Friday, September 2, 2011
Where is Gadhafi?
Where is Gadahfi?
Fugitive Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has disappeared from view, and finding him has become an urgent priority for Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC). They are said to be receiving help from their Western allies. Both the transitional authorities and the US have said they have no reason to believe he has left Libya, but his exact whereabouts remain a mystery.
Col Gaddafi may have taken refuge in a compound or a farm set up as a bolt hole for just the kind of scenario in which he now finds himself. Or he could have sought out the more anonymous surroundings of an urban area where he can still count on loyal supporters.
Such anonymity might still be found in the capital, if Col Gaddafi has chosen the tactic of hiding in plain sight.
The symbolic centre of the Gaddafi regime, the Bab al-Aziziya compound, was overrun on 22 August. But even after this, there remained pockets of resistance to the rebel advance.
In an audio message on 31 August, Col Gaddafi's most prominent son, Saif al-Islam, said he was speaking from the outskirts of the capital, and that he had been out for a walk earlier in the day. He said his father was well, but gave no indication of his whereabouts.
However, now that the NTC essentially controls the capital, hiding there would be a risky strategy and it might be difficult for him to escape.
Sirte is Col Gaddafi's birthplace. Still controlled by Gaddafi loyalists, it has regularly been cited as somewhere Col Gaddafi might take refuge - though it seems transitional authorities are now moving away from this theory.
Sirte is home to members of Col Gaddafi's own Qadhadfa tribe and another local tribe, the Magariha; in an audio message on 1 September, Col Gaddafi said the tribes were armed and "there is no way they will submit".
Col Gaddafi developed Sirte from an obscure outpost into a second capital, maintaining a substantial compound there. The city hosts a major army garrison and has an air base nearby. Last week, Nato targeted a "large bunker" in Sirte.
But the city may also be considered too obvious a hiding place, because of its symbolic importance. And now that it is surrounded, the only realistic route of escape would be the sea, where Nato warships are deployed.
Bani Walid is a city of several hundred thousand inhabitants, 150km (95 miles) south-east of Tripoli. Col Gaddafi is reputed to have a lots of support there, though the city is mixed in its make-up. It is a stronghold for the Warfalla tribe. In his defiant audio message on 1 September, the fugitive leader referred to it as "an armed fortress".
The NTC may have made inroads in parts of Bani Walid - one rebel commander claimed to Agence France-Presse that 80% of people there had turned against Col Gaddafi - but the sprawling south could provide cover, as well as an escape route across the desert.
Abdel Majid Mlegta, co-ordinator of the Tripoli military operations room, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying he had been told by a trusted source that Col Gaddafi had fled with his son Saif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah Sanussi to Bani Walid last week. Col Gaddafi had been trying to organise a fight-back from Bani Walid, the commander said, adding: "We have talked to notables from Bani Walid to arrest him and hand him over. They haven't responded."
Sabha is a desert town hundreds of miles south of Tripoli, with tens of thousands of inhabitants. Among them are many members of Col Gaddafi's Qadhadfa tribe.
There has been some fighting around Sabha, but the town is said to remain in the control of Gaddafi supporters.
However, the depth of their loyalty is not known. In the past, Col Gaddafi had a number of people in Sabha executed, including members of the Qadhadfa and some of his own cousins. There was reportedly a big anti-Gaddafi demonstration in Sabha a few weeks ago, which is said to have been put down ruthlessly.
Though not as large as Bani Walid, Sabha is significantly further south and may therefore offer better escape options.
According to a report in the Algerian newspaper El Watan, Col Gaddafi tried to call Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from the desert town of Ghadamis, close to both the Algerian and Tunisian borders. He was said to be seeking refuge in Algeria, after his wife and three of his children crossed into the country on 29 August. It was not clear when the reported phone call was made.
Another African country
There has previously been speculation that Col Gaddafi might ask for sanctuary in another African country, with Chad, Sudan, Zimbabwe and South Africa all mentioned as possible candidates. But it would be hard for Col Gaddafi to escape undetected by air. Chad, which borders Libya to the south, has now recognised the NTC.
