya.