- Associated Press - Monday, September 12, 2011

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Col. Moammar Gadhafi, Libya’s fugitive leader, accused revolutionary forces of surrendering Libya to foreign influence and vowed to press ahead with his resistance in a message Monday issued just hours after a twin attack on a key oil facility by loyalist fighters. At least 15 attackers were killed, an anti-Gadhafi commander said.

“We will not be ruled after we were the masters,” said the brief statement attributed to Col. Gadhafi that was read on Syria’s Al-Rai TV by its owner, Mishan al-Jabouri, a former Iraqi lawmaker and Gadhafi supporter.

The message described the opposition forces as “traitors” who are willing to turn over Libya’s oil riches to foreign interests.

“We will not hand Libya to colonialism, once again, as the traitors want,” said the statement, which pledged to fight against the “coup.”

The firebrand words by Col. Gadhafi contrast sharply with the staggering losses for his regime in recent weeks, including being driven from the capital, Tripoli, and left with only a handful of strongholds that are surrounded by former rebel forces.

Col. Gadhafi’s whereabouts are unknown, but his followers claim he is still in Libya. Some of his family members have fled to neighboring Niger, most recently his son al-Saadi.

Although Col. Gadhafi’s opponents now hold sway over most of Libya — and remain backed by NATO airstrikes — there are signs that the Libyan strongman’s backers still can strike back.

At the important oil terminal at Ras Lanouf, suspected loyalist staged back-to-back attacks that began with saboteurs setting fires and then shifted to a convoy of gunmen riding in from the desert.

Col. Hamid al-Hasi, the commander for anti-Gadhafi forces in eastern Libya, said a group of 15 employees set fire to the facility, located on the Mediterranean coast about 380 miles southeast of Tripoli. He said five of the saboteurs were killed and the rest arrested.

In a possibly coordinated attack, the port then was targeted by a convoy of armed men apparently based in a refugee camp about 18 miles south of Ras Lanouf. One revolutionary commander, Fadl-Allah Haroun, said a total of 15 people were killed in both attacks.

The size of the ground assault force was unclear, but Mr. Haroun said it may have been as big as 40 vehicles.

Former rebels, meanwhile, have been facing stiff resistance from Gadhafi supporters in Bani Walid since last week and have captured most of the northern half of the town, which is one of three significant remaining bastions of Col. Gadhafi’s loyalists.

Mubarak al-Saleh, an opposition political envoy from Bani Walid, claimed Col. Gadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam is leading loyalist forces massed in the town, about 90 miles southeast of Tripoli.

“The forces are not from Bani Walid but from all over Libya,” he said. “We lost many people in the battle.”

Dozens of cars loaded with Libyan families and personal belongings streamed out of the town in anticipation of a fresh assault.

“The fighting will be very bad,” said Fadila Salim as she drove out of Bani Walid. Her husband, Mohammed Ibrahim, said that there is no electricity and no water and that shops are running out of food. He said that many were “stuck in their houses and afraid to leave.”

Khairiyah al-Mahdi, a 40-year-old housewife, was fleeing the town along with her husband, six daughters and two sons.

She said her house was among the first to fly the revolution’s tricolor flag when Libyan fighters pushed into Bani Walid over the weekend. But deteriorating living conditions, threats from Gadhafi supporters and heavy clashes in the town prompted her family to flee.

“We left Bani Walid because Gadhafi loyalists in control of the local radio announced through airwaves that anyone helping the rebels or part of them will be killed,” she said. “A lot of people are scared and now leaving.”

The main battle front in Bani Walid is now a bridge that links the town with the port city of Misrata to the northwest. Gadhafi loyalists have covered the pavement with oil slicks and fuel spills to hinder vehicles trying to cross into the city center.

A rebel commander, Abu Ouejeila al-Hbeishi, said Gadhafi snipers have taken up positions on roof tops, including on a hotel, an ancient castle and an administrative building in the town center. Loyalist forces also fired Grad rockets and mortars at revolutionary fighters on the northern edge of Bani Walid, where, Mr. al-Hawaishi said, some 2,000 former rebels have gathered.

NATO, which has played a key role in crippling Col. Gadhafi’s military forces since intervening in Libya’s civil war in late March, has kept up its attacks on remaining pro-Gadhafi sites. The military alliance said its warplanes hit targets Sunday in Col. Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte, including a military logistics facility and three surface-to-air missile systems.

The Misrata Military Council said clashes inside Sirte between Gadhafi loyalists and opposition backers has left at least three people dead.

Hadeel al-Shalchi reported from Wadi Dinar, Libya.