TRIPOLI, Libya — Forty feet underground, beneath a sprawling Gaddafi family mansion, lies a bunker that would have made a great place to hide.
The entrance is hard to find: To get there, you go past the front door equipped with a fingerprint reader, through the garden and behind neatly trimmed shrubs, where there is a mysterious passageway. From there, it’s three flights of stairs down until you arrive at a one-foot-thick steel door. Behind the door, there’s a lair straight out of a James Bond film.
The bunker, discovered by rebel forces who have swept through this city in recent days, is only one of many that Moammar Gaddafi and his family had constructed to ensure their personal safety should life aboveground became hazardous. As the rebel forces continue to hunt for Gaddafi and his sons, the nest of bunkers and tunnels beneath this capital city has become a prime focus of their search.
This bunker is beneath a mansion owned by Gaddafi’s son Mutassim Gaddafi, 34, who acted as his father’s security adviser and who met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2009.
In the house, which was under construction when the rebels overran Tripoli, abstract paintings hang on the walls above leather sofas. Features include a gym, a pool and two bars. Copies of Elle and Vogue magazines, and a brochure advertising a 280-foot yacht available to “exclusive clients,” are scattered on the floor. Thirty-foot walls ring the house.
“We lived in poverty while he lived like a king,” said Ashraf Al Khaderi, a young physician who lives in the neighborhood and who gave visitors a tour Thursday. “This man was not a Muslim. I can’t believe they ruled us for 40 years.”
The setup underground is perhaps even more elaborate. The bunker includes an operating room. When rebels and neighbors discovered it, they quickly shifted the medical supplies to civilian hospitals, which are in dire need of equipment.
A generator is set up to provide electricity and water. Sewage and drainage pipes hang neatly from 10-foot-high ceilings. Versace clothes line the closets.
The walls are painted white, with green lines leading to another steel door. Behind it are living quarters, which, as of Thursday, had been trashed, presumably by rebels searching for Moammar Gaddafi and his possessions. Pillows and mattresses had been cut up, lining the bedrooms and bathrooms with feathers and foam.
Atop a desk that had been kicked over, there was a brochure for a German company advertising a program for intercepting e-mails and sniffing out Internet protocol addresses.
“This illustrates the mind-set of a freak,” Khaderi said of Gaddafi. “He was always living in fear. He has prepared himself for this moment.”
The elder Gaddafi, who apparently issued an audio message Thursday, has said he will never leave Tripoli. A son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, has managed to pop up at locations across the city, suggesting to many that he may be using an intricate network of tunnels.
“There could be people behind there,” Khaderi said. “They could still be hiding here.”