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Tripoli Sees a Mix of Jubilation, Volatility, Calm as Hunt for Gadhafi Continues

August 22, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
After a swift weekend advance was met with celebrations on the street of Tripoli, Libyan rebels say they are in control of much of the capital but Moammar Gadhafi continued to elude capture. Jeffrey Brown discusses the latest developments with Independent Television News' Lindsey Hilsum, who entered Tripoli with the rebels.
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: I talked with Lindsey Hilsum from Tripoli after she filed that report.

Lindsey Hilsum, thanks for talking to us.

It’s nighttime there now. What’s the situation? Is fighting continuing?

LINDSEY HILSUM: Yes, I understand it is in the center around the Bab Al Aziziya compound, which is Colonel Gadhafi’s compound, although we don’t think he’s there, and the Rixos Hotel, which is where many of the journalists are trapped.

I am in the west of the city in a quiet area. All I can hear is a little bit of gunfire and the sound of NATO planes overhead. But in other parts of the city, it’s extremely dangerous, violent and volatile tonight. I have just heard a couple of bangs even as I’m speaking to you.

JEFFREY BROWN: You mentioned Gadhafi. Is there any better sense of his whereabouts, even whether he’s in fact still in the country?

LINDSEY HILSUM: Not really. I asked one man today where is Gadhafi, and he said gone with the wind. And I think that’s as good a guess as any.

There is no solid information about his whereabouts or his plans, other than his last audio broadcast in which he said that he would never surrender and, if he died, he would die in Libya.

JEFFREY BROWN: As to the loyalists still fighting, does the bulk of the army seem to have fled or crumbled? What — what can you tell about the strength of the loyalists at this point?

LINDSEY HILSUM: Well, I think Colonel Gadhafi’s army was always a fractured and fragmented institution.

And people I was talking to say that people in the army, senior people, even gave them weapons and prison guards let prisoners out. So I don’t think it’s at all solid. What the rebels and the people who have taken part in this insurrection say is that main people fighting for Colonel Gadhafi now are mercenaries.

Many of them are from African countries, Chad, Mali, Sudan. But at one point today, we were where — near the National Oil Corporation, and, there, the rebels have taken it over. And they were marching with their hands on their heads 10 white men into a room. I asked, who were these persons, and I was told that they were Ukrainian mercenaries.

JEFFREY BROWN: Your report showed us pictures of joyous residents. Can you tell if that is the majority of the people, or is there still some sense of a divided city?

LINDSEY HILSUM: I think that’s the majority. I came to Libya for the first time six months ago, just a few days after the revolution started in the east.

And I have spent a lot of time there this year. Of course, there are people who benefited from Colonel Gadhafi’s rule. There are families and tribes who made alliances with him. But the majority of Libyans, as far as I can tell, hate him, want to see him go. And that’s why there was such extraordinary scenes of emotion and jubilation on the streets today and last night.

It’s not over. There is still this fighting. There’s a danger that there could be more bloodshed, maybe a lot more bloodshed, but, still, people I was speaking to today were saying this is the first time we feel that we have breathed freedom.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, finally, can you tell, is there a sense of discipline or command among the rebels? Is there a presence of some kind of leadership?

LINDSEY HILSUM: Well, the National Transitional Council is still in Benghazi, the city to the east which they took over back in February.

And they say that they will be sending leaders here to Tripoli as soon as possible. But, of course, it’s still so violent and volatile, I’m not quite sure when that will be possible. But what is interesting is how coordinated and well-organized this insurrection was started on Saturday was.

Obviously, for many months, the people who were going to take part in that here met and talked quietly and secretly, and weapons were smuggled in. And then the imams at the moment of the breaking of the Ramadan fast called from the minarets for people to rise up. And they came out in the tens of thousands and started to attack Colonel Gadhafi’s installations.

At that same time, rebels from different parts of the surrounding area of Tripoli marched — started to march toward the capital city. And so I think that shows a degree of coordination which we certainly didn’t see at the beginning of this revolution back in February.

JEFFREY BROWN: Lindsey Hilsum of ITN, thanks so much, and take good care.

LINDSEY HILSUM: You’re welcome.