Libyan rebels on Wednesday hunted for Muammar Gaddafi and battled remnants of his forces, as the defiant strongman boasted he went walkabout and urged residents to cleanse Tripoli 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, hours after rebel fighters overran Gaddafi's Bab al-Azizya compound in the centre of Tripoli.
The explosions came during a night of shooting as fighting continued following the storming of the compound, the symbolic seat of Gaddafi’s power.
When Libyan rebels first called out for international aid, the wealthy Gulf was quick to answer: Warplanes from Qatar and UAE joined the Nato-led military coalition against Muammar Gaddafi and critical aid and diplomatic support were funneled to rebels.
Now the rebels’ Gulf allies could be shifting from uprising backers to deep-pocket patrons of reconstruction in what would mark another step in the region’s transformation from political bystander to front-line player.
The leader of a rebel group told an AFP correspondent that pro-Gaddafi fighters were hidden on the road to Tripoli airport.
The whereabouts of the strongman himself and his family, however, remained a mystery on Wednesday.
Rebel fighters said they had found no trace of Gaddafi when they swarmed through his compound on Tuesday, raiding his armoury, raising their flag and ripping the head off a statue of the strongman.
“Bab al-Azizya is fully under our control now. Col Gaddafi and his sons were not there; there is nobody,” said military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Bani “No one knows where they are.”
Wherever he may indeed be, the strongman is still managing to get his messages out.
In a speech carried early Wednesday by the website of a television station headed by his son Seif al-Islam, he said he had abandoned his 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. He vowed martyrdom or victory.
Insurgents, jumpy but jubilant and armed with assault rifles, combed the streets of the capital for remnants of regime.Daughter’s appeal
Libyans must unite against Nato and stand by Gaddafi in the face of foreign interference, a woman who said she was the daughter of Libya’s leader said on loyalist television channel Al Orouba. Gaddafi has one daughter, Aisha.