TRIPOLI

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32.9022
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13.1858

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — The FBI director met with top Libyan officials on Thursday to discuss the probe into last year’s killing of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi where authorities are planning a curfew following an upsurge in violence, Libyan officials said.

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed on Sept. 11, 2012 in an attack that Washington officials suspect was carried out by militants linked to the al-Qaida terrorist group. There has been little news of progress in the investigation, and U.S. officials have complained about poor cooperation with governments in the region.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the visit, said FBI Director Robert Mueller discussed the case in Tripoli with senior officials, including the prime minister, justice minister and intelligence chief.

It is unclear when authorities plan to impose a curfew following a string of deadly attacks, assassinations of top security officials and other unrest in recent months. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan said on Wednesday that 18,000 new police recruits would be dispatched to the city to enforce the curfew.

Interior Minister Ashour Shaweil told reporters that when it starts, it will be enforced for five hours every night beginning at midnight. Several check points will be installed around the city, he said.

Authorities in Libya have been struggling to form unified army and police force since 2011 when former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was ousted and killed in a mass uprising that turned to armed conflict when citizens raised arms against Gadhafi’s forces.

In recent months, there has been a series of assassinations of top security officials and bombings of security headquarters in the northeastern city of Benghazi. Some blame Islamist extremists, but residents suspect more than one group is involved and that some of the violence is being carried out by those who have personal vendettas against officials who once served in Gadhafi’s police force.

Libyan men, one waving a pre-Gadhafi flag, attend a funeral in Benghazi, Libya on Monday for victims buried in a mass grave.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BENGHAZI, Libya — Tribal leaders and militia commanders declared oil-rich eastern Libya a semiautonomous state on Tuesday, a unilateral move that the interim head of state called a “dangerous” conspiracy by Arab nations to tear the country apart six months after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi.

Thousands of representatives of major tribes, militia commanders and politicians made the declaration at a conference in the main eastern city of Benghazi, insisting it was not intended to divide the country. They said they want their region to remain part of a united Libya, but needed to do this to stop decades of discrimination against the east.

The conference declared that the eastern state, known as Barqa, would have its own parliament, police force, courts and capital — Benghazi, the country’s second largest city — to run its own affairs. Foreign policy, the national army and oil resources would be left to the central government in the capital Tripoli in western Libya. Barqa would cover nearly half the country, from the center to the Egyptian border in the east and down to the borders with Chad and Sudan in the south.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the Tripoli-based interim central government known as the National Transitional Council, warned the declaration “leads to danger” of eventually breaking up the North African nation of 6 million. But he also said it was to be expected, because the east played a pivotal role in ending Gadhafi’s rule.

The interim leader has not in the past blamed any Arab nation for meddling, while praising Gulf nations like Qatar, which was supportive of the rebels fighting Gadhafi.

Abdul-Jalil appealed to Libyans for patience and resolve in the face of the country’s mounting problems.

Fadl-Allah Haroun, a senior tribal figure and militia commander, said the declaration aims for administrative independence, not separation.

“We are not talking about changing the flag or national anthem. We are talking about different administration, a parliament and managing the financial affairs,” he said.

The east was the cradle of last year’s uprising and civil war that ousted Gadhafi. In the early days of the revolt, the entire east came under opposition control and remained that way until Gadhafi fell in August. The eastern rebels set up the National Transitional Council, originally in Benghazi, which then moved to Tripoli and became the central government.

In this Saturday, June 12, 2010 file photo, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi talks during a ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the evacuation of the American military bases in the country, in Tripoli, Libya.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya -- During nearly 42 years in power in Libya, Moammar Gadhafi was one of the world's most eccentric dictators, so mercurial that he was both condemned and courted by the West, while he brutally warped his country with his idiosyncratic vision of autocratic rule until he was finally toppled by his own people.

The modern Arab world's longest-ruling figure, Libya's "Brother Leader" displayed striking contrasts. He was a sponsor of terrorism whose regime was blamed for blowing up two passenger jets, who then helped the U.S. in the war on terror. He was an Arab nationalist who mocked Arab rulers. In the crowning paradox, he preached a "revolutionary" utopia of people power but ran a one-man dictatorship that fueled the revolution against him.

His death on Thursday at age 69 - confirmed by Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril - came as Libyan fighters defeated Gadhafi's last holdouts in his hometown of Sirte, the last major site of resistance in the country.

Their final declaration of victory came weeks after Gadhafi was swept from power by rebels who drove triumphantly into the capital of Tripoli on Aug. 21, capping a six-month civil war.

"Dance, sing and fight!" Gadhafi had exhorted his followers even as his enemies were on the capital's doorstep before fleeing into Libya's hinterlands where his die-hard backers had continued to battle the rebels-turned-rulers.

Gadhafi leaves behind an oil-rich nation of 6.5 million traumatized by a rule that drained it of institutions while the ship of state was directed by the whims of one man and his family. Notorious for his extravagant outfits - ranging from white suits and sunglasses to military uniforms with frilled epaulets to brilliantly colored robes decorated with the map of Africa - he styled himself as a combination Bedouin chief and philosopher king.

He reveled in infuriating leaders, whether in the West or the Middle East. U.S. President Ronald Reagan, after the 1986 bombing that killed U.S. servicemen in Berlin was blamed on Libya, branded him a "mad dog." Former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who fought a border war with Libya in the 1970s, wrote in his diary that Gadhafi was "mentally sick" and "needs treatment."

Behind the flamboyance and showmanship, associates say Gadhafi was meticulous in managing the levers of power. He intervened in decisions large and small and constantly met personally with tribal leaders and military officers whose support he maintained through lucrative posts.

The sole constant was his grip on the country. Numerous coup and assassination attempts against him over the years mostly ended with public executions of the plotters, hanged in city squares.

The ultimate secret of his longevity lay in the vast oil reserves under his North African desert nation and in his capacity for drastic changes of course when necessary.

The most spectacular U-turn came in late 2003. After years of denial, Libya acknowledged responsibility - though in a Gadhafi-esque twist of logic, not guilt - for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people. He agreed to pay up to $10 million to relatives of each victim.

He also announced that Libya would dismantle its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs under international supervision.

The rewards came fast. Within months, the U.S. lifted economic sanctions and resumed diplomatic ties. The European Union hosted Gadhafi in Brussels. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2008 became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the country in more than 50 years. Tony Blair, as British prime minister, visited him in Tripoli.

International oil companies rushed to invest in Libya's fields. Documents uncovered after Gadhafi's fall revealed close cooperation between his intelligence services and the CIA in pursuing terror suspects after the 9/11 attacks, even before the U.S. lifted its designation of Libya as a sponsor of terror in 2006.

Still, Gadhafi's renegade ways did not change. After Swiss police had the temerity to briefly arrest his son Hannibal for allegedly beating up two servants in a Geneva luxury hotel in 2008, Gadhafi's regime arrested two Swiss nationals and raked Switzerland over the coals, extracting an apology and compensation before finally releasing the men nearly two years later. European countries, eagerly building economic ties with Libya, did little to back up Switzerland in the dispute.

But Gadhafi became an instant pariah once more when he began a brutal crackdown on the February uprising in his country that grew out of the "Arab Spring" of popular revolts across the region. The U.N. authorized a no-fly zone for Libya in March, and NATO launched a campaign of airstrikes against his military forces.

"I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents. ... I will die as a martyr at the end," he proclaimed in one of his last televised speeches during the uprising, pounding the lectern near a sculpture of a golden fist crushing a U.S. warplane.

Gadhafi was born in 1942 in the central Libyan desert near Sirte, the son of a Bedouin father who was once jailed for opposing Libya's Italian colonialists. The young Gadhafi seemed to inherit that rebellious nature, being expelled from high school for leading a demonstration, and disciplined while in the army for organizing revolutionary cells.

In 1969, as a mere 27-year-old captain, he emerged as leader of a group of officers who overthrew the monarchy of King Idris. A handsome, dashing figure in uniform and sunglasses, Gadhafi took undisputed power and became a symbol of anti-Western defiance in a Third World recently liberated from its European colonial rulers.

During the 1970s, Gadhafi proceeded to transform the nation.

A U.S. air base was closed. Some 20,000 Italians were expelled in retaliation for the 1911-41 occupation. Businesses were nationalized.

In 1975 he published the "Green Book," his political manifesto that laid out what he called the "Third International Theory" of government and society. He declared Libya to be a "Jamahiriya" - an Arabic neologism he created meaning roughly "republic of the masses."

Everyone rules, it declared, calling representative democracy a form of tyranny, and Libyans were organized into "people's committees" that went all the way up to a "People's Congress," a sort of parliament.

In the end, rule by all meant rule by none except Gadhafi, who elevated himself to colonel and declared himself "Brother Leader."

"He aspired to create an ideal state," said North African analyst Saad Djebbar of Cambridge University. "He ended up without any components of a normal state. The 'people's power' was the most useless system in the world."

In the 1970s and 1980s, Gadhafi supported groups deemed by the West to be terrorists - from the Irish Republican Army through various radical Palestinian units to militant groups in the Philippines. He embarked on a series of military adventures in Africa, invading Chad in 1980-89, and supplying arms, training and finance to rebels in Liberia, Uganda and Burkina Faso.

A 1984 incident at the Libyan Embassy in London entrenched his regime's image as a lawless one. A gunman inside the embassy opened fire on a demonstration by Gadhafi opponents outside, killing a British policewoman.

The heat was rising, meanwhile, between the Reagan administration and Gadhafi over terrorism. In 1986, Libya was found responsible for a bombing at a Berlin discotheque frequented by U.S. troops in which three people died. America struck back by sending warplanes to bomb Libya. About 40 Libyans died.

The Lockerbie bombing followed in 1988, followed a year later by a bombing that downed a French airliner over the West African nation of Niger. The West was outraged, and years of sanctions followed.

Libya's road back from pariah status began in 1999, when Gadhafi's government handed over two Libyans for trial in the Lockerbie bombing. In 2001, a Scottish court convicted one, an intelligence agent, and sentenced him to life imprisonment. The other was acquitted.

In 2002, Gadhafi looked back on his actions and told a crowd of Libyans in the southern city of Sabha: "In the old days, they called us a rogue state. They were right in accusing us of that. In the old days, we had a revolutionary behavior."

Throughout his rule, he was a showman who would stop at nothing to make his point.

His appearances at Arab League summits were an annual cause of cringing among fellow Arab rulers. At one, he argued vehemently with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, winning the monarch's eternal hatred. At another, Gadhafi smoked cigars on the conference hall floor during speeches to show his contempt.

In a 2009 address at the United Nations, he rambled on about jet lag, then tore up a copy of the U.N. charter, saying the Security Council "should be called the terrorism council."

On state trips, he would insist on setting up a tent to stay in. He sported a personal escort of female guards - which he once explained by saying: "There are no men in the Arab world."

A 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable released by the website WikiLeaks spoke of Gadhafi's intense dislike of staying on upper floors of buildings, aversion to flying over water, and taste for horse racing and flamenco dancing.

"At night, Moammar dreams; by day, he implements," Libyans would say, referring to the bizarre rules Gadhafi would randomly impose on the country, like demanding all storefront doors be painted green, the signature color of his regime. Or like complaining that Libyans were going abroad for medical treatment and deciding it was because of a lack of Libyan doctors - so he ordered Tripoli's main medical school to take 2,000 new students regardless of qualifications, well beyond its 150-student capacity.

He even renamed the months, calling the cold month of January "Ayn al-Nar," Arabic for "Where is the Fire."

In the past decade, power was increasingly concentrated with his eight biological children, who snapped up elite military posts or lucrative business positions. His British-educated son Seif al-Islam was widely seen as being groomed as a successor. There was no immediate word on his fate Thursday.

His only daughter, Aisha, became a lawyer and helped in the defense of Saddam Hussein, Iraq's toppled dictator, in the trial that led to his hanging.

Gadhafi did spend oil revenue on building schools, hospitals, irrigation and housing on a scale his Mediterranean nation had never seen.

"He did really bring Libya from being one of the most backward and poorest countries in Africa to becoming an oil-rich state with an elaborate infrastructure and with reasonable access by the Libyan population to the essential services they required," said George Joffe of Cambridge University.

Still, about a third of Libya's people remain in poverty. Gadhafi showered benefits on parts of the country, such as Tripoli. Meanwhile, eastern Libya, ultimately the source of February's rebellion, was allowed to atrophy.

At least one of his sons, Saif al-Arab, was killed during the 2011 uprising, and another, Khamis, was believed killed. Others, along with his wife Safiya, fled to neighboring Algeria or Niger. Seif al-Islam and Muatassim, who commanded one the military units involved in the crackdown on protesters, fled into hiding when Tripoli fell.

TRIPOLI, Libya — Water started flowing again in several areas of Tripoli on Monday, putting an end to an outage of more than a week that rebels blamed on sabotage by retreating Moammar Gadhafi loyalists.

Tripoli’s nearly 2 million residents had survived on brackish water from wells and drinking water delivered by trucks and ships from neighboring countries.

After water flowed from faucets again Monday, some residents rushed out to celebrate by washing their cars. “Thank God, everything is going to be all right,” said Ali Hamed, a resident of Tripoli’s western neighborhood of Dreibi, as he sprayed his car with water from a hose.

The disruption of the water supply posed a major challenge for rebel leaders as they tried to take control of Tripoli. Rebel fighters entered the city on Aug. 21, but ousted remaining Gadhafi loyalists only after a week of fierce street battles. Since then, the new rulers have struggled to restore services, including water, electricity and garbage collection.

Usama el-Abed, the deputy mayor of Tripoli, said that by Monday evening, water had been restored to more than 70 percent of Tripoli. It was not immediately clear if the water was back for good and if all the damage had been repaired.

The water crisis served as a reminder of the long reach of Gadhafi, even as he is on the run and his remaining loyalists find themselves encircled in a shrinking number of strongholds.

A rebel fighter climbs atop a statue inside Gadhafi’s compound Bab al-Aziziya in Tripoli, where intense fighting has occurred, on Aug. 24.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya — When the end came for Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya, it was stunningly sudden. One minute the rebels were in the mountains, the next they were sweeping through the coastal city of Zawiya to the gates of the capital.

Gadhafi’s dread fortress of Bab al-Aziziya in Tripoli then came under siege by rebels, to fall in a matter of hours.

Over the next few days, the secrets of the 42-year-old regime spilled into the open.

Whispered stories about bunkers under Bab al-Aziziya proved true, with miles of tunnels navigable by electric golf carts leading to villas and hideouts across the city.

Inmates freed from the regime’s notorious prisons told of decades of inside tiny cells, cut off from the world. The squalor they endured contrasted with the luxury in which Gadhafi’s children lived, as evidenced by the expensive cars, indoor pools and gaudy decor at the homes rebels trashed and looted.

In the ensuing days, sporadic fighting continued with pockets of Gadhafi loyalists.

As they retreated, they left behind mounds of corpses, sometimes set on fire, before vanishing into the countryside.

GADHAFI LOCATION SUSPECTED NEAR SIRTE

Libyan rebels say they’re closing in on Moammar Gadhafi and issued an ultimatum Tuesday to regime loyalists in the fugitive dictator’s hometown of Sirte, his main remaining bastion: surrender this weekend or face an attack.

“We have a good idea where he is,” a top rebel leader said.

The rebels, tightening their grip on Libya after a military blitz, also demanded that Algeria return Gadhafi’s wife and three of his children who fled there Monday.

Granting asylum to his family, including daughter Aisha who gave birth in Algeria on Tuesday, was an “enemy act,” said Ahmed al-Darrad, the rebels’ interior minister.

Rebel leaders insisted they are slowly restoring order in the war-scarred capital of Tripoli after a week of fighting, including deploying police and collecting garbage.

Reporters touring Tripoli still saw chaotic scenes, including desperate motorists stealing fuel from a gas station.

Rebel fighters were converging on the heavily militarized town of Sirte, some 250 miles (400 kilometers) east of Tripoli.

The rebels gave pro-Gadhafi forces there a deadline of Saturday — the day after the end of the Muslim holiday — to complete negotiations and surrender. After that, the rebels will “act decisively and militarily,” said Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council.

