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Where is Muammar Gaddafi?

The storming of Gaddafi’s compound Tuesday was a symbolic event in the anti-regime uprising. But for anti-Gaddafi fighters, the hunt for the fugitive Libyan leader is just beginning, and the possibilities of where he might be found are numerous.


Just a few days after the storming of Muammar Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, anti-Gaddafi fighters are still trying to track down the fugitive Libyan leader.

In an audio message broadcast on state radio on Wednesday, Gaddafi said he had been walking the streets of the capital in disguise. But after 48 hours of tireless searching, the hypothesis that Gaddafi has fled Tripoli entirely is being taken more and more seriously.

In pictures: The fight for Abu Salim, Tripoli, August 25
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According to most experts, Gaddafi is still in Libya. Roland Jacquard, president of the Paris-based International Observatory on Terrorism, told FRANCE 24 that indeed Gaddafi could not have left the country. “Wiretaps intercepted by Western intelligence services in the region indicate that Gaddafi is still in Libya,” Jacquard explained. “His head of personal security was in charge of finding him a certain number of hiding places in a wartime scenario.”

Sirte, a temporary hideout

The vast Libyan territory harbours several potential shelters for Gaddafi. Abdellah Ben Ali, international political correspondent for FRANCE 24, explained that Gaddafi could be hiding in Tripoli in one of numerous underground spots near his residence. This network of hiding places constructed under the former leader’s compound is said to consist of at least 50 kilometres of secret passageways.

Still, even if Gaddafi insists he is still in Tripoli, the hunt for him is covering the entire country. The city of Sirte, the last bastion of regime loyalists and the fugitive leader’s hometown, is seen as a temporary hideout option for Gaddafi.

But that could be no more than a short-term solution, as anti-regime forces are converging near the city and affirm that it is only a matter of time before they take it over, explained Abdellah Ben Ali. “There’s this probability that he would go to Sirte, but since the city is surrounded, his fate would be sealed. It would be suicidal for him to go there,” Ben Ali said. “So the most probable scenario is that Gaddafi heads south, into the Sabha area, where members of his tribe can offer him shelter.”

A promised land in the South?

The Sabha scenario is widely seen as the most plausible, and has been almost unanimously cited by analysts. “There are several possibilities [for Gaddafi] in the south of the country. Today, many people are talking about the Katroun zone in the southern-most part of the Sahara, where he already hid out in 1986 after the US bombings,” Roland Jacquard said. “And possibly Houn, too. It’s a city located halfway between the coast and the desert, and Gaddafi’s tribe is there.”

If Gaddafi opts for the southern-most part of Libya, he could also find new allies to help him. The former leader has a reputation as being resourceful, and he has maintained peaceful relations with the nomadic Tuareg people in the Sahara.

But even those advantages are fading. Certain Tuaregs have already been in contact with anti-Gaddafi fighters, especially in the Fezzan region (where Sabha is situated). And, as Jacquard pointed out, the reward offered by the National Transition Council (1.7 million dollars and amnesty for whomever offers up Gaddafi) “can expedite his capture, because today there are people in his entourage, particularly in the former Republican Guard, who may be tempted by this kind of compensation”.

The possibility of exile

If Gaddafi feels the end nearing, he could pursue a final option: exile. By taking advantage of Libya’s unsecured desert borders in the south, he could make it into Chad, Niger, or Algeria.

Algeria, in particular, could be a viable option for him, as the Libyan opposition has already accused Algerian authorities of supporting Gaddafi even as his country has turned against him. Up until Gaddafi’s compound fell to anti-regime fighters, other analysts had mentioned the possibility of his fleeing by airplane to South Africa or Venezuela. Those hypotheses have since been abandoned.

But nearly all experts agree that any solution is temporary at best. As Sylvain Attal, FRANCE 24’s international politics specialist, concluded: “Everything will ultimately depend on the complicated power dynamics between the new Libyan administration and these tribes. But even if it’s a question of time, it’s too important for the new Libya not to capture and judge Gaddafi. Getting Gaddafi is key to the complete collapse of his regime.”

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