Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Libya conflict: Where could Muammar Gaddafi be hiding?

Muammar Gaddafi, 2010 Transitional authorities want to find Muammar Gaddafi as soon as possible
Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has disappeared from view, and finding him has become an urgent priority for Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC). Recently rumours have circulated that he may be looking to leave the country, but most people think he is still in hiding somewhere in Libya.


Such anonymity might still be found in the capital, if Col Gaddafi has chosen the tactic of hiding in plain sight.
The symbolic centre of the Gaddafi regime, the Bab al-Aziziya compound, was overrun on 23 August. But even after this, there remained pockets of resistance to the rebel advance.
In an audio message on 31 August, Col Gaddafi's most prominent son Saif al-Islam said he was speaking from the outskirts of the capital, and that he had been out for a walk earlier in the day. He said his father was well, but gave no indication of his whereabouts.
However, now that the NTC essentially controls the capital, hiding there would be a risky strategy and it might be difficult for him to escape.


Sirte is Col Gaddafi's birthplace. Still controlled by Gaddafi loyalists, it has regularly been cited as somewhere Col Gaddafi might take refuge - though it seems transitional authorities are now moving away from this theory.
Sirte is home to members of Col Gaddafi's own Qadhadfa tribe and another local tribe, the Magariha; in an audio message on 1 September, Col Gaddafi said the tribes were armed and "there is no way they will submit".
Col Gaddafi developed Sirte from an obscure outpost into a second capital, maintaining a substantial compound there. The city hosts a major army garrison and has an air base nearby. Nato has previously targeted a "large bunker" in Sirte.
But the city may also be considered too obvious a hiding place, because of its symbolic importance. And now that it is surrounded, the only realistic route of escape would be the sea, where Nato warships are deployed.

Bani Walid

Bani Walid is a city of some 50,000 people, 150km (95 miles) south-east of Tripoli. Col Gaddafi is reputed to have a lot of support there, though the city is mixed in its make-up. It is a stronghold for the Warfalla tribe. In his defiant audio message on 1 September, the fugitive leader referred to it as "an armed fortress".
The NTC may have made inroads in parts of Bani Walid - one rebel commander told the AFP news agency that 80% of people there had turned against Col Gaddafi - but the sprawling south could provide cover, as well as an escape route across the desert.
NTC officials have been quoted as saying Col Gaddafi had fled with his son Saif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah Sanussi to Bani Walid at the end of August. They believed the Gaddafis were trying to organise a fight back from the city.
Hisham Buhagiar, a military commander heading the search for Col Gaddafi, told Reuters news agency he believed the former leader had left Bani Walid and was heading south.


Sabha is a desert town hundreds of miles south of Tripoli, with tens of thousands of inhabitants. Among them are many members of Col Gaddafi's Qadhadfa tribe.
There has been some fighting around Sabha, but the town is said to remain in the control of Gaddafi supporters.
However, the depth of their loyalty is not known. In the past, Col Gaddafi had a number of people in Sabha executed, including members of the Qadhadfa and some of his own cousins. There was reportedly a big anti-Gaddafi demonstration in Sabha a few weeks ago, which is said to have been put down ruthlessly.
Though not as large as Bani Walid, Sabha is significantly further south and may therefore offer better escape options.


According to a report in the Algerian newspaper El Watan, Col Gaddafi tried to call Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from the desert town of Ghadamis, close to both the Algerian and Tunisian borders. He was said to be seeking refuge in Algeria, after his wife and three of his children crossed into the country on 29 August. It was not clear when the reported phone call was made.

Another African country

Speculation that the colonel aims to seek refuge in another country was fuelled by sightings of a convoy of vehicles driving into Niger from southern Libya. Initial reports speculated that Colonel Gaddafi could be hiding somewhere in the convoy, and further rumours indicated that Burkina Faso had offered him refuge.
But strong denials came first from Nigerien officials, who said Col Gaddafi had not entered their territory, and then Burkina Faso's government, which denied having offered him refuge.
NTC officials said the convoy included heavily armed Tuareg fighters who had fought for the Gaddafis. They had fled, taking gold and cash with them, the officials said.
But Niger did confirm that Col Gaddafi's security chief Mansour Daw was among those who had arrived on the convoy. And many people think the colonel's most likely escape route will involve travelling south.
"We have it from many sources that he's trying to go further south, towards Chad or Niger," said NTC commander Hisham Buhagiar in an interview with Reuters news agency.
However, sanctuary would appear unlikely in either of these countries. Chad has now recognised the NTC. And Niger, which has recently installed a civilian democracy after years of authoritarian rule, would be risking its reputation by taking him in.
Sudan under Omar al-Bashir has been touted as another candidate for refuge. Mr Bashir is also wanted by the ICC, and with his regime propped up by Chinese investment, he would seem to have less to lose than most.
Zimbabwe and South Africa have also been mentioned as possible destinations. But it would be hard for Col Gaddafi to escape undetected by air, and travelling to these countries by any other means would be perilous, not least because some of the nations en route are signed up to the statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and would be obliged to arrest him.
Algeria has held back from recognising the NTC, and it is not a signatory to the statute of the ICC, which is seeking the arrest of Col Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam, and Abdullah Sanussi. But Algeria's foreign minister has said his country would not take in the fugitive leader. A report in the Algerian newspaper El-Chorouk said President Bouteflika had told his cabinet that Algeria would hand Col Gaddafi over to the ICC should he try to flee to the west.
Map of Libya

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