Video footage recorded by the Reuters news agency showed Saif al-Islam being greeted by supporters. “To hell with the ICC,” he said, in reference to the International Criminal Court, which has issued a warrant for his arrest. “We assure the people that things are fine in Libya.”
The BBC and CNN quoted him as telling reporters that government forces had lured the rebels into a trap and “broken the back” of the opposition army and that pro-Gaddafi forces are back in control of the city.
The confusion made the assertion impossible to confirm, but with gunfire and explosions echoing ominously through the streets and Gaddafi’s whereabouts still unknown, it was clear that the capital was far from secure.
President Obama and other world leaders declared an end to Gaddafi’s nearly 42-year-long rule and hailed the courage of the Libyan people. The leaders said they were looking forward to cooperating with a new Libyan government, which presumably would be led by the opposition’s Transitional National Council, based in the eastern city of Benghazi.
Obama cautioned that “the situation is still very fluid.”
“There remains a degree of uncertainty, and there are still regime elements who pose a threat,” he said, speaking from Martha’s Vineyard, Mass, where he is vacationing. But, addressing his remarks to the Libyan people, he said: “The Libya that you deserve is within your reach.”
How close was in question, however, as the uncertainty on Tripoli’s streets appeared only to mount as the day wore on. With Gaddafi himself on the run, it was clear that the epic and often-eccentric rule of the man who once proclaimed himself “king of Africa” had effectively come to a close.
Yet the mystery surrounding his whereabouts and the indications that his loyalists were still capable of mounting resistance in the capital raised echoes of Baghdad in April 2003, when Saddam Hussein slipped away from advancing U.S. troops and later served as a lightning rod for disgruntled regime loyalists, who formed the core of an insurgency that persists to this day.
Rebels in Tripoli said they were confident that Gaddafi was still in the capital, and they erected checkpoints around the city to ensure he did not abscond. “We are winning. It is safe,” said rebel fighter Abdel Azouz, as the sound of explosions and gunfire echoed down the telephone line. “There’s just a few dirty rats here and there who don’t want to give up.”