Rebels overran Moamer Kadhafi’s fortified Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli Tuesday in heavy fighting that sent loyalist troops fleeing and tightened the opposition’s grip on the Libyan capital.
There was no immediate word on the whereabouts of Kadhafi and his family as the insurgents swarmed the complex after breaching the defences following a massive assault that began in the morning.
“Rebels breached the surrounding cement walls and entered inside. They have taken Bab al-Azizya. Completely. It is finished,” an AFP correspondent said.
“It is an incredible sight.”
The seizure of the compound sparked celebrations by the rebel fighters, who fired their automatic weapons in the air and danced in joy.
The fighting for Kadhafi’s nerve centre was the most intense in the city since rebel fighters in their hundreds came surging through the gates of the capital three days ago.
Scene: Death rains from above on Tripoli’s streets
The sky in the afternoon was filled with the sound of heavy and light machine guns as well as mortars, with the overhead roar of NATO jets, though it was unclear if they carried out air strikes.
Even two kilometres (about a mile) from the fighting, the almost constant whistle of falling bullets could be hear from the rooftops, as the city’s mosques chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is the greatest).
Rebel leaders said fighters from their western bastion of Misrata, renowned for their prowess after breaking a months-long siege of the port city by Kadhafi’s forces, had joined Tripoli rebels in the assault, which also saw the deployment of tanks captured from loyalist forces.
On the eastern front, Libyan rebels Tuesday overran the eastern oil hub of Ras Lanuf on the road to Moamer Kadhafi’s hometown of Sirte, their military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani said.
“We are now in Ras Lanuf,” Bani told AFP, adding he hoped insurgents would soon reach Bin Jawad, a hamlet just east of Sirte and almost halfway between the rebel-held cities of Benghazi and Misrata.
Bab al-Azizya had been the site chosen very early Tuesday by Kadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, to make an appearance before journalists 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,” Seif said at the compound, 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 Kadhafi and his entire family were still in Tripoli, denying rumours he had fled but without specifying the exact location.
His comments were backed up by the Russian head of world chess who said on Tuesday Kadhafi had told him in a telephone call that he was in Tripoli and did not intend to leave the country.
“I am alive and healthy. I am in Tripoli and do not intend to leave Libya. Do not believe the lying reports by Western television companies,” Kirsan Ilyumzhinov quoted Kadhafi as saying in the conversation, the Interfax news agency reported. Ilyumzhinov had met Kadhafi in Tripoli in June.
NATO insisted Tuesday that Kadhafi’s time is up but stressed that he was not being personally targeted by the Western military alliance.
“The end is near,” chief NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said in Brussels.
“A brief appearance in the dead of night doesn’t indicate to me someone who is in control of a capital,” she said, referring to Seif. “It shows the remnants of the regime are on the run.”
Operation Unified Protector spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie Lavoie told the press conference via video-link from the Libyan mission’s Naples headquarters, that Kadhafi himself is “not a target” for NATO.
“NATO does not target individuals,” he said.