New Clues on Whereabouts of Qaddafi and Sons

Tripoli, Libya — Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the fugitive former leader toppled from power a month ago, has likely 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 heir-apparent son, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, was likely 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 likely 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 that have besieged both towns. The military stalemate has frustrated efforts by the Transitional National Council, as the new government is known, to proclaim final victory in the seven-month-old conflict, the most violent of the Arab Spring uprisings that have roiled the Middle East and North Africa this year.

The new information about Colonel Qaddafi and the two sons, both considered among the most dangerous of his eight children, was reported by Hisham Buhagiar, a military official in the Transitional National Council, in an interview with Reuters.

He said Colonel Qaddafi, who has made no public appearances since his opponents overran Tripoli in late August and drove him underground, was sheltering near the western town of Ghademes, near the border with Algeria, under the protection of the Tuaregs, tribesmen who roam the Sahara traversing Libya and its neighbors.

Mr. Buhagiar did not explain the source of his information about the locations of Colonel Qaddafi and the sons. Previous assertions by the Transitional National Council concerning its knowledge of their whereabouts have never been proved accurate.

The Tuaregs declared their allegiance to Colonel Qaddafi in the early years of his four decades in power because he recruited them as soldiers and allowed Tuareg separatists in Mali and Niger to settle in Libya. Many Tuaregs have expressed opposition to the Transitional National Council.

On Tuesday, fighters for Libya’s new government claimed to have tightened their cordon of Surt by seizing its seaport.

But Col. Roland Lavoie, a spokesman for NATO, which has been assisting the new government in defeating the vestiges of Colonel Qaddafi’s forces, said that an estimated 200,000 civilians were at risk from armed Qaddafi loyalists, primarily in Surt and Bani Walid, and that acute shortages of water, food, fuel and power were “putting enormous pressure on the population.”

Colonel Qaddafi and his family have continued to taunt the former rebels. A Syrian television station broadcast what it described as a Sept. 20 rally led by Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, exhorting followers at an unidentified stronghold to fight back against his father’s enemies. “This land is the land of your forefathers. Don’t hand it over,” he said in the broadcast on the station, Al Arrai, according to a translation by Reuters. “Brothers, you need to enter Tripoli today by force.” It was impossible to verify the authenticity of the video.

Colonel Qaddafi’s daughter Aisha el-Qaddafi, meanwhile, appeared to irritate the authorities in neighboring Algeria, where she and some other members of the Qaddafi clan sought refuge after Tripoli fell in August. Last week she was quoted by Al Arrai as saying that her father was well and “fighting along with his sons at the fronts.”

Algeria’s official news agency, APS, said Tuesday that the daughter and other Qaddafi relatives staying in Algeria had been told to “respect their status as guests in Algeria and remove themselves completely from any political action.”

Kareem Fahim reported from Tripoli and Rick Gladstone from New York.

This article, “New Clues on Whereabouts of Qaddafi and Sons,” originally appeared at The New York Times.

© 2011 The New York Times Company

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