Under the broken city, families explore Gaddafi's warren

The ghostly chanting echoed along the blast-proof concrete walls of the dark subterranean passages. "Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar," sang the rebels in a quivering chorus as they wandered yesterday wide-eyed through the pitch-black maze of tunnels deep below Muammar Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziah stronghold while celebratory gunfire and mortar blasts reverberated outside.

Some say there may be as many as 200 miles of tunnels under Tripoli, a warren of bunkers and passageways capable of holding cars and weapons stashes, where the fugitive former leader could be hiding. The network of underground walkways could connect to strategic sites around the capital, including the coast, airport and highways leading out of the city.

But the tunnels directly below Bab al-Azizah seen by The Independent on Sunday were smaller than that. A series of walkways, 6ft wide and 8ft high, connected houses in the compound to the lawns of the six-hectare compound outside. Some of the passages were slightly wider and would be capable of carrying a golf cart of the kind Colonel Gaddafi had been seen riding in past video footage.

The tunnels were accessible through vents scattered around the sprawling compound. Twenty feet down, a metal ladder bolted to the breeze block wall, there were passages, off which were a burnt-out office, a flooded bedroom, and unexplained, bolted doors.

One of these tunnels emerged amid spacious bungalows housing luxurious living quarters with a shared swimming pool. Though ransacked and partially burnt, the charred furniture and smashed television sets revealed an opulence inaccessible to many Libyans. "We could never get in, but even when we drove past the complex we stopped talking of politics," said Suliman Ali Zway, 27, a construction manager from Benghazi.

But today, Libyans – fighters, families and young men – wandered through the buildings, inspecting the abandoned paraphernalia of a privileged, domestic existence. The lush lawns were shaded by beds of shrubs and trees, their branches straining with the weight of unpicked dates and lemons. Low lights lit winding paths leading to a small white gazebo. The outdoor swimming pool was surrounded a low glass fence, the child locks still fixed to the gates. Flanked by pine decking and sheltered by an elegant canopy of wooden slats, the whitish scum of the water was broken by an abandoned mattress bobbing next to two plastic dolls and a wooden rocking chair.

A well-thumbed copy of the Financial Times's weekend supplement, "How To Spend It", lay on a coffee table in a cavernous sitting room next to books and newspapers in English and Arabic. Bank statements, textbooks and children's toys were scattered in the hallway outside. In the master bedroom, tubes of men's anti-ageing cream lay by the bedside table, beside painkillers and nasal decongestant. Elsewhere was a packet of Italian anti-cellulite cream and Wellwoman evening primrose oil.

Radwan Hashari wore designer sunglasses and a freshly laundered polo shirt. A sales and marketing executive, he had come to see inside the compound which he last visited in April 2006 when he assisted backstage at a Lionel Richie concert for the dictator. "This is victory," he said. "I've come to take pictures to post on Facebook. I'm going to show the world."

Nearby, the stench of a corpse decomposing in the beating sun mingled with the scent of cinnamon spilt in one of the industrial-sized kitchens, as a group of young men levered a huge fridge through the doorway of an abandoned bungalow.

Fighters from Misrata entered the compound in a convoy of pick-up trucks, firing guns. But families touring the grounds were unperturbed by the din. For so many years, they said, what lay behind the walls of their former leader's home had remained a mystery. "We never imagined that we would be able to stand here one day," said Tariq Mohammed Tantoush, 46. He had returned to Libya from Dundee five years ago where he worked as a university professor teaching management. Yesterday afternoon, he was taking his three sons, Suhaib, 16, Malik, 14, and Qasim, 12, to tour the compound. "It's a moment that only happens once in a lifetime," he said, "the feeling that for every tyranny, there is an end."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Programmer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Bridgend based software de...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Printer

£21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A specialist retail and brand c...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence