Since sweeping into Tripoli last night, Libyan rebel forces have taken control of wide swaths of the capital, sent top government officials fleeing, and watched their flag hoisted around the world as other countries recognized their leadership.
But there is one thing they do not have, and that is the thing they want the most: Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.
Gaddafi has not been seen in public for more than two months, making his presence known only through a steady stream of defiant audio messages, before going silent altogether last night.
Rebel forces do not know where Gaddafi is hiding. A Pentagon spokesman says analysts believe he has not left the country. Other speculations are spreading, so here are some of the most likely possibilities:
1. The Rixos Hotel
The hotel in which foreign journalists have been confined and power has been cut has been a favored hideout of Gaddafi before. In May, the Libyan leader appeared to give a speech from inside the hotel, surprising journalists who were staying there and had not seen the leader come or go. Staff at the Rixos told the Telegraph they have an explanation for that: an intricate tunnel system connected to the hotel. The staff also said the rear of the hotel had a ramp capable of holding large vehicles, which then descend “into the earth.” NATO has previously acknowledged that Gaddafi uses underground tunnels to move around Libya.
He wouldn’t be alone in Tunisia, with Libyan Prime Minister Al Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi and the head of the country's television union, Abdallah Mansour, having already fled to the Tunisian island of Djerba. This morning, press photographers gathered at airports in the country after it was reported that Gaddafi hoped to send his wife and daughter into exile there. So far, no luck.
3. South Africa
Speculation spread that Gaddafi was being granted asylum in South Africa after South African planes were spotted in Tripoli on Sunday night. Foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane quickly dismissed the rumors, saying the planes had been sent to collect the country’s staff. Nkoana-Mashabane also said he thought Gaddafi was still in his Tripoli compound. But Nelson Mandela’s unlikely friendship with Gaddafi is being cited as reasons not to let the rumors die.
4. Bab al-Azizya Compound
Since entering the capital, the rebels have made Gaddafi’s Bab al-Azizya compound a focal point, as it has long been believed to be Gaddafi’s greatest hideout. But the heavy bombardment of the compound seems to make that possibility less likely — one man who lived next to the compound told the Associated Press Monday: “When I climb the stairs and look at it from the roof, I see nothing at Bab al-Aziziya. NATO has demolished it all and nothing remains.”
Support for Gaddafi remains strong in the Mediterranean city of Sirte, the leader’s birthplace. It has been suggested that Gaddafi could spend the last of his years living in peaceful exile there with the rest of his kin.
6. Hospital outside Tripoli
Al-Arabiya TV has reported that Gaddafi is in a hospital outside Tajoura, a suburb east of Tripoli. It wouldn’t be the first time. In May, British security chiefs told David Cameron that Gaddafi was moving from hospital to hospital because they are safe from attack.