Libya rebels capture Qaddafi’s Tripoli compound, hoist flag & smash statue


Rebels overran Muammar Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli Tuesday, raising their flag and ripping the head off his statue as they celebrated a symbolic, if not yet real, end to the strongman's iron-fisted 42-year rule.

The streets of Tripoli erupted into celebratory gunfire when news spread that the rebels had breached the walls of Bab al-Azizya compound in the centre of the capital and had sent Qaddafi’s forces fleeing.

Gunfire and explosions were heard from the presidential headquarters, Al Arabiya reported.

As rebel leaders proclaimed they had “won the battle,” fighters inside the compound celebrated by firing automatic weapons into the air, chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest), and raiding the armory for ammunition, pistols and rifles.

There was no immediate word on Qaddafi’s whereabouts after the rebels breached the defenses as part of a massive assault that began in the morning.

One rebel confirmed to Al Arabiya that the rebels entered the house of Qaddafi and they are now in control of the compound.

Reuters reporters on the scene said that the Libyan rebels poured into Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli and were seen firing in the air in celebration.

Hundreds of rebel fighters looted an armory in part of the compound, seizing new sniper rifles in plastic cases, a Reuters witness said.

One fighter, in jubilant mood, shouted “It is over, Qaddafi is finished!” Another, carrying a looted television set to an entrance to the sprawling compound in the capital city, placed it on the ground and yelled “This is for the Libyan people!”

Fighting was still under way elsewhere in the compound, and some pro-Qaddafi snipers were still firing at the advancing rebels, the witness said.

Pro-Qaddafi forces initially tried to defend the compound but their resistance later ended, the reporters said.

Al Arabiya reported earlier that the Libyan rebel forces have breached the first gate of Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli.

“Our forces are surrounding Bab al-Azizya. There is a fierce battle going on there. We are now controlling one of the gates, the western entrance,” Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani told AFP.

The rebels, battling forces loyal to Qaddafi, had earlier in the day intensified their attack on the complex in the southern center of Tripoli, home to Qaddafi’s private quarters as well as a military barracks and other installations.

Bab al-Azizia is a military base located south of the Libyan capital. It has been used as the main premises of Qaddafi. The compound houses Qaddafi’s home as well as a number of military and security barracks, which were used by the troops led by Qaddafi’s sons.

Bab al-Azizia has been set up on an area of six kilometers at a strategic location in Tripoli, near most of the governmental departments. The complex is also near the high way leading to Tripoli International Airport.

The compound is heavily guarded. It is surrounded by three cement-made anti-fire fences.

Earlier on Tuesday, Russian chess federation chief Kirsan Ilyumzhinov said Qaddafi had told him by telephone that he was still in Tripoli, alive and well, and had no plans to leave the city.

Ilyumzhinov, who has visited Libya during the NATO bombing campaign and met Qaddafi, said the leader’s eldest son Mohammad had called him by telephone on Tuesday afternoon.

“He gave the phone to his father, who said that he is in Tripoli, he is alive and healthy and is prepared to fight to the end,” Ilyumzhinov told Reuters by telephone.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, said Libyan rebels appeared to be in control of most of Tripoli, adding that it was sticking to its assessment that leader Qaddafi had not left the country, according to Reuters.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan added that although the command capabilities of Qaddafi’s forces had been diminished, they remained dangerous. He also said the United States was monitoring Libya's chemical weapons sites, amid concern in Congress that those weapons could fall into the wrong hands.