- Tyrant is surrounded in an apartment building, rebels claim
- Dictator’s spokesman says he has high morale and is moving around
- Rebels raid safe-house where Gaddafi ‘stayed overnight’
- Gunmen defending Rixos Hotel to prevent access to tunnels
- Gaddafi ‘disguised himself as woman’ to flee compound
Rebels are this afternoon locked in a ferocious gun fight with Gaddafi’s forces at a besieged apartment where they say that the dictator and his sons are cornered.
The gunmen are exchanging fire with Gaddafi loyalists shooting from the windows of the buildings. The rebels believe that the fierce resistance indicates that Gaddafi and his sons are hiding there.
‘They are together. They are in a small hole,’ said one of the fighters involved in the battle, Muhammad Gomaa. ‘Today we finish. Today we will end that.’
The rebels appeared to be closing in on the leader as for the first time after they dramatically broke into one of the underground tunnels that Colonel Gaddafi is believed to have used in his escape.
As the gunfight rages, Gaddafi’s spokesman said he is in Libya and leading the fight against the rebels.
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An overturned golf buggy that Gaddafi would have once used to get around the tunnels is seen, and right, he rides through the grounds of his compound in a similar cart
Moussa Ibrahim says Gadhafi is safe, healthy and his morale is high. Ibrahim said in a telephone call that Gaddafi ‘is indeed leading the battle for our freedom and independence every day.’
Ibrahim refused to say where in Libya Gadhafi was. Ibrahim added he was in an undisclosed location in Libya and constantly on the move. Ibrahim was recognizable by his voice.
Earlier today rebels discovered a huge ammunition dump in the grounds of Rixos hotel. At least six deep pits full of bullets, bombs and rockets were taken by the rebels.
The gunmen earlier forced their way into the rat-run under Tripoli after battling loyalists in the grounds of the dictator’s compound.
There they found a labyrinth of air conditioned tunnels leading into the darkness. Along the route was a bunker containing a food supplies, beds, and gas masks.
They believe that Gaddafi had used the bunker at some point during the conflict as he plotted his next moves – and they are currently still searching the tunnels for clues of the dictator’s whereabouts.
Carrying AK47s, the rebels were shown on Al Jazeera moving cautiously through the high tunnels. They opened heavy doors along the way and came to a dozens of vents.
But with heavy fighting above ground and fears of booby traps and ambushes inside the tunnels, they were unable to go any further.
Gaddafi’s escape from his compound is likely to have been through the network of tunnels. Records from the 1980s, when a paranoid Gaddafi was locked in standoffs with the U.S., suggest that 2,000 miles underground mazes stretch under Tripoli and beyond into the desert.
The multi-billion pound project, which may have been carried out by western firms, came at a time when Libya was developing nuclear weapons. Heavily-fortified entrances to the nuclear-proof vaults are concealed and along the route there are further barriers and booby traps.
The dictator is believed to have most recently used wide tunnels below his 1.5 mile wide compound to travel in armoured vehicles with his family – including son Saif and daughter Aisha – along with his generals, aides and confidants.
‘We’re told this is the entrance to the bunker, the tunnel that goes right undergound,’ Al Jazeera correspondent Andrew Simmons said as he raced towards the entrance.
The group found a tunnel that stretches further under the earth but they were unable to go any further.
Opposition forces said that they are being consumed above ground with so much fighting that they cannot yet muster the resources to track Gaddafi through the tunnels.
Gaddafi’s forces are continuing to launch heavy attacks above ground in order to prevent rebels from getting into the tunnels.
The rebels told Al Jazeera that they believe Gaddafi’s forces are using the tunnels to escape attacks and reappear in different locations.
Experts believe that the Rixos hotel, where journalists were held hostage, is being heavily defended in order to prevent rebels from exploring its tunnels.
Gaddafi’s son Saif is believed to have travelled some two miles underground in a white limo from the compound to the hotel when he unexpectedly appeared there on Sunday evening.
If rebels are able to gain access to the tunnel in the hunt for Gaddafi, it could lead them closer to the leader. He could also be staying with his family, aides and generals in an underground bunker until he is able to take back control.
One of the suggestions is that Gaddafi used the tunnels to escape to a safehouse where he is currently staying in Tripoli.
Libyan commandos said they came close to capturing the toppled leader on Wednesday when they raided a private home in Tripoli where he appeared to have been hiding.
Citing a source in a unit which it said was coordinating among intelligence services from Arab states and Libyan rebels, Paris Match magazine said these services believed Gaddafi was still somewhere in the Libyan capital.
Gaddafi was gone from the unassuming safe house in central Tripoli when agents arrived about 10 a.m on Wednesday after a tip-off from a credible source. But it is claimed they found evidence that he had spent at least one night there – though it did not say how recently that was.
Two more tunnels are believed to come up at the Mitiga Airport four miles away and at ports on the Tripoli coast. From there Gaddafi could reach safe-havens, however, all known transport routes are being guarded by rebels.
It has also been suggested that the tunnels could surface in the sea, from where the Gaddafi family could use a submarine to travel around the Africa.
The tunnels are believed to be so long that they could com up directly at Sirte or Sabha. Alternatively they may surface in the desert, from where Gaddai could travel incognito by jeep, jet, helicopter or even camel to a region where he has support.
If Gaddafi has fled the capital, the dictator would find security in Sirte 280 miles away to the east. Sirte is Gaddafi’s home town and tribes there are fiercely loyal to him.
He has secured backing in the region through patronage and he once wanted to make Sirte the capital of Africa. Some 200 scud missiles are also stored there, giving him a strong military presence.
Gaddafi could also have fled south across the Sahara desert towards his ancestral home of Sabha where the Gadadfa clan originate from. Supporters from Sabha’s mountain towns and dunes would provide shelter.
From Sabha the dictator could flee to Algeria to the west, or Chad, Niger or Mali to the south where he has support.
Pictures of the tunnels came as it emerged that the SAS have joined rebels in the hunt to find Gaddafi.
The special forces are understood to be dressed in Arab clothing as they work with rebels to trace the runaway dictator.
Fighting continued today with more gun fights around Tripoli and heavy rocket fire in the south of the city, in the Abu Salim district.
Source- Rick Dewsbury for Daily Online