In the very jaws of a Libyan rebel victory with the seizure Tuesday of the dictator's Tripoli compound, former dictator Muammar Qaddafi has nevertheless escaped and still vows to crush the uprising.
Qaddafi broke his silence in a statement broadcast on the Libyan Al-Rai TV channel, which said it would eventually air the full statement.
In the excerpt broadcast by the station, Qaddafi said loyalists would continue to “face the aggression with all strength” and would not surrender “until they have either achieved victory or been killed.” Other news outlets similarly aired Qaddafi's statement, but the quality of the broadcast was very poor and somewhat garbled.
Russian chessmaster Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, an associate of Qaddafi's who spoke with him by telephone, said Libya's leader of 41-years told him he would not leave the country. "I am alive and healthy, I am in Tripoli and do not intend to leave Libya. Do not believe the lying reports by Western television companies," Qaddafi reportedly told him by telephone Tuesday.
U.S. and Libyan military sources admitted that it will be extremely difficult to track down the former dictator, who confirmed that he is believed to hiding somewhere in the capital.
Rebel forces had seized control of Tripoli's pivotal Abu Salim neighborhood late Tuesday, according to Reuters. The neighborhood is one of the main Qaddafi strongholds in the capital. Qaddafi's compound was blasted open, and rebels who poured in began looting the place of its weapons, and destroying statues and other items. The pan-Arab Al Jazeera news network captured video of rebel fighters kicking the bronze head of Qaddafi's statue.
However, in the midst of wild celebrations, Qaddafi loyalists suddenly began firing mortars just as dusk began to fall. A number of buildings outside Qaddafi's compound were hit, including the U.S. Embassy, although it was not clear exactly that damage occurred. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters, “Our understanding is that there is some damage to our building, but I can't speak to whether it's habitable until we are able to get an advance team in there.” U.S. diplomats have recently been staying in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
A day earlier, barely hours after news media reported that Saif al Islam Qaddafi -- one of the dictator's sons -- was being held by rebel forces, the heir apparent appeared at a hotel for a chat with foreign journalists. Arriving in a white limousine surrounded by bodyguards in armored SUVs, he smiled when asked whether he thought his father still had a chance of winning against the rebels.
“We are going to win because the people are with us,” he told the journalists. “That's why we're going to win.” Asked if his father is safe, Saif al Islam laughed. “Of course,” he said.