No sign of Gaddafi as his fortress finally falls

 

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The Independent Online

The massive green gates were blasted open after seven hours of ferocious fighting and exultant rebels poured into Bab al-Aziziya, Muammar Gaddafi's fortress and the symbol of the regime's bloody resistance in Tripoli. The fighters scoured through the complex shouting to each other that they had trapped the dictator in his lair.

Frantic early searches failed to find the quarry and the revolutionaries were last night trying to locate a network of tunnels supposedly hidden inside the complex. Meanwhile, they tore down the regime's green flag from the top of his home, which had been bombed in 1986 by US warplanes, and replaced it with the banner of the revolution.

For the revolutionaries, frustrated and angry that their entry into the capital had not resulted in the immediate vanquishing of their hated foe, the fall of the bastion gave cathartic relief. They hugged each other amid repeated cries of "Allahu Akbar". One of the fighters climbed on to the statue of a clenched fist, a symbol of defiance against the West, and raised his hand in a victory salute. Another statue, that of Colonel Gaddafi, was dragged out of a building by rope, the head torn off and tossed from hand to hand.

But not all of the regime's forces had left the sprawling compound and groups emerged to carry out ambushes, leading to running battles. The violence continued to rise in tempo in the aftermath of the storming of the complex with volleys of mortar rounds and missiles arcing their way across the city.

Some of the most ferocious clashes were around Green Square, now renamed Martyr Square, the scene of a victory party the night the rebels had come into the capital. Gaddafi troops, who had taken up vantage points in high buildings, began to pour out steady fire below, forcing rebel positions to fall back.

As the Shabab, the volunteers of the uprising, were driving along the roads flanked with burned out vehicles, blowing horns, they came under sniper fire, causing some of their "technicals" – gun mounted flat-bed trucks – to crash. Soon the sounds of celebration from the streets were mingling with the sound of sirens of the city's medical service, already under acute strain. Malik Abdullah Bagdis, pausing in between firing his Kalashnikov into the air, cried out: "We have got into the cave of this animal. We shall find him, he cannot hide from us for long, where can he run now?"

Abdel-Aziz Shafiya, walking down one of the main roads of the compound with a rocket-propelled grenade in one hand and a Kalashnikov in the other, said: "I feel an explosion of joy in my heart."

As fighting continued throughout the morning, a ship arrived in Tripoli from Benghazi to disgorge hundreds of fighters as well as large quantities of arms and convoys of "technicals". This was in contravention of the TNC's own declaration that forces from the east would not be sent into the capital in an effort to avoid tribal and regional enmities. Yesterday also saw a series of Nato air strikes focusing on Bab al-Aziziyah, as well as naval fire.

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