NATO warplanes blitzed a string of military targets in Tripoli on Sunday, an official said, as embattled Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi blamed a “colonial plot” for the conflict engulfing his country.
“In Tripoli there were two command and control nodes, two surface-to-air missile launchers and one anti-aircraft gun (hit),” the NATO official said from the mission’s headquarters in Naples, Italy.
An AFP reporter said two blasts occurred at 00:50 am (2250 GMT) in the area housing Kadhafi’s residence in the heart of the capital, followed by others in the city’s eastern and southeastern suburbs.
A column of smoke was seen over Kadhafi’s residential complex, which had been targeted by NATO warplanes on Saturday, when the transatlantic military alliance confirmed seven strikes and said they hit a military command node.
Kadhafi meanwhile late on Saturday said in an audio message broadcast on state television that the unrest that has swept his country since a popular uprising erupted mid-February was a “colonial plot.” He did not elaborate.
He also denied accusations by international rights groups of a brutal suppression of dissent and allegations that his regime had killed thousands of protesters.
“They lie to you and say, ‘Libya kills its people with bullets, that is why we have come to protect civilians’,” Kadhafi said, referring to the NATO air campaign which was mandated by the United Nations with the aim of protecting civilians in Libya.
“Only eight people have been killed and an inquiry is under way to determine who killed them. There are no protests and no gunfire. Show us where the thousands of people (reportedly killed) are buried,” Kadhafi said.
He also heaped praise on toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, describing him as “poor and modest” and saying he deserved honour rather than humiliation.
“I know Hosni Mubarak, a poor and modest man” who loves his people, Kadhafi said in the address marking the anniversary of the 1952 coup in Egypt led by Gamal Abdel Nasser against the monarchy.
“Instead of being humiliated, Hosni Mubarak should be honoured.”
The latest NATO strikes came after rebel forces said they had lost 16 fighters east of Tripoli and had infiltrated the capital and attacked a regime command post where a son of the strongman was among officials targeted.
The rebels, who have been fighting to oust Kadhafi for more than five months, said the assault “seriously injured” a high-ranking member of Kadhafi’s security forces.
On Thursday, “there was an attack on an operations centre of top regime officials, including Seif al-Islam Kadhafi,” National Transitional Council vice president Ali Essawy said after meeting Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini in Rome.
He said one person was “seriously injured,” identifying him as a high-ranking security official.
Frattini said the “rocket attack against an operations centre” probably in a Tripoli hotel was aimed at “top officials… including Kadhafi’s son Seif, and the head of the secret service, Abdullah al-Senussi.”
On Thursday, unconfirmed rumours swirled that rebels in Tripoli had tried to assassinate senior regime members that day.
Libyan officials denied the attack occurred and denounced as “criminal and unjustified” what they said were NATO raids that killed six guards at a pipeline factory south of an oil plant in the eastern town of Brega.
“There was no attack,” government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told reporters of the rebels’ claims that they had attacked a Tripoli command post.
Rebel forces, he said, were losing their battles in the east of the country and to the southwest and were trying “to boost their morale with lies and small victories.”
Elsewhere, the rebels said 16 of their men were killed in two days of fighting for Zliten, the last coastal city between insurgent-held Misrata and the capital.
“Sixteen of our fighters have fallen as martyrs and 126 more have been wounded in fighting with loyalist troops in Zliten,” a rebel statement indicated, with clashes said to be particularly heavy in the suburb of Souk al-Thulatha.
The insurgents have been trying for weeks to take Zliten, 200 kilometres (120 miles) from Tripoli and 40 kilometres west of Misrata.
The rebels say they have chased the bulk of Kadhafi’s forces from Brega in the east and are poised to advance toward the capital from Misrata and their other western enclave in the Nafusa Mountains, southwest of Tripoli.
Rebels at Brega now face “negligible” resistance, military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani said.
In the west, the Nafusa campaign is focused on Asabah, gateway to the garrison town of Gharyan on the highway to Tripoli.