NTC says Qaddafi’s son is still at large; battles in Sirte and Bani Walid continue


A Libyan spokesman said Wednesday that revolutionary forces have captured some fighters close to one of Muammar Qaddafi’s sons in the fugitive leader’s hometown but that he has no information that the son himself has been seized.

Mutassim Qaddafi was Libya’s national security chief and had a strong role in the military and security forces under his father's regime.

The Associated Press reported Jalal el-Gallal, a spokesman for the National Transitional Council (NTC) in the eastern city of Benghazi, saying that his office has called commanders in the besieged city of Sirte and “so far as we are concerned there is no confirmation that Mutassim Qaddafi has been captured.”

He was commenting on reports that the son had been seized, which prompted heavy celebratory gunfire in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi.

“It is not true that Mutassim was captured,” said Wesam Bin Hamid, brigade commander of the Martyrs of Free Libya Brigade, one of the new regime's main units inside Qaddafi’s hometown.

“But some prisoners we have captured are saying that Qaddafi (himself) is in Sirte,” Bin Hamid added.

Meanwhile, a top adviser to the new Libyan leadership, Abdelkarim Bizama, had said in Tripoli late on Wednesday that Mutassim was in custody.

“Mutassim Qaddafi was captured at Sirte and was transferred to Benghazi,” Libya’s second-largest city where significant parts of the new leadership remain based, Bizama told AFP.

“We did not announce the capture earlier to avoid that (his family or aides) try to free him,” he added.

Anti-Qaddafi fighters have been closing in on armed supporters of the fugitive leader in Sirte, the most important of two major cities yet to be cleared of loyalists more than two months after the fall of Tripoli. Libyan officials have said they believe Mutassim Qaddafi and other high-level former regime figures are hiding in Sirte and that is the reason for the fierce resistance.

Libya’s de facto leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, said earlier Wednesday he expected to declare total victory in less than a week, which would pave the way for a new interim government to be named to guide the oil-rich North African nation to elections within eight months.

“I hope that liberation will be declared in less than a week, after we free Sirte, and within less than a month we will form a transitional government and the youth and women will have a role in that,” Abdul-Jalil said at a joint news conference with visiting Tunisian Prime Minister Caid Essebsi in Benghazi.

Qaddafi is still on the run and his supporters also hold the desert enclave of Bani Walid. But the transitional leadership says Sirte’s capture will give them full control of the country’s ports and harbors, allowing them to move forward with efforts to restore normalcy and establish a democracy.

NTC pulls back in Sirte

NTC forces pulled back under ferocious fire from Qaddafi loyalists in the fugitive in Sirte Thursday, an AFP correspondent reported.

The NTC forces, which had been hoping to mop up the last pockets of resistance in two residential neighborhoods in the northwest of the city, withdrew at least two kilometers (more than a mile) to the central police headquarters they captured on Tuesday, the correspondent said.

“We have been told to retreat to the police HQ and will be using artillery cannon to hit Qaddafi’s forces,” fighter Hamid Neji of the Martys of Free Libya Brigade told AFP on the new front line.

Before the reverse, a field commander of the brigade had told AFP that its fighters were trying to avoid using heavy weaponry against the Dollar and Number Two residential neighborhoods to avoid civilian casualties.

“We are not going very aggressively into these neighborhoods because there are still families inside them,” commander Yahya al-Moghasabi said.

“We believe it will take another three days to capture them,” he had added.