- Associated Press - Monday, August 29, 2011

TRIPOLI, LibyaCol. Moammar Gadhafi’s wife and three of his children fled Libya to neighboring Algeria on Monday, firm evidence that the longtime leader has lost his grip on the country.

Gadhafi’s whereabouts were still unknown and rebels are worried that if he remains in Libya, it will stoke more violence. In Washington, the Obama administration said it has no indication Gadhafi has left the country.

Rebels also said one of Gadhafi’s other sons, elite military commander Khamis, was probably killed in battle.

The Algerian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Gadhafi’s wife Safia, his sons Hannibal and Mohammed, and his daughter Aisha entered the country across the land border. It said Algerian authorities have informed the United Nations Secretary General, the president of the U.N. Security Council, and the head of the Libyan rebels transitional leadership council.


Ahmed Jibril, an aide to rebel National Transitional Council head Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, said officials would “demand that Algerian authorities hand them over to Libya to be tried before Libyan courts.”

Gadhafi’s children played important roles in Libya’s military and economic life. Hannibal headed the maritime transport company; Mohammed the national Olympic committee. Aisha, a lawyer, helped in the defense of toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the trial that led to his hanging.

Ahmed Bani, military spokesman of the council, said he was not surprised to hear Algeria had welcomed Gadhafi’s relatives. Throughout the six-month Libyan uprising, rebels have accused Algeria of providing Gadhafi with mercenaries to repress the revolt.

Over the weekend, the Egyptian news agency MENA, quoting unidentified rebel fighters, had reported that six armored Mercedes sedans, possibly carrying Gadhafi’s sons or other top regime figures, had crossed the border at the southwestern Libyan town of Ghadamis into Algeria. Algeria’s Foreign Ministry had denied that report.

Rebel military spokesman Ahmed Bani said Monday that rebel forces may have killed Khamis Gadhafi in a clash Saturday. Rebel clashed with a military convoy in the town of Tarhouna, 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli, destroying two vehicles in the convoy. The bodies in the cars were burned beyond recognition, he said, but captured soldiers said they were Khamis Gadhafi’s bodyguards.

“We are sure he is dead,” Col. Boujela Issawi, the rebel command of Tarhouna, told AP. But then he cast some doubt, saying it was possible Gadhafi’s son was pulled alive from the car and taken to Bani Walid, a contested interior area.

Col. Abdullah Hussein, a former pilot in the Libyan airforce who is part of the rebels’ command center in Tarhouna, said that “we heard from Bani Walid that he (Khamis) died in the hospital there.”

Asked how they knew this, since Bani Walid is still under regime control, he said: “We have some people there.”

Rebel leaders have started to set up a new government in the capital Tripoli after their fighters drove Gadhafi’s defenders out over the past week. Gadhafi’s whereabouts are still unknown, however, and people close to him have claimed he is still in the country and leading a fight to hold onto power.

Gadhafi is still capable of doing something awful in the last moments,” rebel leader Abdul-Jalil told NATO officials earlier Monday in Qatar.

The focus of concern is Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte, his last major stronghold in the country. The town, 250 miles east of Tripoli, is heavily militarized and shows no signs yet of surrendering even though rebels say they are trying to negotiate a bloodless takeover.

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