Published August 23, 2011
Libyan rebels completely captured Muammar al-Qaddafi’s main military compound in Tripoli after several hours of resistance Tuesday, but the embattled leader was still nowhere to be found.
A TV channel quoted Qaddafi as saying he retreated from his Tripoli compound in a "tactical move" after 64 NATO airstrikes turned it to rubble.
Al-Rai TV said Wednesday it would air the comments from Qaddafi in full soon and reported an excerpt in which the leader of Libya's crumbling regime vows his forces will resist "the aggression with all strength" until either victory or death.
It was not clear from the remarks when Qaddafi abandoned the compound.
Reporters from Sky News penetrated Qaddafi's headquarters with the rebels Tuesday and described a celebratory atmosphere as the once highly-fortified compound has become overrun with children and truckloads of rebels driving in and out. An occasional sound of gunfire could be heard, but reports from the ground indicate that the shots are celebratory.
Rebels met some resistance while taking control of the compound.
That fight did not last long, and there were no reports of rebel deaths and only a few injuries. Dark plumes of smoke were seen billowing from the compound and loud explosions shook the area around it. Loyal pro-Qaddafi forces had been exchanging gunfire with the emboldened rebels.
A frenzied group of rebels waved flags and chanted “Libya! Libya!” after the seizure. The streets leading to the compound have been filled with opposition fighters and civilians determined to witness the day’s events.
Rebels have been unable to locate Qaddafi who has been rumored to be as close as Tripoli and as far as Venezuela. The head of the Russian World’s Chess Federation has reportedly spoke with Qaddafi who told him he remains in Tripoli.
"We're looking for Qaddafi now. We have to find him now," said Sohaib Nefati, a rebel sitting against a wall with a Kalashnikov rifle.
Abdel-Aziz Shafiya, a 19-year-old rebel dressed in camouflage with an rocket-propelled grenade slung over one shoulder and a Kalashnikov over another, said the rebels believe Qaddafi is inside the compound but hiding underground.
"Wasn't he the one who called us rats? Now he is the rat underground," he said.
The scene remains chaotic even though few if any Qaddafi soldiers remain in the compound, fallen pro-Qaddafi fighters can be seen strewn in the streets leading to the compound.
Journalists have been holed up in a hotel about 400 yards from Qaddafi’s headquarters.
The tent where Qaddafi used to interview with the media has been set on fire.
“Whatever didn’t melt is still standing,” a reporter from Sky News said. “But everything else has gone.”
Meanwhile, a State Department spokesman previously said that no decision had been made about whether to send U.S. experts to Libya to help prevent the Qaddafi regime's massive arsenal of anti-aircraft missiles from slipping into the hands of terror groups.
U.S. intelligence has also been "keeping a close eye" on Qaddafi's chemical arsenal, which "at this point appears to be well-guarded," according to a U.S. official briefed on the Libyan operations, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.
An Obama administration official said Monday that U.S. officials and NATO partners had not been in contact with Qaddafi during the siege of Tripoli. The U.S. has no indication that Qaddafi has left Libya.
If Qaddafi were captured in Libya, the official said it would be up to the Transitional National Council to determine whether he might be tried in Libya or transferred to the International Criminal Court.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.