Tripoli, Libya – Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the fugitive former Libyan leader toppled from power a month ago, is likely to have taken refuge near the Algerian border under the protection of sympathetic nomadic tribesmen who have fought for him, an official of the new Libyan government said Wednesday.
The official also said Colonel Qaddafi’s son and heir apparent, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, was likely to be hiding in the loyalist desert enclave of Bani Walid, and that a second son, Muatassim el-Qaddafi, a militia commander and former national security adviser, was probably in Surt, the Qaddafi clan’s hometown on the Mediterranean coast.
Armed supporters of Colonel Qaddafi in Bani Walid and Surt have defied demands for surrender by anti-Qaddafi forces who have besieged both towns. And despite days of bombardment by NATO warplanes, the colonel’s loyalists, with a seemingly plentiful supply of ammunition, have repelled repeated advances. On Wednesday, anti-Qaddafi commanders sent at least five tanks into Surt; they quickly came under fire by Grad rockets, which barely missed the tanks, Reuters reported.
The fierce resistance has helped fuel the speculation that senior Qaddafi family members are hiding in the two towns. In recent weeks, military commanders from Misurata, who have led the fight to take Surt, have said that they have heard Muatassim el-Qaddafi’s voice on radio transmissions, and witnesses have told anti-Qaddafi fighters that Seif al-Islam has been seen in Bani Walid.
The latest information about Colonel Qaddafi and his two sons was reported by Hisham Buhagiar, a military official in the Transitional National Council, in an interview with Reuters.
He said Colonel Qaddafi, who has not appeared in public since his opponents overran Tripoli in late August and drove him underground, was sheltering near the western town of Ghadamis, near the border with Algeria, under the protection of the Tuaregs, tribesmen who roam the Sahara traversing Libya and its neighboring nations.
Mr. Buhagiar did not explain the sources of his information. Previous assertions by the Transitional National Council about their whereabouts have not proved accurate.
The council’s political leaders continued their efforts to try to form a working government, a process that has stalled amid in-fighting and regional rivalries. A list of cabinet members released unofficially on Wednesday by a person with knowledge of the deliberations included prominent names from the eastern city of Benghazi and seemed intended to placate leaders from that region, but it was not clear whether former rebels from other areas would be satisfied.
A powerful Tripoli militia leader, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, warned that Islamists should not be ignored in the new government.
Mr. Belhaj, a former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, wrote in The Guardian on Tuesday: “What worries us is the attempt of some secular elements to isolate and ignore others. Libya’s Islamists have announced their commitment to democracy; despite this, some reject their participation and call for them to be marginalized.
“We will not allow this.”