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Libyan rebels close in on Sirte, Gaddafi's last stronghold. Where is he?
TRIPOLI, Libya — As Libyan rebel forces edged toward the city of Sirte, the last remaining stronghold of Col Muammar Gaddafi, one of his wives and three of his children fled to Algeria.
Where Gaddafi is remains unknown.
Gaddafi’s wife Sofia, daughter Aisha and sons Mohammed and Hannibal arrived at the Algerian border at 8:45 a.m., according to the Algerian foreign ministry.
A spokesman for the rebels' National Transitional Council accused Algerian authorities of an act of aggression saying they would seek to extradite Gaddafi’s family to face trial in Libya.
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“We are warning anybody not to shelter Gaddafi and his sons,” said rebel spokesman Mahmoud Shamman to Reuters. “We are going after them … to find them and arrest them.”
In the streets of Tripoli, residents speculated as to the whereabouts of Gaddafi himself.
“Most likely he is in Algeria already,” said Mustafa Algarar, 55, a business manager from Tripoli, explaining Algerian leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika had always supported Gaddafi as the two had much in common.
“All the presidents of the Arab world are from the same school,” he said. “No freedom. No justice. They keep the wealth of the country for themselves and their families. This is why the Arab people are rising up.”
Samir Elzintani, a communications engineer from Tripoli, agreed that Gaddafi had likely fled Libya.
“Gaddafi is a coward. I’m sure he has fled the country already,” he said. “Always in his speeches he brags he will fight to the last bullet, but where is he? A real leader would stand up and fight, not send out orders from underground.”
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Elzintani expressed concern that if Gaddafi is not captured soon he will continue the fight through terrorism. Just five days ago, Elzintani and his neighbors discovered large amounts of explosives, detonators, rat poison and 10,000 dinar in cash in the hotel room of four men believed to be working for Gaddafi.
He said the four men, who had Libyan identification cards but appeared to be from central Africa, had raised suspicions since they arrived at the small hotel located on the same street as his family home. Elzintani along with a group of neighbors asked to check the room of these men. They have since been arrested.
Rumors circulated throughout Tripoli that Gaddafi’s son Khamis had been killed near the embattled city of Sirte and crowds gathered to celebrate in the city's Martyrs' Square, formerly Green Square.
Men, women and children sang and danced, waving rebel flags and chanting anti-Gaddafi slogans. Guns were fired. Fireworks exploded.
“Every home, every street, every hole we will search until we find you,” chanted the crowds, mimicking a famous Gaddafi speech about flushing out the rebel forces.
Plans for the world’s largest portrait — a painting of Gaddafi that was to be unveiled in the square on September 1, the anniversary of his seizure of power 42 years ago — have been thwarted by the rebels. Several large yellow cranes still stand in the middle of the square but instead of a portrait of Gaddafi, a scarecrow representing the former leader hangs by its neck from the top.
Dozens climbed the cranes chanting, “Tripoli is free” and “Where are the millions you claim want to fight for you?”
Among the crowds many said they believed Gaddafi was still hiding within the country.
“I don’t think he’d leave because he’s insane. He still thinks he has power here," said Abdullah Aleesh, 65. "He believes the people want him. He is a crazy man."
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Others speculated about possible suicide plans to avoid capture.
“I think he is in Sirte because many people support him there,” said rebel fighter Rafek Mohammed. “I think he will kill himself rather than be caught, but if they do catch him alive he should be hung like Saddam Hussein.”
Thirteen-year-old Abdul Rahman Alharari said whether or not Gaddafi remained in the country, he no longer posed a threat.
“It is true he still has many weapons, but no one is standing by him,” he said.
As the crowds rejoiced over his alleged death, the International Criminal Court hinted that Khamis Gaddafi may be next on the ICC list to face charges along with his father and brother Saif al-Islam, and Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi. Evidence of the mass killing of prisoners carried out by the notorious brigade 32, under the command of Khamis, are likely to lead to his arrest warrant, according to ICC prosecutors.
Meanwhile, Libyan rebels continue to advance on the city of Sirte. Heavy fighting in the nearby towns of Bani Walid and Sebha were reported Monday as rebel leaders said they were trying to negotiate a peaceful surrender with local tribes to avoid further bloodshed and finally bring an end to the six-month conflict.