The city of Sirte lay in the hands of Libya's revolutionary forces last night, with only a tiny pocket of pro-Gaddafi fighters continuing to hold out in their fugitive former leader's birthplace.
Fighters loyal to Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), were celebrating after it was reported that Mutassim Gaddafi, a son of Colonel Gaddafi who has been commanding resistance within Sirte, had been captured and taken to the eastern city of Benghazi. The Independent could not verify this report.
Yesterday, the NTC fighters stormed through the city centre, unleashing a torrent of anti-aircraft fire into the streets around them. The men went from house to house, shooting the locks off doors as they searched for the last snipers and civilians still remaining in this battered city.
By 1pm, they had crossed Sirte and reached the coast, where once-lavish seafront villas were ransacked amidst the constant boom of artillery and crackle of small arms fire.
Sirte has been under attack by the NTC forces for almost a month now. Libya's new leaders say that they will not start the clock on elections until the last vestiges of pro-Gaddafi resistance have been subdued.
Yesterday NTC fighters had taken the city and pushed Gaddafi's final fighters into an area in the north-west of the city, around 500m by 1km, according to one of the revolutionary co-ordinators, Osama Muttawa Swehli. The loyalists continued to resist the rebel advance and at 3pm delivered a counter-attack blasting through the sea-front villas were rebels were stationed. As bullets slashed through the buildings around them, the sparse group of fighters struggled to hold their ground. Two of them were killed.
"It's the story of Sirte," said Mr Swehli. "We'd like them to give up because there's no way out, but they give us no option." Fighting-age males were fleeing the city. A car containing five escaping Gaddafi loyalists was caught up in the NTC advance. The door of the dark green BMW saloon was still open but the men had fled. The NTC forces caught up with two of them in the basement of one of the houses there and shot them dead. One of the fighters tore an amulet from a corpse and solemnly announced: "Magic". "Africa," said another. The men wore worn clothes and were already injured. One had dirty bandages on his hand, another had a wounded eye. Inside the city, there were people still living in a few of the houses. Behind one gate was a villa where around 30 Sudanese men, women and children were hiding in a basement, waiting to leave. The NTC fighters searched them and when they found no weapons, arranged for cars to take them out of the city.
In another house, two young men who claimed to be civilians were found to have a Kalashnikov and a rocket propelled grenade launcher.
They were taken outside and their hands cuffed behind their backs before they were led away. Their elderly father, dressed in a white turban and black robe, followed them, shouting and waving a large stick.
Tensions are raised as NTC fighters hear of alleged atrocities committed against their forces. On Tuesday, 30 recently executed bodies were discovered in the city, their hands cuffed and medics said they had been there for three days. Rebels claimed that these were rebel fighters.
Profile: Mutassim Gaddafi
Mutassim is Colonel Gaddafi's fourth son and was both his national security adviser and a senior officer in the army.
He had until the uprising been regarded as a coming man in the regime and was close to Mussa Kussa. He was, according to a cable published by Wikileaks, responsible in 2009 for demading $12bn from the chairman of Libya's national oil corporation.
Mutassim reportedly hired the singer Beyoncé for £1.5m at a New Year's Eve party.
Other performers at the party are said to have included Usher and Lindsay Lohan.Reuse content