23 Aug 2011

Libyan rebels take control of Gaddafi compound

Hundreds of rebel fighters are dancing in celebration in Colonel Gaddafi’s heavily fortified Bab al-Aziziya compound after heavy gun battles during the day, as Lindsey Hilsum reports from Tripoli.

Libyan rebels have smashed their way into Colonel Gaddafi‘s fortified compound, taking control of his headquarters in Tripoli.

Pictures showing jubilant fighters celebrating inside Bab al-Aziziya have flashed around the world in an historic day.

The rebels drove cars around in circles across the green flag of the regime as gunfire sounded out in celebration.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told Channel 4 News “time was against Gaddafi”.

He said: “I have explained many times that it was not a static situation – time was steadily running out for the regime.

“We now just have to have the same patience and strength about helping them with stabilisation.”

Channel 4 News live blog: Rebels breach Gaddafi's Libya compound

Rebels were filmed smiling and waving in front of an iconic statue of a fist clenching an American warplane, which Muammar Gaddafi has proudly appeared beside (see archive photo from 2001, left) in the past. They were also seen kicking a golden statue of Gaddafi’s head.

The opposition fighters, battling forces still loyal to Gaddafi, had earlier in the day intensified their attack on the complex in the southern centre of Tripoli, home to Gaddafi’s private quarters as well as a military barracks and other installations.

And the EU’s Baroness Ashton reported the rebels now claim to have control over 80 per cent of Tripoli, down from Monday’s claim that they were in control of 95 per cent.

Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson, who is in Tripoli, says despite today’s gains by the rebels, the war is not over: “Rebels themselves say they are concentrating their actions in the Bab al-Aziziya district of Tripoli. This is the central area in which Colonel Gaddafi’s large and well fortified bunker is now the focus of fighting. But the war is not over in Tripoli as it is also not over in other areas of Libya.”

There was little resistance at the compound in Tripoli but there were reports late on Tuesday night that Gaddafi’s forces have regrouped in the west and were shelling the oil town of Zuara near the Turnisian border.

Earlier, Nato said it believes the Gaddafi era is in its final hours. Speaking at a media conference, Nato spokesperson Oana Lungescu said the end was in sight for the Gaddafi regime and stressed that the organisation’s commitment to its UN mandate is solid: “This is the final chapter for Gaddafi. The launch of a Scud missile from Misrata shows we can’t drop our guard and we won’t. We will keep implementing the UN resolution as long as necessary.”

Nato also set out details of its role in post-Gaddafi Libya. The organisation says it will operate in a supportive role to the UN and the Libya contact group and joined the US in saying this would mean there will be “no boots on the ground”.

Libyan rebels say they will discuss the indictments of Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and his intelligence chief with the International Criminal Court but would like to try them as war criminals in Libya, a Libyan UN envoy said on Tuesday.

Libyan Deputy UN Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, a key figure in the Libyan opposition movement, was speaking to reporters at the Libyan UN mission in New York.

Meanwhile Saif al-Islam re-appeared on the streets of Tripoli on Tuesday morning, only hours after the rebels claimed to have arrested him. It is unclear at present whether Saif Gaddafi was in fact captured or whether he escaped.

Channel 4 News obtained film of the celebrations from Tarek Photography in Tripoli.