Monday, August 22, 2011

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's regime appears to be nearing collapse, but the colonel himself has apparently gone underground.

U.S. officials say they believe he is still in Libya, but if they have any more precise fix on his whereabouts, they aren't sharing the details.

In a briefing Monday afternoon on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., where President Barack Obama is vacationing with his family, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the "best information" indicated that the Libyan strongman was still in Libya, whereabouts unknown.

"That's the latest," Mr. Earnest said. "There's no evidence to indicate that he's left."

Dia Alhutmany, a spokesman for the rebel-aligned Libyan Mission to the United Nations in New York, said Col. Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, once seen as his possible successor, had been captured and was in rebel hands. It wasn't immediately possible to confirm cable reports that Seif el-Islam had turned up at a Tripoli hotel later Monday. He said another son, Mohammed, had been captured, but may have escaped rebel custody.

Mr. Alhutmany wasn't able to confirm reports of the capture of a third son, Saadi, and added that another son, Mutassim, may have escaped to the city of Sabha in the south.

Clashes were reported Monday around Col. Gadhafi's Tripoli compound. The colonel has held power for more than four decades, alternately defying and courting the West. He survived U.S. airstrikes in the 1980s after being linked to the bombing of a Berlin disco popular with American service members.

During the George W. Bush administration, he won renewed relations with the U.S. by agreeing to give up his quest for weapons of mass destruction.

But the rapprochement didn't survive the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests that hit the country amid the so-called Arab spring. The violence spawned an armed rebellion and drew in the military might of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

After six months of back-and-forth fighting, the rebels burst into Tripoli this weekend.

Mr. Earnest said the administration had been in regular communication with Libya's National Transitional Council, whose rebel forces are fighting for control of Tripoli. He added that administration officials were watching the news—and reading updates on social-network sites—along with the rest of the world for news from the front.

"We're obviously also closely following the open-source reporting that—from your colleagues who are there in the region," he said. "Even some of the social media outlets—Twitter and things—are providing some insight into what's happening there."

A senior administration official said the U.S. doesn't have any indication that Col. Gadhafi has left Libya, but doesn't know where he is within the country. Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, offered a similar take. "We do not have any information that he has left the country," he said.

Administration officials dismissed speculation that Col. Gadhafi had reached out to the U.S. government in an eleventh-hour bid to buy more time.

The colonel may have hinted at his own end-game during a February interview with Libyan state television. "I will be a martyr at the end," he said.


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