Initial assault on Gaddafi stronghold falters

Missiles fired from Bani Walid repulse first attack on town where ex-leader is rumoured to be hiding

The rockets landed in quick succession, three blasts throwing up debris, dust and shrapnel, sending the fighters scampering for cover. Sniper fire followed, pinning them down in ditches, behind their trucks and cars. The only immediate response from the forces of the provisional government, the Transitional National Council (TNC), was defiant cries of "Allah hu Akhbar" while they waited for Nato air strikes.

Twenty-four minutes earlier Abdullah Kenshil, the chief negotiator for the TNC, had been confident the Gaddafi forces entrenched in Bani Walid were close to surrender. "This chapter will now close with roses not guns. They know they are beaten; they are very keen to negotiate," he declared. But the spokesman for the TNC's military council, Abdurrahman Busin, had given a differing account of fierce street fighting inside the town, saying: "The Gaddafi troops had tried hard to fight back, but they are now pushed right back and we are in the centre."

Yet another version came from the fighters who had just come out of Bani Walid. "Man, they have Grads [rockets], mortars, machine guns. We went in and then had to come out again; we do not have enough people," said Ramzi al-Hamsi, 28. His 22-year-old companion, Abdel Al-Aguri, was sceptical about the prospects of another assault. "We cannot do it unless we get reinforcements. They have more people in there than we expected."

Yesterday saw the expiry of the surrender deadline given by the revolutionaries for the remaining strongholds of the former regime – Sirte, Sabbah and Bani Walid. There was no movement on the first two fronts, while at Bani Walid Gaddafi's troops had retreated. TNC forces coming in from the east had got to within three miles of the town by early yesterday morning. By the afternoon they had fallen back 25 miles, blaming this, again, on the lack of manpower. A further advance would be made, their officers said, when 400 car-loads of fighters arrived from Misrata, supposedly by nightfall.

The revolutionaries had claimed that their retreats around Bani Walid had been at Nato's request to allow air strikes to take place. However, an alliance spokesman in Brussels denied this, saying that Nato "does not have contact with TNC forces".

By yesterday afternoon, though, there appeared to have been at least one air strike following rocket attacks on the revolutionary forces, and warplanes could be heard overhead for several hours. One TNC fighter, bemoaning the stalemate on the ground, blamed Nato's supposed lack of action. "We would not be stuck on this road if they had bombed those Grads earlier," he said.

Casualties on both sides were relatively light yesterday. Two TNC fighters were killed, one of them when his machine gun blew up, and the Gaddafi forces also lost two. The revolutionary forces also claimed to have taken six prisoners, including a brigadier-general. Residents trickling out of Bani Walid reported that some early skirmishes had been followed by exchanges of artillery fire, which had made them fearful that their homes would be hit.

"We have been hearing for days that the rebels [TNC forces] are coming, but nothing happens and all we get are some bombs landing," said Mohammed Abduallah Ali, 44, bringing his wife and four children out of the town through a back route in a battered Peugeot car. "There are some people from some tribes who are loyal to Muammar. There are not many of them and it should not be difficult for the rebels to deal with them. We do not want people dying, getting injured, but we also want this to be over."

Many of the TNC fighters had convinced themselves that the reason for the stubborn resistance they had encountered at Bani Walid was that the former regime's most senior fugitives were holed up there. "We hear that Gaddafi himself may be there, but I cannot say any more because this is secret intelligence," the TNC's Mr Kenshil let on at one stage. However, he had also "revealed" three days earlier that "Sirte has surrendered", leading to wild celebratory gunfire by the TNC fighters.

Faraj Mohammed Ahmuda, a 29- year-old dentist turned fighter, insisted he had personal knowledge of Gaddafi's presence in the town. "I went back there last Friday in civilian clothes to make sure my family was all right," he said. "I went to a place where Gaddafi was having lunch; he was having couscous and chicken." The dictator's son Saif al-Islam and the former head of military intelligence, Abdullah al-Senussi, were also in Bani Walid, he added.

In reality, the fallen dictator and his close circle have remained elusive for the TNC forces. Different, and often contradictory, locations are given by senior members of the TNC, despite Western special forces, including the SAS, supposedly being involved in the hunt.

Interpol announced that it has issued its top-priority, "most wanted" alert for the arrest of Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam and Abdullah al-Senoussi. The governments of Niger and Burkina Faso, where, according to some reports, they had headed in a convoy, denied the fugitives were in their territory.

Meanwhile, officials in Niger said four senior Libyan military officers had entered the country. The justice minister, Amadou Morou, said late on Friday that the Libyan chief of staff of the air force, his pilot and the commanders of two Libyan military regions have arrived in Niger. Mr Morou declined to name the officers, and he condemned an attack on the Niger embassy in Tripoli on Wednesday night by a group of 20 armed men who tried to force their way in. He said the compound is now being offered protection by the TNC.

Financial aid: IMF offers cash to help provisional government

The International Monetary Fund cleared the way yesterday for billions of dollars in aid to be sent to the provisional government of Libya, the National Transitional Council.

The head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, offered "technical assistance, policy advice and financial support if requested" as the NTC begins to "rebuild Libya's economy".

The G7 announced aid worth $38bn (£24bn) – $20bn more than it pledged earlier this year – to help to boost democracy in Arab countries, including Egypt and Tunisia, and ease trade with the Middle East and North Africa. Libya's interim ruling council will be invited to join the scheme.

George Osborne, the UK Chancellor, said: "Greater trade and prosperous, dynamic, successful economies in the region is an opportunity for both these countries but also for Britain."

The IMF offered an extra $35bn to support the region's oil-importing countries. "They are the ones suffering the most from the high commodity prices," Ms Lagarde said.

However, a report from the US suggested that IMF resources could prove insufficient if financial conditions worsen.

Matt Chorley

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering