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Hunt for Gadhafi Intensifies, New Battles Rage in Tripoli

August 25, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
Gunfire and explosions hammered parts of Libya's capital on Thursday as rebels swept through neighborhoods in search of Moammar Gadhafi. International Television News' James Mates and Lindsey Hilsum report from Tripoli, where the fighting of this civil war has intensified.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Gunfire and explosions hammered parts of Tripoli today, as rebels swept through neighborhoods in search of Moammar Gadhafi.

We begin our coverage with a report from James Mates of Independent Television News in the Libyan capital.

(GUNFIRE)

JAMES MATES: Out of nowhere, the battle that still rages in Tripoli was on our doorstep. The hotel where most of the international press are staying and which had been considered relatively safe was engulfed in a gun battle between rebels and what they believed was a Gadhafi loyalist sniping from a high building.

It ended as suddenly as it had started, but it was typical of the firefights that are still making life so difficult for everyone in this city. Further south in the city, the rebels have managed to liberate large numbers of political prisoners held in the notorious Abu Salim jail. Many had been held by the regime ever since the uprising began more than six months ago.

As their guards fled, the prisoners themselves beat down the doors of their cells, in which many had been routinely beaten and tortured. This afternoon, we met one of those who escaped, Abdul Hakim Aluse, now back home and reunited with his daughter, Maez.

In the months he had been held, he confirmed the worst of the stories we had heard about Gadhafi’s jails.

MAN: He said he was captured. He said they put him in a cell. They tortured him. They beat him repeatedly, you know, and they did everything possible, you know, in order to get some information from him.

JAMES MATES: For the most part, the fighting and the weaponry have moved to the south of Tripoli. The rebels are now convinced they have this battle won. The one piece of news they do want to hear, though, is that Gadhafi has been captured.

And this evening, rumors spread through rebel ranks that they may — just may — have members of the Gadhafi family, possibly even the colonel himself, surrounded in a building near his compound. Apartment blocks near Bab Al Aziziya were stormed and doors kicked in amid heavy fire from both sides.

A short time ago, those rumors, perhaps not surprisingly, turned out to be false, but the reaction to them shows the importance that is being put on capturing the man who has the power to end this war.

RAY SUAREZ: Amid the fighting, Gadhafi remained defiant. One television station broadcast a voice message by Gadhafi denouncing the rebels as traitors.

The fight for the capital has taken an immense personal toll.

Lindsey Hilsum of ITN visited one area north of Gadhafi’s compound where the casualties of this civil war have been especially searing.

Her report contains graphic images.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The war is still within sight of Tripoli’s Mansoura district, and what happened here will never be forgotten.

A local computer engineer, Abdul Hamid, showed me where Colonel Gadhafi’s neighborhood thugs had their headquarters.

Big picture of Gadhafi here…

MAN: Yes.

LINDSEY HILSUM: … now gone.

It was a place everyone feared. Decorated in the “Brother Leader”‘s favorite green, it’s a monument to his eccentricity and to the brutality of his rule. Just outside, we found a group of young men who had watched in horror last Saturday as three people carrying the new Libyan flag had approached the Gadhafi checkpoint.

ANAS MOHAMMED BANI, Libya (through translator): The militiamen stopped them and kicked them to the ground. The people in the flats opposite called out, “Why are you doing that to Libyans?”

They said: “If you don’t like Gadhafi, we will do the same to you. Watch us.”

LINDSEY HILSUM: The bus shelter bears the marks of what happened next. All three were shot in the head and left to die on the street.

Next door was another Gadhafi stronghold where his followers would gather, a place to avoid in normal times, and even more so recently.

This was supposed to be a sports center, but it seems that Gadhafi’s people used it for something much more sinister. There’s a patch of blood on the ground here and a terrible smell. The local men say there was a refrigerated truck here. And they found more than 10 bodies inside.

We went to the flat of the El Goula family. Two sons are still missing. Two have returned from a horrific ordeal. Arrested last Saturday night, they were interrogated for three days, but then released by Gadhafi’s soldiers.

Munir’s story is almost too raw to relate.

MUNIR EL GOULA, Libya (through translator): When they opened the gate, mercenaries came and pushed the soldiers back into the jail. They shot an old man in the leg. I didn’t think they would kill us, but the mercenaries entered the jail and shot the prisoners in the legs. One took a grenade and threw it in. Five times, they opened the door, shot inside, and threw a grenade. A lot of people died. My brother Abdullah was behind me.

LINDSEY HILSUM: He says, somehow, he escaped, but believes 20 soldiers and more than 100 prisoners were killed.

The local mosque has become the center for a new kind of neighborhood rule. They’re trying to establish law and order. The computer engineer, Abdul Hamid, showed us stolen goods they have taken from looters and the weapons licenses the mosque committee issues to men on roadblocks.

It won’t take too long to clear up the physical scars in Mansoura. The mental scars will take much longer.

JEFFREY BROWN: Late today, at the United Nations, a U.S. official said agreement has been reached on a deal that would give the rebels access to $1.5 billion in Libyan assets now frozen in U.S. banks. The funds would be targeted for humanitarian efforts.

Also, the rebels’ National Council said it would be moving immediately to Tripoli from its current headquarters in eastern Libya.