Algeria has held back from recognising the NTC, and it is not a signatory to the statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is seeking the arrest of Col Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and Abdullah Sanussi. But Algeria's foreign minister has said the his country would not take in the fugitive leader, and a report in the Algerian newspaper El-Chorouk said President Bouteflika had told his cabinet that Algeria would hand Col Gaddafi over to the ICC, should he try to flee to the west.
The Last Sighting Of Muammar Gaddafi?
1:10pm UK, Wednesday August 31, 2011
Tom Rayner, in Tripoli
When Abdusalam Ataher-Ali was brought into the small office of the anti-Gaddafi military base in Tarhuna, two days after being captured by anti-Gaddafi troops, this 17-year-old former bodyguard of Khamis Gaddafi was being put forward for an interview with Sky News.
We were the first Westerners he had ever met.
For months he had been exposed to the regime's propaganda about the "imperialist
invasion" of Libya.
He was only just getting to grips with the reality that his captors and those he had been fighting against were in fact Libyans, not al Qaeda and Egyptians, as he had so regularly been told.
It is hardly surprising it took him a moment to accept that the four white men in body armour who wanted to speak to him were not soldiers or aggressors but journalists.
Sky's chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay did his best to reassure him we were not there to do anything more than ask him some questions about Khamis.
Little did we know that his testimony would be one of the most significant accounts yet in the hunt for Khamis' father, Muammar Gaddafi.
Abdusalam comes from the southern desert city of Sabha.
He described how he joined the Libyan army as a volunteer just over a month ago, when recruiters came to the city urging young men to join the fight to defend Libya against the "armed gangs and imperialist invaders".
After joining he was taken up to Tripoli, where he became one of the coterie of bodyguards around Khamis - the commander of Libya's most elite army section, the 32nd Brigade.
It is not the first report of the immediate protection teams of Col Gaddafi's sons being made up of teenagers.
It has also been suggested that Mutassim Gaddafi, the head of Libya's intelligence service, also surrounded himself with 16-year-old boys because they were seen as less likely to defect.
It was around 1.30pm last Friday that Abdusalam saw Colonel Gaddafi at the Khamis brigade base in the Saladin district of Tripoli.
At exactly that time our team were following a section of anti-Gaddafi technical vehicles as they engaged in a heavy firefight less than a kilometre from the base.
Although the incoming fire was intense, with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine gun rounds coming in from several directions, we had no idea how close we were to the man himself.
Inside the base, Abdusalam watched Colonel Gaddafi pull up in a Hyundai sedan car, normally used as a taxi.
Khamis welcomed his father and the pair had a meeting for around 15 minutes.
Although he was too far away to hear what was being said in the conversation, he claimed Colonel Gaddafi looked "as he always did", not visibly anxious or dressed differently.
After that he claims Col Gaddafi got into one of a convoy of 25 vehicles, along with his daughter Aisha.
The fact she, her mother and two of her brothers are now known to be in Algeria, will raise serious questions about whether Col Gaddafi himself may have also crossed the border
As he saw the convoy of vehicles carrying the colonel prepare to depart, Abdusalam asked his senior officer where they were going.
He was told they were going to Sabha.
Given that it was his hometown, and that he was becoming increasingly concerned by the rapidly depleting number of soldiers around him, he asked whether they too should be going along with the convoy?
The answer he got was no. They would be travelling in a separate convoy with Khamis, heading for Bani Walid.
As they prepared to leave, Abdusalam describes how Khamis switched vehicles from his normal Mercedes into an armoured Land Cruiser.
He knew this, because he was the last person to shut the door on his boss.
As they left, Abdusalam took up his position as outrider for Khamis.
He manned the Doushka cannon on the vehicle in front, shooting at anything that moved, clearing the way for the rest.
Around 60km southeast of the base, the convoy was struck by a Nato airstrike.
The remains of at least two trucks and five cars can still be seen on the main road just before the town of Tarhuna.
One of the vehicles destroyed by those airstrikes was the armoured Land Cruiser, which Abdusalam insists was carrying Khamis.
As local anti-Gaddafi troops attacked the remaining vehicles, Abdusalam was a captured.
When we asked whether there was any chance Khamis may have survived the attack, Abdusalam shook his head and said 'no', he was sure he was dead.
There was no hiding the look in his eye as he said this. There were no games going on. This was his honest assessment.