FUNDS DETAINED

UNITED NATIONS — Libya’s rebels got a boost Tuesday with the unfreezing of about $1.6 billion in Libyan currency held in Britain as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed for urgent international support and billions more for the incoming government.

The U.N. chief said he was encouraged by events on the ground and told the Security Council “I think we can now hope for a quick conclusion to the conflict and an end to the suffering of Libya’s people.”

The National Transitional Council, which controls most of the country, says it urgently needs at least $5 billion in frozen assets to pay state salaries and maintain services in Libya, including in areas still under Moammar Gadhafi’s control, as well as for salaries for an army and a police force to restore order and confiscate arms.
Analysts estimate that as much as $110 billion is frozen in banks worldwide.
 

FAMILY FLEES TO ALGERIA, DAUGHTER HAS BABY 

ALGIERS, Algeria — Hunted throughout her homeland and forced to flee into exile across a dangerous desert border, the daughter of ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi paused somewhere in the Sahara to have a baby.

The dramatic birth of Gadhafi’s granddaughter after her mother and other relatives escaped Libyan territory into Algeria, lends a human dimension to the dictator’s downfall and the ongoing mystery of his whereabouts.

The birth in exile was disclosed by the Algerian Health Ministry on Tuesday.

Algeria’s U.N. Ambassador Mourad Benmehidi said in a letter to the Security Council obtained by The Associated Press that at 8:45 a.m. local time Monday two vehicles, a bus and a Mercedes entered Algerian territory from Libya carrying Safiya Gadhafi, her daughter Aisha, sons Hannibal and Mohammed, and their children. Benmehidi said one child “was born the same day at the border without medical assistance.”

The Health Ministry earlier said that Aisha Gadhafi gave birth to a girl on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear which day was correct.

Benmehidi said the country allowed them to enter the country for “humanitarian considerations.” Algerian news reports had said Aisha’s pregnancy was one reason for Algeria’s controversial decision to take the family in.

An Algerian newspaper reported that the exiles, who also included an unknown number of Gadhafi’s grandchildren by his eight children, had waited 12 hours to receive authorization to cross the Algerian border from President Abdelaziz Bouteflika — while Aisha was in labor.
 

POCKETS OF RESISTANCE 

TARHOUNA, Libya — Moammar Gadhafi’s green flags still fly proudly above the main street in this bastion of support for his crumbling regime. Many here still openly pledge allegiance to the longtime Libyan leader.

And don’t even ask about the rebels, who ostensibly control the small market town but mostly keep to the outskirts.

“We felt safe with Gadhafi, but not now, not with the rats,” Hassan Sultan, 35, an unemployed laborer, said of the rebels.

Tarhouna’s loyalty is a stark sign of the problems the rebels face as they try to bring stability — and eventually a new government — to a country ruled by Gadhafi for more than four decades. Residents here say many of their neighbors have hidden weapons, leftovers from government programs to arm civilians against attackers, and some say they believe there could eventually be attacks on the rebels.

Because while Gadhafi was detested by many Libyans as a dictator who enriched his family but left much of the country in poverty, he also earned support by nurturing particular tribes and regions, offering generous government benefits and jobs to those he saw as key supporters.

Sultan, for instance, received about $500 a month in unemployment assistance — more than the salary of a low-level civil servant — but received his last check in July as the rebels pushed closer to Tripoli, the capital.

But in Tarhouna, residents say their loyalty runs far deeper than the next welfare check. The town, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli, was widely seen as a Gadhafi favorite, and its dominant tribe — also called Tarhouna — holds many positions in the Libyan military.

“It had nothing to do with money,” said Jafer Abdel Sadik, 21, who still sells the once-ubiquitous green flags of the Gadhafi regime in his mobile phone shop, where one wall was decorated with a large poster of the former dictator. “Under Gadhafi, we lived peacefully and were secure.”

Despite such talk, Libya’s emerging new government keenly fears a repeat of the mistakes of Iraq, where Saddam Hussein’s supporters were purged by U.S. forces and quickly turned against the new regime, destabilizing the country for years.

