Tripoli: Libyan rebels hunted on Wednesday for Muammar Gaddafi and battled the remnants of his forces after overrunning his Tripoli compound, as the strongman urged residents to cleanse the capital “of rats”.
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 Qaddafi’s Bab al-Azizya compound by rebel fighters on Tuesday.
The leader of a rebel group said 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 on Wednesday 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, said 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 Wednesday following the capture of the Bab al-Azizya compound, despite finding no sign of the Libyan strongman 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.
In an interview with France-24 television, Jalil also said that some 600 pro-Gaddafi fighters had been captured but the battle would not be over until the Libyan leader himself was a prisoner.
He said three areas of the capital were still resisting, including Abu Slim, from where half-a-dozen mortar bombs fell on Bab al-Azizya late Tuesday.
Rebels said Gaddafi loyalists in his birthplace of Sirte, the last major regime bastion remaining, had fired a missile at rebel-held Misrata, hours after negotiations began to try to secure a surrender of the city.
On the eastern front, Libyan rebels on Tuesday overran the eastern oil hub of Ras Lanuf on the road to Sirte, spokesman Bani said.
The assault on Bab al-Azizya came only hours after Seif al-Islam, appeared at the compound 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,” he said, 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.
Gaddafi spokesman Mussa Ibrahim claimed to the Arrai Oruba channel that more than 6,500 “volunteers” had arrived in Tripoli to fight for the regime and called for more.
In Doha, NTC number two Mahmud Jibril said Libya’s transition “begins immediately” and that Qatar would host a meeting on Wednesday to organise USD 2.4 billion in aid for the country.
Jibril told a press conference, “We will build a new Libya, with all Libyans as brothers for a united, civil and democratic nation.”
The Arab League for its part invited the NTC to take up Libya’s empty seat at a special ministerial meeting to be held on Saturday in Cairo, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said.