Those in command of the anti-Gaddafi base in Tarhuna insist that Abdusalam is not a prisoner.
He is being well looked after, and does not look either malnourished or injured.
They say he is 17, just a child who had volunteered to fight to defend his country. That he was lied to and misled is not his fault.
In the coming weeks they hope that Abdusalam will be able to be returned to his family in Sabha and put the past behind him.
After the inteview, the commander came over to the sofa on which Abdusalam was sitting.
He gave him another reassuring hug, another ruffle of his hair. And this time, there was just the slightest hint of a smile from Abdusalam.
For this boy at least, the horror of war is over.
ON THE ROAD TO BANI WALID
Muammar Gaddafi loyalists on the road to dusty death
TO drive along the baking desert road from Tarhuna to Bani Walid, 100km farther south, is to journey from liberated to occupied Libya, from a country recovering from 42 years of tyranny to one still steeped in fear, distrust and paranoia.
The road unspools endlessly through the barren scenery - a deserted no man's land where Muammar Gaddafi's police have abandoned their checkpoints in the dusty villages, leaving their tattered green flags behind, but where the rebel fighters have not yet moved in.
Some locals back the new government in distant Tripoli, while some fiercely and sullenly oppose it. "The leader will stay for ever in our hearts," a man named Absalam, 27, declared defiantly as he sat outside a primitive shop in the village of Wishtata.
It was easy to get spooked in this Libyan equivalent of the Wild West, and we realised how suddenly we could be ambushed or find our way back cut off by Gaddafi gunmen. Soon every survival instinct - and the way our interlocutors were making calls on their mobile phones as we drove off - told us we were crazy, and we sped back to the safety of the rebel-held Tarhuna.
Bani Walid, a town of perhaps 50,000 people, is a stronghold of the Warfalla tribe, which has remained largely loyal to Gaddafi. Rebel leaders suspect it harbours at least two of his fugitive sons, and possibly his father as well. NATO warplanes have been bombing targets there for several days, and the rebels are threatening to attack it as early as today if it does not surrender.
We found Abdullah Terbi, 50, sitting in the shade of a rare roadside tree. He waited until an eavesdropping villager moved away before he dared to speak. Bani Walid no longer had power, telephones or fuel, he said. He and his family were fleeing the coming battle. Three days ago, he insisted, he had seen Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi's second son, visiting a bombed house in the town where several people had been killed. "I'm 100 per cent sure it was him," he said. Nearby, Ramadan al-Fughi, 44, a mechanic, said he had seen several convoys of SUVs with tinted windows speeding towards Bani Walid after the fall of Tripoli, and since then he had witnessed any number of fleeing families coming the other way in cars and vans stuffed with luggage.
Back in Tarhuna, Colonel Abdul Rezak, the local rebel commander who operates from a former military base, said he was certain Saif al-Islam and another of Gaddafi's sons, Mutassim, were in Bani Walid because he had spies there. "About Muammar Gaddafi, I'm not sure," he added. Another son, Khamis, also may be in Bani Walid, but then again he may be dead.
A few miles from Tarhuna, the charred wreckage of an armoured Toyota Land Cruiser stands by the road, surrounded by spent bullets. Colonel Rezak said that it was part of a convoy ambushed by his fighters as it sped towards Bani Walid after the fall of Tripoli, and that Khamis had died inside it. He summons a fearful-looking prisoner named Absalam Tahar, 17, who said that he had manned an anti-aircraft gun in a pick-up truck just in front of Khamis's vehicle. "The car was burnt by fire. I'm sure he died," the boy said.
Colonel Rezak is determined that Bani Walid should not remain a refuge for the deposed dictator or his sons for much longer. He has been talking to the town's tribal elders, trying to persuade them to surrender, and was scheduled to have a final meeting with them yesterday.
"We don't want to kill our own people. If they say 'give us a chance' we will do so," he said.
But if they remain defiant his men will attack.
In an audio message from his hiding place yesterday, Gaddafi insisted that the tribes in Bani Walid and Sirte, his home city, would never surrender and would fight on until Libya burnt.
Colonel Rezak claims that the deposed dictator has barely 300 soldiers in Bani Walid, and that they will be quickly overwhelmed if they do not flee.