Missile strikes building in Libyan compound where Gaddafi lives

March 20, 2011

A missile struck a building on Sunday night in the compound where Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi lives, fueling the rage that has erupted among his supporters since U.N.-mandated airstrikes began Saturday.

Government officials took reporters to see the collapsed building here, littered with concrete and missile parts, shortly after a loud explosion was heard from the area. A plume of smoke was seen rising from the Bab al-Aziziya compound, a walled, fortified enclave on the southwestern edge of Tripoli where the Libyan leader lives.

The building was an administrative one located near the tent where Gaddafi receives visitors, and at the time about 200 of his supporters were in the compound nearby, acting as human shields.

“This is the very famous home of our leader,” government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said. “This place is protected by a voluntary human shield. The danger of harming people was real.”

The attack occurred as Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Washington that “we’re not targeting [Gaddafi’s] residence.”

But the compound may have been struck by missiles fired by British or French forces, which have taken the lead in the effort to halt attacks by Libyan forces against rebels seeking to topple Gaddafi. CNN quoted “coalition sources” in Washington as saying that the building was hit because it contained “command and control” capabilities.

Gaddafi survived a 1986 U.S. airstrike on the compound, and he has maintained as a monument the bombed-out shell of his former residence about 100 yards from the building that was hit Sunday.

Some inside the compound gathered at the site of the bombing to roar slogans supporting Gaddafi and denounce the world leaders who have lined up behind the allied mission. Others milled around on the floodlit, manicured lawn as loudspeakers blared patriotic Libyan music.

“I am here to protect our leader,” said Badridine Mufta, 27, who was spending his second night in the compound. “I am prepared to die with him. . . . We are expecting to get killed.”

Whether Gaddafi is still living there was unclear, however.

He has not appeared in public since the U.N. Security Council voted Thursday for a resolution authorizing the use of force. Earlier in the day, he delivered a defiant audio address on state television from an undisclosed location, in which he warned the Western and Arab nations arrayed against him that they would face “a long war.”

Libyan state media reported that 48 people had been killed and many injured in allied strikes overnight Saturday, among them people who died when civilian buildings were hit.

But the government would not allow journalists to visit hospitals or any of the other sites that were hit, making it difficult to verify the claims.

Instead, journalists were bused to a cemetery on the seafront where the funerals of 26 people allegedly killed in the strikes were underway.

As the buses arrived, hundreds of Gaddafi supporters who appear at every government-organized media tour swarmed into the cemetery chanting slogans and firing AK-47s into the air.

One freshly dug grave belonged to Siham Tabib, a 3-month-old baby whose father, Ferjaj Mohammed Tabib, said she had been hit by shrapnel. But he and other family members gave conflicting accounts of the circumstances of her death and the number of family members who were injured.

The anger among the Gaddafi supporters was real, but the mood elsewhere in the city was more subdued, with residents appearing more stunned than enraged at the attacks. Shops were closed, and traffic was light.

Amid the angry chanting, one man sidled up to journalists to offer a dissenting opinion. “This is all lies,” he said. “No civilians were killed. They were all military.”

Looking around to ensure he wasn’t being overheard, he made a prediction. “Wait a week, and you will see,” he said. “The people will rise up.”

Liz Sly is the Post’s Beirut bureau chief. She has spent more than 15 years covering the Middle East, including the Iraq war. Other postings include Africa, China and Afghanistan.
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