Tripoli/Sirte: Libyan government fighters have captured Moammar Gadhafi’s son Mo’tassim as he tried to escape the battle-torn city of Sirte, National Transitional Council (NTC) officials told Reuters.
The capture of the deposed leader’s national security adviser, and the first member of the Gadhafi family, is a big boost to Libya’s new rulers whose forces are still battling pro-Gadhafi fighters in his home town of Sirte.
“He was arrested today in Sirte,” Colonel Abdullah Naker told Reuters on Wednesday. Other NTC sources said Mo’tassim was taken to Benghazi where he was questioned at the Boatneh military camp where he is being held. He was uninjured but exhausted.
Libyan revolutionary fighters control downtown Sirte, Libya, 12 October 2011. Photo by AP.
Hundreds of NTC fighters took to the streets in several Libyan cities and fired shots in the air in celebration.
Gadhafi loyalists have fought tenaciously for weeks in Sirte, one of just two major towns where they still have footholds, two months after rebels seized the capital Tripoli.
NTC foot soldiers cleaned their weapons and began to move up to the front line in Sirte on Thursday while tanks and rocket launchers bombarded the remaining small pockets of resistance.
It was not yet clear whether resistance would crumble from the Gadhafi loyalist side now that Mo’tassim had been captured, or whether his remaining troops would fight on, or whether they were even aware of the news.
Mo’tassim belonged to a conservative camp -- rooted in the military and security forces -- which resisted his brother Saif al-Islam’s reform attempts, analysts said.
A senior NTC military official told the news agency that Mo’tassim had cut his usually long hair shorter to disguise himself.
Gadhafi and his most politically prominent son, Saif Al-Islam, have been on the run since the fall of Tripoli in August. Gadhafi himself is believed to be hiding somewhere far to the south in the vast Libyan desert.
His daughter Aisha, her brothers Hannibal and Mohammed, their mother Safi and several other family members fled to Algeria in August and have lived their since. Another son, Saadi, is in Niger.
NTC field commanders say more than 80% of Sirte is now under their control. Gadhafi’s men are still in parts of the “Number Two” and the ‘Dollar´ neighbourhoods,” they say.
Green flags, the symbol of Gadhafi’s 42 years in power, still fly above many of the buildings in the neighbourhoods.
In the “Number Two” neighbourhood, government forces found 25 corpses wrapped in plastic sheets. They accused pro-Gadhafi militias of carrying out execution-style killings.
Five corpses shown to a Reuters team wore civilian clothes and had their hands tied behind their backs and gunshot wounds to the head.
“There are about 25 innocent people with their hands tied. There is no humanity. It’s sad,” said NTC commander Salem al Fitouri standing besides the corpses, which he said had been there for at least five days.
Medical workers at a hospital outside Sirte said four NTC fighters were killed and 43 others were wounded on Wednesday.
The NTC has said it will start the process of rebuilding Libya as a democracy only after the capture of Sirte, a former fishing village transformed by Gadhafi into a showpiece replete with lavish conference halls and hotels.