Joyful Libyan rebels overran on Tuesday Muammar Qaddafi’s Tripoli bastion, seizing weapons and loot and destroying symbols of a 42-year dictatorship they declared was now over as they set about hunting down the fallen ruler and his sons.
“It’s over! Qaddafi is finished!” yelled one fighter over a cacophony of celebratory gunfire across the Bab alAziziya compound, from where Qaddafi orchestrated eccentric defiance of Western powers and disdain for his own people for four decades.
The Western powers that backed the revolt with air power held off from pronouncing victory although a swift return to order is high on their priorities.
Rebel National Council chief Mustafa Abdel-Jalil cautioned: “It is too early to say that the battle of Tripoli is over. That won’t happen until Qaddafi and his sons are captured.”
Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a rebel commander, said he did not know where Qaddafi or his sons were: “They ran like rats.”
Bounty on Qaddafi’s head
A $1.3 million bounty and an amnesty awaits anyone who hands over Muammar Qaddafi, alive or dead, Libya’s rebel council said on Wednesday. “The National Transitional Council [NTC] announces that any of his
[Qaddafi’s] inner circle who kills Qaddafi or captures him, society will give them amnesty or pardon for any crime,” NTC head Mustafa Abdel Jalil said at a news conference. He added that a businessman in Benghazi, the eastern cradle of the Libyan uprising, had also offered a reward of $1.3 million for Qaddafi’s capture.
However, the NTC has said it would prefer to seize Qaddafi alive so he could be put on trial.
The US State Department, in a signal of the kind of activity likely to gather pace in diplomatic meetings over the coming days, said it was seeking the immediate release of up to $1.5 billion of frozen Libyan government assets to the rebels.
In Tripoli, ordinary Libyans, or at least those with guns and guts to risk the chaos in Bab alAziziya, were helping themselves to the bounty Qaddafi’s inner circle had amassed in villas dotted around the city centre compound.
For many, as in other Arab nations where autocrats have been overthrown this year, the most important benefit was not tangible: “Qaddafi is now gone and we are free,” said Turqi, a shopkeeper in the capital
After Qaddafi’s son and long-time heir-apparent Saif el Islam confounded rebel claims of his capture by appearing before journalists at the Bab alAziziya compound early on Tuesday, several analysts said the credibility of the disparate opposition movement had suffered a serious setback.
Noman Benotman, senior analyst at Britain’s Quilliam think-tank and an associate of Qaddafi’s former spy chief, said: “Qaddafi is banking on the rebels making a mess of Tripoli and causing chaos. He is relying on them to behave badly.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2011.