Libya unrest: Rebels overrun Gaddafi Tripoli compound

Media caption,
The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Tripoli: "The city erupted in gunfire"

Libyan rebels have taken control of Col Muammar Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, one of the final areas that remained under his control.

TV footage showed fighters breaking off the head of a statue of the Libyan leader and kicking it along the ground. They also seized items from his home.

It is not known if Col Gaddafi or any of his family are inside the compound.

Rebel leaders say they are in control of almost all of the capital, though there are still pockets of resistance.

'Fled like rats'

Heavily armed fighters had streamed into the capital on Tuesday morning in dozens of pick-up trucks to take part in the attack on Bab al-Aziziya.

After five hours of intense fighting, they breached one of the main gates and then quickly overran the compound.

The rebels were shown destroying statues - including the iconic giant golden hand crushing a US fighter jet - firing guns in the air in celebration, and seizing weapons and ammunition from arms depots.

Col Gaddafi's Bedouin tent, where he used to receive visiting foreign dignitaries, was set on fire, while his golf cart, in which he appeared frequently, was paraded around the compound.

There were no obvious signs of resistance in the compound by Tuesday evening, despite reports that hundreds of Gaddafi loyalists had been tasked with guarding it.

"We have won the battle," Abdul Hakim Belhaj, the top rebel commander in Tripoli, told al-Jazeera. "They fled like rats."

"We entered the tyrant's offices, his rooms, we searched everywhere, but there was no-one."

'Vicious bombing continues'

However, there are still pockets of resistance in the capital, including the Abu Salim and al-Hadba districts, and near the Hotel Rixos, where many foreign journalists are staying.

The BBC's Rana Jawad in Tripoli says there is a real sense that this is the end of Col Gaddafi's rule, but the proper celebrations will not begin until he and his family are found.

It is not known if they were in Bab al-Aziziya on Tuesday, but the complex is reported to be connected by underground tunnels to various key locations across the city.

The Gaddafi family are also believed to have access to numerous safe houses in Tripoli and beyond.

The situation is unclear in the colonel's hometown of Sirte, which has been a stronghold of regime loyalists. Reports said retreating government troops were heading there.

And rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril, currently in Qatar, warned that there were still places that needed urgent help, such as the southern city of Sebha which is home to many members of Col Gaddafi's tribe.

"Today, the atrocious Gaddafi's brigades continued to bomb Sebha city viciously," said Mr Jibril, who is considered as prime minister of the interim rebel government, the National Transitional Council (NTC).

"In the next stage, we must extend a helping hand and support to all the cities that have not yet risen, so as to rise and to join the procession of glory."

Members of the NTC, which has so far been based in the eastern city of Benghazi, said they planned to fly to Tripoli on Wednesday to start work on forming a new government.

Meanwhile, the US state department said the US would seek to release between $1bn and $1.5bn (£600m and £900m) in frozen Libyan funds in the coming days, and hand the money to the NTC.

The rebels swept into Tripoli at the weekend, but after a swift advance they met stiff resistance in a number of areas on Monday.

The uprising against Col Gaddafi's 41-year rule began in February. The rebels held the east of the country and pockets of the west, before making their push towards the capital at the weekend.

Nato air strikes have been targeting Col Gaddafi's forces, acting on a UN mandate to protect civilians.