- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2011

Libyan rebels captured Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s second-oldest son, and another son surrendered Sunday after the rebels stormed Tripoli, sparking massive celebrations in the Libyan capital.

Tripoli was rife with rumors of Col. Gadhafi’s fate. There was speculation that the Libyan dictator had been shot, captured or escaped to Algeria.

Rebel leaders told The Washington Times that Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, 39, was captured as the capital began to fall into the hands of the rebels after a six-month uprising to topple Col. Gadhafi and end his 42-year reign.

Seif Gadhafi was Col. Gadhafi’s one-time heir apparent and frequently acted in a diplomatic role for the regime. Sources had no further details about the surrender of his older brother, Mohammed Gadhafi.

The capture of Seif Gadhafi piqued the interest of The Hague-based International Criminal Court, which issued an arrest warrant for Seif Gadhafi in June on charges of crimes against humanity. Similar warrants were issued for Col. Gadhafi and Abdullah Senussi, his brother-in-law and intelligence chief.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said the court will hold talks with the rebels on Monday on transferring Seif Gadhafi to its custody.

“We’ll discuss tomorrow the transition of authority, how to manage to surrender him,” Mr. Moreno-Ocampo told CNN.

As the rebels gained ground in Tripoli, celebrations broke out in the capital and across Libya, including in the rebels’ de facto capital of Benghazi in the east and Misrata in the west.

“The celebrations are wild. Everyone is just so happy and relieved,” said Mohamed, a rebel spokesman from Misrata who gave only his first name.

“It’s been a roller coaster ride, but wow! We gave it our all for our people and our country,” he added.

The speed of the rebels’ advance even took them by surprise.

“Gadhafi’s troops just melted away. They left their uniforms in the streets and slipped into civilian gear,” said Mohamed, the rebel spokesman. “We were very surprised by the little resistance. It remains to be seen if Gadhafi has anything up his sleeve, but I think it is over.”

Rebels said members of Col. Gadhafi’s presidential guard had surrendered.

The rebels, meanwhile, were preparing to deliver urgently needed food, medicines and fuel to Tripoli, where residents have endured crippling shortages for several months. Security in the city was of utmost concern.

Earlier Sunday, rebels advanced on Tripoli from the west and east, while “sleeper cells” in the capital rose up and seized control of neighborhoods throughout the city.

The Obama administration predicted Col. Gadhafi’s days are “numbered,” while European leaders called for him to surrender. NATO continued strikes against key targets and said the regime is “crumbling.”

Col. Gadhafi, who has resisted the rebellion for six months, appeared on state television to rally supporters. He claimed he was still in Tripoli and vowed to fight until the end.

The rebels encountered little resistance in their advance on Tripoli from Zawiyah, 30 miles to the west. Ten miles east of Tripoli, they easily seized control of the city of Tajoura.

In the heart of the capital, Col. Gadhafi’s stronghold for months, neighborhoods fell into rebel control in rapid succession.

Rebel sources told The Times that they controlled most of Tripoli by Sunday night. Souk al-Juma, Mansoura, Dahra and Al Sreem neighborhoods near downtown Tripoli were all under rebel control.

Mansoura is next to Bab al-Aziziyah, the military barracks that serve as the main base for Col. Gadhafi, his family and senior members of the regime.

Rebels had surrounded Bab al-Aziziyah early on Monday and anticipated a tough fight. 

Hana, a resident of Tripoli who only gave her first name, told The Times in a phone interview that the rebels want to make sure it was safe to enter Bab al-Aziziyah before doing so.

“That place has been a mystery to us for 40 years. It’s like a horror movie. People don’t know what’s on the other side, so they are not taking any risks,” she said.

On Sunday, rebels clashed with pro-Gadhafi fighters in the Ben Ashour, Fashloum and Zawiyat al-Dahmani neighborhoods. Pro-Gadhafi snipers put up a resistance from strategic vantage points atop high-rise buildings. Some waged attacks from the state television building.

The rebels quickly renamed Tripoli’s main square Martyrs’ Square, its original name. Col. Gadhafi had named it Green Square to mark his rise to power.

In an audio message broadcast on Libyan state television Sunday night, an angry Col. Gadhafi shouted:

“The time is now to fight for your politics, your oil, your land … I am with you in Tripoli … together until the ends of the earth.”

The regime hit back hard with anti-aircraft artillery and Grad rockets.

Residents of some neighborhoods said they heard multiple explosions and gunfire Sunday. Rebel sources said the regime’s forces had shelled these areas and that as many as 120 civilians were believed to have been killed.

On Tripoli’s east, rebels took control of the Mitiga military airport. The airport served as a U.S. Air Force facility known as Wheelus Air Base until the late 1960s.

The uprising in Tripoli is taking place just days ahead of the Sept. 1 anniversary of the 1969 coup that brought Col. Gadhafi to power.

NATO provided air support to the rebels through the day as they advanced from Zawiyah to Tripoli.

Residents of the liberated neighborhoods greeted the rebels with celebratory gunfire and cheers. The old red, black and green rebel flag was flown in the liberated neighborhoods, instead of Col. Gadhafi’s green banner, and posters of the dictator were trampled.

The rebels in Tripoli received a boost with the arrival of hundreds of armed fighters from the western city of Misrata earlier on Sunday. The fighters bypassed the coastal road and arrived in Tajoura.

Two Tripoli residents who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity said clusters of pro-Gadhafi fighters remained holed up in the capital early on Monday.

“If the regime doesn’t collapse soon, things will turn bloody,” said Mohamed, a rebel spokesman in Misrata who only gave his first name.

“We are prepared for a worst-case scenario, which is that we have to fight for every street. We are prepared to go zenga zenga,” he added. Zenga is Arabic for alley.

The comment was a swipe at Col. Gadhafi, who in a televised speech at the start of the uprising in February exhorted his supporters to wipe out the protesters “zenga zenga.”

In the west of Tripoli, rebels advancing from Zawiyah overran and ransacked a military base known as “Kilometer 27.”

The base is the headquarters of the army brigade led by Col. Gadhafi’s Russian-trained son, Khamis. The 32nd Brigade, which is more widely known as the Khamis Brigade, is an elite fighting force that is loyal to the Gadhafis and has been responsible for much of the fighting since the start of uprising in February.

Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice chairman of the rebels’ Transitional National Council, said, “The zero hour has started. The rebels in Tripoli have risen up.”

Meanwhile, President Obama, vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., was briefed on the developments by his counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan. He also received reports from the U.S. team in the rebels’ de facto capital, Benghazi in Libya’s east.

The White House released a statement Sunday night in which Mr. Obama repeated his calls that Col. Gadhafi should step down immediately and said the events in Tripoli marked a “tipping point.”

“Tonight, the momentum against the [Gadhafi] regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. The [Gadhafi] regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator,” he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy both urged Col. Gadhafi to step down immediately.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said the Gadhafi regime is “crumbling.”

“The sooner Gadhafi realizes there is no way he can win, the better for everyone,” she said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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