Libyan forces searching Gadhafi stronghold

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BANI WALID, Libya — Libyan rebels finally in control of a key stronghold of ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi’s backers dug up yards in searches for hidden weapons Tuesday, a concrete sign that the months-long battle for Bani Walid was virtually over.

On another similar front, revolutionary forces launched another assault on Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte, hoping to dislodge his dug-in loyalists.

Libya’s new rulers are holding up declaring victory and setting a timetable for elections until both centers are under their control. Gadhafi himself remains in hiding.

In the capital Tripoli, visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. wanted to see Gadhafi killed or captured.

In Bani Walid, field commander Said Younis said fighters were searching for high level Gadhafi loyalists who had escaped to the city, including Gadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam, one of his closest political aides and spokesman.

A revolutionary fighter fires a rocket-propelled grenade at Gadhafi loyalists in downtown Sirte, Libya, on Oct. 18, 2011. About 1,000 Libyan revolutionary troops have launched a major assault on Moammar Gadhafi's hometown, surging from the east to try to capture the last area under loyalist control. (Associated Press)

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A revolutionary fighter fires a rocket-propelled grenade at Gadhafi loyalists in downtown ... more >

Seif was seen was on Thursday. He was eating in a desert village close to the city,” Younis told the Associated Press.

Bani Walid is a valley city protected by many steep mountains and valleys, where Gadhafi loyalist snipers took positions during the fiercest battles. Younis said many loyalist fighters have fled to caves in the mountains to hide from the revolutionary forces.

In the backyard of a house in Bani Walid, 10 fighters dug a hole, revealing a cache of Kalashnikov assault rifles and ammunition.

“We’ve been finding weapons and ammunition hidden in people’s yards since we liberated the city, all over,” said Ayman Mahdi, as he dug.

Ahmed Saad, a field commander from Zlitan in the western mountains, who helped in Bani Walid forces take back their town, said forces were also searching for underground tunnels similar to those found under Gadhafi’s former Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli.

“Prisoners we captured from Bani Walid admitted the existence of these tunnels where some of the loyalists may still be hiding,” Saad said.

Bani Walid’s center, which was deserted on Tuesday. Buildings were pockmarked from bullets and rocket fire. The only doctors in the main hospital were foreigners.

A revolutionary commander on the scene, Ali Abdel-Rahman, said fighters were able to gain control over Bani Walid on Sunday evening after receiving much-needed ammunition and supplies the day before. He said they faced little resistance, although three revolutionary fighters were killed.

“We didn’t find a regular army but only loyalists of Gadhafi, snipers with automatic weapons,” he said. “Some of the Gadhafi brigades took off their uniforms and vanished.”

He said even families had fled the area. “There was a widespread perception that there would be a massacre here and pools of blood, but on the contrary, it was very bloodless, swift and with no resistance.”

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