The Libyan rebels claim they have surrounded Muammar Qaddafi within a 40 mile area and that his most influential son, Saif al-Islam, has been seen in Bani Walid. As the hunt continues, Qaddafi loyalists are fleeing to nearby countries and concerns about the power of the Islamists and inter-tribal tensions are heightening. The country remains on the edge.
The Libyan rebels say they are preventing Qaddafi’s planned escape to the south, and have boxed him into an area of 40 miles. Previously, a National Transitional Council official said that “someone we trust” informed them that the former dictator is in Bani Walid with his son, Saif al-Islam, and Abdullah al-Senoussi, his intelligence chief. The rebels now contradict their source’s account, saying they are “almost certain” that al-Senoussi was killed in a clash in Tarhouna, along with Khamis Qaddafi. A NTC spokesman said they “know” that Saif al-Islam and Mutassim Qaddafi, a security advisor to Muammar, are in Bani Walid.
The rebels have hesitated to forcefully take Bani Walid, knowing that Qaddafi retains significant support there. Much of the rebel forces also have familial ties to the tribes in the area, and are very hesitant to fight them. Negotiations between the NTC and the holdouts in Bani Walid are ongoing, but the NTC is sending forces to the area in preparation for an offensive.
It is also possible that Muammar Qaddafi is in his hometown of Sirte, where 1,000 loyalists have taken up shelter. One rebel commander says that Mutassim Qaddafi is leading the loyalists there and is pressuring the tribal chiefs to remain on his side. A senior U.S. official also said Saif al-Islam is there. The only other part of Libya that is not under NTC control is Sabha. A member of Khamis’ security detail who was present at Qaddafi’s last meeting in Tripoli says he was told that the dictator was headed to this southern city. It is also rumored that he is in the town of Ghadamis on the Algerian border. An Algerian newspaper says Qaddafi called the Algerian President from Ghadamis to request safe harbor and was denied.
Niger is denying that it is housing Qaddafi, but is not ruling out the possibility of doing so in the future. “When the case arises, we’ll make a decision” the Prime Minister stated. There was intense speculation that Qaddafi went to Niger after a convoy of high-level former regime officials entered the country. Niger has confirmed that it permitted Abdullah Mansoor, Qaddafi’s former internal security chief, to come in because of humanitarian reasons. There are reports that the commander of Qaddafi’s southern forces, General Ali Khana, has also gone to Niger with other regime officials and loyalists from the Tuareg tribe.
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