Rebel spokesman Mahmoud Shammam said that while Gadhafi’s key aides and fighters would be prosecuted, his civilian supporters would face no punishment.

“We are going to convince them that they are in the wrong camp, and we will welcome them to come back to the majority and understand that we’d like to build a new Libya,” he told reporters.

Printed on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 as: Rebels dispose dictator Gadhafi, Libya begins its transition.

Rebel fighters trample on a head of a statue of Moammar Gadhafi inside the main compound in Bab al-Aziziya in Tripoli, Libya.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya — Hundreds of Libyan rebels stormed Moammar Gadhafi’s compound Tuesday, charging wildly through the symbolic heart of the crumbling regime as they killed loyalist troops, looted armories and knocked the head off a statue of the besieged dictator. But they found no sign of the man himself.

The storming of Bab al-Aziziya, long the nexus of Gadhafi’s power, marked the effective collapse of his 42-year-old regime. But with Gadhafi and his powerful sons still unaccounted for — and gunbattles flaring across the nervous city — the fighters cannot declare victory.

The rebel force entered the compound after fighting for five hours with Gadhafi loyalists outside, using mortars, heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. They killed some of those who defended the compound and hauled off thousands of rifles, crates of weapons and trucks with guns mounted on the back in a frenzy of looting.

“We’re looking for Gadhafi 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 a rocket-propelled grenade slung over one shoulder and a Kalashnikov over the other, said the rebels believe Gadhafi is inside the compound but hiding underground.

“Wasn’t he the one who called us rats? Now he is the rat underground,” he said.

Shafiya said he felt “an explosion of joy” to be standing inside Gadhafi’s stronghold in the capital after a lightning-quick rebel advance. He had left the rebel-held western city of Misrata just two days earlier.

“I lost friends and relatives and now I can walk into Gadhafi’s house,” Shafiya said, choking up with emotion. “Many of my friends have died and now all of that meant something.”

Tripoli’s new rebel military chief, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, said at nightfall that a small area of the vast compound was still under the control of regime fighters and heavy shooting was heard across Tripoli toward midnight.

The atmosphere in the compound was a mix of joyful celebration and tension. The air was thick with smoke from the battles, and the boom of mortars and the crackle of gunfire was constant. Rebels chanted “Allahu akbar” or “God is great” and on loudspeakers they cried: “Al-Hamdullilah,” or “Thank God.”

As the fighters stormed in, they captured a guard at the gates and threw him to the ground, slamming rifle butts into his back. A hostile crowd gathered around, punching and kicking him until one rebel stepped in, stood over him and kept the crowd at bay. Inside the walls, a few bodies of Gadhafi fighters — one with a gaping head wound from a gunshot — were sprawled on the ground.

Several young men wrenched the head from a statue of Gadhafi and kicked it around. One lifted it above his head while his jubilant comrades danced and yelled around him. Fighters with long beards hugged each other and flashed the “V’’ for victory sign. Others carried injured rebels to ambulances.

A fighter climbed atop the iconic statue of a huge golden fist clenching a model of an American warplane and shot his machine gun in the air in celebration. The statue stands outside a building that was once Gadhafi’s home, preserved with the pockmarks of an American bombing in 1986 as a symbol of his defiance.

Gadhafi delivered many fiery speeches from the balcony of that house, railing against the West. It was there that he appeared on television six months ago, at the beginning of the uprising, mocking his opponents and saying his supporters would “purify Libya inch by inch, house by house, alley by alley.”

Bab al-Aziziya has since been pummeled many times over by NATO bombings in the air campaign against the regime that began in March.

Thousands of rebels converged on the compound after it was breached, snatching ammunition and arms from depots inside. They found brand-new rifles still in their paper wrappings.

Scuffles broke out among rebels pushing and shoving to get inside two white buildings where the rifles, machine guns and handguns are stored. They came out drenched in sweat from the struggles.

One fighter gleefully blasted rocket-propelled grenades over the compound’s eastern wall, with little idea about what was happening on the other side.

Ali Sameer, a Tripoli resident, stood with three brand-new rifles resting on his legs.

“They are for my friends. I don’t even know how to fight,” he said.

The rebels carted out boxes of the weapons and ammunition, and some drove off with trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns on the back.

