TRIPOLI, Libya — Revolutionary tourism was booming
Tuesday in Moammar Gadhafi’s former home and headquarters, where
euphoric visitors honking horns and firing Kalashnikov rounds seemed
unanimous on one point: The man who ran Libya for more than four decades
must be captured or killed.
“We need to cut off
the head of the snake,” said Ahmed Digin, a rebel standing guard at the
sprawling Bab al-Aziziya compound, now open to a public delirious with
the unexpectedly rapid fall of Libya’s long-feared leader. “That is the
only way to convince people that there is no use in resisting the
The rebels have in effect ended
Gadhafi’s lengthy rule. But finding him, insurgent leaders say, would
quell remaining opposition and erase any doubt that Libya has embarked
on a new era.
Many suspect that Gadhafi is hiding
in his hometown, Sirte, a loyalist enclave about 225 miles east of the
capital. On Tuesday, the rebel leadership issued an ultimatum:
Anti-Gadhafi forces will give officials in Sirte until Saturday — after
the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the conclusion of the Muslim
fasting month of Ramadan — to surrender or face attack.
Abdul Salaam Tarhouni, a representative of the rebels’ Transitional
National Council, told reporters that rebel leaders “have a good idea”
where Gadhafi is.
“We don’t have any doubt that we will catch him,” said Tarhouni, who declined to provide additional details.
interim leadership demanded that neighboring Algeria repatriate members
of Gadhafi’s family who have fled there this week — among them his
wife, daughter, two sons and grandchildren, including one reportedly
born in the Sahara desert as the family made its way into exile. The
rebels want to put family members on trial along with Gadhafi. The news
that much of the ex-leader’s family had escaped focused people’s
interest on the question: Where is Gadhafi?
To many here, Sirte is the obvious answer.
know, they say the elephant always goes back to his home to die,” said
Mohammed Hejazi, a rebel in a red beret at a beachside base that was
once a private resort for the Gadhafi family.
speculate that Gadhafi may be in the southern desert town of Sabha, a
location that could facilitate escape to sub-Saharan Africa, where
Gadhafi cultivated robust support. Additional possibilities include
loyalist enclaves such as the city of Bani Walid, 95 miles southeast of
Tripoli. Then there are those who believe Gadhafi remains in the
capital, ensconced in a clandestine hiding place.
think he’s right here in Tripoli, maybe in a tunnel somewhere,”
ventured Digin, the rebel at Bab al-Aziziya, who was decked out in
classic revolutionary garb: camouflage flak vest, jeans, the de rigueur
Kalashnikov and a black beret covering his stringy hair.
are days of euphoria for many Libyans, despite the string of
post-Gadhafi hardships, including severe shortages of running water,
power and gasoline. Such problems and other pressing issues, including
the proliferation of weapons here and the uncertain status of the future
government, remained in the background for many cavorting about
Gadhafi’s former home turf.
“Yes, there is no
water, no electricity, but these are things that will be fixed,” said
Othman Abdullah Masri, 50, an electrical engineer who took his wife and
three children to join the revelry at Bab al-Aziziya, long a site of
mystery and dread to most Libyans — and now a kind of ersatz Gadhafi
theme park. “What counts now is that our children will not have to live
steady queue of traffic crawled along at an entrance to the vast
complex, which was overrun by rebels in a violent battle last week.
Insurgent gun trucks out of some “Mad Max” fantasy waited along with
station wagons crammed with children and grandparents. Awed civilians
stood in the watchtowers where machine gun emplacements once kept guard.
lined up at entrances to the compound’s vast tunnel complex, where
metal ladders lead to concrete-lined passages that seemed to go on for
long distances, in various directions.
poured Libya’s money into infrastructure here at Bab Aziziya, but not
anywhere else,” said Mohammed Ramadan, 30, a clothing salesman.
is one of the regime’s signature monuments: a massive golden-hued hand
crushing a U.S. fighter jet. Rebels removed the sculpture, which Gadhafi
built to commemorate the 1986 Reagan administration airstrike in
retaliation for alleged Libyan involvement in a Berlin nightclub bombing
targeting U.S. servicemen.
“Come, I’ll show you
Gadhafi’s home,” said Hisham Jawahari, 40, an airport dispatcher who has
become a self-appointed tour guide.
leads visitors through a once-luxurious dwelling now charred and acrid
with the smell of smoke and fire from North Atlantic Treaty Organization
bombings. The home is not ostentatious, in the style of Saddam
Hussein’s garish palaces in Iraq, but, rather, comfortable and
Amid the debris are mementos of the
Gadhafis’ lives, including handwritten notes and photographs. Souvenir
hunters scavenged through the piles.
“I don’t think any Libyan believed we would ever see this place,” Jawahari said. “But the day has finally come.”
©2011 the Los Angeles Times
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