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After Intense Fighting, Rebels Take Over Gadhafi’s Tripoli Compound

August 23, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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TRANSCRIPT

RAY SUAREZ: And to the fall of Tripoli and the slow demise of the Gadhafi regime.

We begin with a report narrated by Neil Connery, of Independent Television News.

NEIL CONNERY: For those trapped in the battle for Tripoli, these have been dangerous and terrifying hours. These pictures from the Internet reportedly capture the latest clashes in the heart of the Libyan capital.

But in this fast-moving and confusing situation, what exactly do we know about the balance of power this evening? There’s been heavy fighting, with rebels claiming to have seized large parts of the city. The main battle was concentrated around Gadhafi’s fortified compound. This was his main residence, and was heavily guarded with a sophisticated communications center, bunkers and tunnels. But it now lies in rebel hands.

Gadhafi loyalists say they control much of the airport road. To the south of that, in Abu Salim, they also claim to have half the area. To the north, rebels have seized Green Square, but there is still fighting in the nearby port. They have also moved along the coast.

Gadhafi loyalists surround the Rixos Hotel, with reports of heavy fighting. Tonight, the battle for Tripoli looks like this. The red areas are held by the rebels. The green show where pro-Gadhafi forces remain.

As NATO jets continued strikes across the Libyan capital, the message to Colonel Gadhafi couldn’t have been any clearer.

OANA LUNGESCU, NATO spokeswoman: For the Gadhafi regime, this is the final chapter. The end is near and events are moving fast. What’s clear to everybody that Gadhafi is history. And the sooner he realizes it, the better.

NEIL CONNERY: The past 24 hours have been shrouded in much uncertainty, but, this evening, it’s become clearer than ever that the momentum is with the rebels.

RAY SUAREZ: Next: a two-part report from ITN’s Lindsey Hilsum in Tripoli.

LINDSEY HILSUM: All day long, the sound of battles and smoke rising from Gadhafi’s Bab Al Aziziya compound.

It’s a huge area in the center of Tripoli. He’s unlikely still to be there, but some of his loyalists are. This is maybe their last stand. But it is a violent one. Rebel fighters were seen ducking fire as the battle intensified. But the compound is so big that, even as heavy weapons were being used in one part, rebels were able to enter another.

This is the first footage of the moment one group of rebels went in from the northern side. It was given to us by a local cameraman who accompanied the fighters. This, they said, is the house of Saadi al-Gadhafi, one of the colonel’s sons. They said they met no resistance. The house seems to have been ransacked already.

Saadi had made himself head of Libya’s Olympic committee. Libyans hated the fact that they had to praise his prowess on the football pitch. They posed by the mural even as gunfire echoed outside. Then the rebels removed a few souvenirs. One fighter who used to be a dentist in (INAUDIBLE) showed me his memento.

What have you found here?

MUKTAR NAGASA, rebel fighter: This is from Saadi’s house.

LINDSEY HILSUM: This is from the — the house of the son of Colonel Gadhafi?

MUKTAR NAGASA: … probably his daughter. I don’t know. It’s probably some famous guy. Bless her. She’s a lovely girl. Her father is not.

LINDSEY HILSUM: So that’s your souvenir of the day you went into Bab Al Aziziya?

MUKTAR NAGASA: Yes, just to — to remind that moment. I will give it back after everything settles, I promise you.

(GUNFIRE)

LINDSEY HILSUM: By late afternoon, they had done it. The rebels had claimed victory in Bab Al Aziziya, Colonel Gadhafi’s compound in central Tripoli.

These are scenes Libyans never thought they’d see, the ultimate symbol of Gadhafi’s power now topped by a rebel flag. They climbed over the statue of a golden fist clutching an American jet, the symbol of power Colonel Gadhafi built after U.S. jets bombed his compound in the 1980s. They stamped on a golden cast of his head, poured insults on his name, relished their moment of triumph.

How much difference a few hours makes. Last night, Saif al-Gadhafi, the colonel’s son, reappeared in triumph after supposedly being arrested. He took reporters to Bab Al Aziziya, where he greeted rapturous fans.

Today, the streets were in the hands of local men and rebels, who manned checkpoints in their neighborhoods. Their continuing problem is snipers.

Tripoli feels very different today. You haven’t got the same crowds of jubilant people on the streets. There’s sporadic shooting around here, and we can hear heavy weapons being used at the Bab Al Aziziya compound.

Just 600 yards from where I am, rebels are trying to flush out a sniper who’s been targeting people on the streets. Nothing is certain. Fighting may not be over. You could have guerrilla warfare here, with Colonel Gadhafi’s people becoming the rebels.

But, today, opposition fighters breached the center of Colonel Gadhafi’s power and believe history is finally going their way.