One drove out with a golf cart. Another walked out with a fan. Others were busy ripping down posters of Gadhafi.

Near Gadhafi’s old home with the statue outside, the body of a dead regime loyalist lay inside a round building with glass windows shot out. The body was partly covered by a blanket, the head sticking out with a gaping gunshot wound.

A large tent nearby was on fire.

Gadhafi has a famous penchant for Bedouin-style tents, meant to symbolize his roots as a simple desert dweller. He received guests in the tents inside Bab al-Aziziya.

The storming of the compound was a new high for the rebels in what has been an emotional roller coaster since they moved into Tripoli on Sunday night. It began with euphoria and claims that they had taken over most of the city with little resistance. The first night they partied in Green Square, a major symbol of the regime where Gadhafi supporters had held almost nightly rallies throughout the uprising. And it seemed Gadhafi rule was teetering on the brink of collapse.

In the early morning hours of Tuesday, there was a shocking setback. The rebels had claimed that they arrested Gadhafi’s son and heir apparent, Seif al-Islam. It was confirmed by the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands, which has charged him and his father with crimes against humanity.

But inexplicably, Seif al-Islam showed up at the hotel where foreign journalists are staying under the close watch of regime minders in early morning hours of Tuesday. He giddily took reporters on an eerie drive in the middle of the night to see hundreds of pro-regime gunmen around Bab al-Aziziya and at least a hundred more lined up outside, where guns were being handed out to volunteers.

The rebels waited hours to explain, saying word of his capture had come from secondhand reports from some rebels that were never confirmed and had been leaked to journalists. But in an indication that the announcement of his arrest might have been a ruse calculated to demoralize the regime, Mahmoud Jibril, head of the rebels’ acting Cabinet, said the reports had some political and military benefits.

“About 30 officers and soldiers surrendered when they heard the news, which helped us take over Bab al-Aziziya swiftly,” he said. “And 11 countries recognized the (rebels’) National Transitional Council after receiving news of his arrest.”

By Tuesday morning, it looked like the capital might descend into bloody urban warfare. There was sporadic gunfire in many parts. The rebels were in control of parts of the city, though it was not clear how extensive their control really was. Then the fighting took focus around Gadhafi’s compound.

However, rebels were trying to establish civilian control in the chaotic city, even while fire fights continued.

In a deserted five-star hotel on the city’s beachfront, a group of rebel leaders who had operated underground for the past six months announced that they had formed a 24-member city council and would now be in charge.

Deputy council chief Usama el-Abed el-Abed called on city workers to return their jobs so life could begin to return to normal. However, the founding members had not invited guests, saying the city was still too dangerous for large gatherings.

Gadhafi, meanwhile, has not been heard from since Sunday, when rebels entered Tripoli and he delivered a series of angry and defiant audio messages that were apparently phoned in to state television.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the Russian head of the World Chess Federation who has known Gadhafi for years, said he spoke Tuesday by telephone with Gadhafi, who told him he was “alive and well and still in Tripoli.” The report could not be independently confirmed.

In other parts of the capital, the rebels said they were also in control of state television. They raised their tricolor flag on the top of the building. Rebels claimed they also control the airport.

In Tripoli’s Green Square, hundreds of rebels celebrated the storming of Bab al-Aziziya, dancing and clapping and waving the red, green and black rebel flag and firing celebratory gunfire in the air.

Libya’s former deputy ambassador to the U.N. said he expected the entire country would be in rebel hands within 72 hours. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, who with other diplomats has continued to work at the Libyan mission since disavowing Gadhafi in February, said Tuesday he expects Libya will be “totally liberated.”

In the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi, hundreds of miles east of Tripoli, the news of the Bab al-Aziziya storming was greeted with celebratory gunfire and firecrackers. Men drove around waving rebel flags.

Wael Abu Khris, a shipping agent turned rebel fighter from Tripoli, was walking around Gadhafi’s compound after the battle, carrying his Kalashnikov.

“I feel great satisfaction. We are at last free of this dictator,” he said. “Libya is free at last. No more Gadhafi!”

Printed on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 as: Rebels storm compound, seek Gadhafi.