Rebels believe Muammar Qaddafi s hiding in the town of Bani Walid, south of the capital, while Algeria denies he crossed its border in an armored convoy.

With Tripoli in firm control of the anti-Qaddafi forces, finding the dictator has become the main objective of the war against the regime. "We need to find him for this war to stop," Mustafa Habora, of the Hasm (It Is Over) brigade, was quoted as saying by the French news agency AFP. "He can be dead, he can be arrested, he can be in the international criminal court; it doesn't matter. But he must be found, otherwise this war goes on."

A search of Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, including tunnels, failed to turn up any sign of the eccentric leader whose forces killed thousands of Libyans in the war that began half a year ago.

NATO-backed rebels are stationed east and west of Tripoli, and the town of Bani Walid is on the only highway that leads south and stretches to Algeria.

The target is not only Qaddafi but also the billions of dollars he has stashed away in overseas accounts and which could be used by him to continue financing the war.

One of the countries thought to be backing Qaddafi is Algeria, which denied on Saturday that he crossed its border in a convoy of six armored vehicles. Algeria officially says it is “neutral” in the war and has not recognized the opposition’s National Transitional Council, despite recognition by many other countries.