This post is being updated as information becomes available.
Libyan rebels said Sunday that they had begun to converge on the capital of Tripoli, Moammar Gadhafi’s last remaining stronghold, in what opposition forces and Western officials said could be a last, decisive challenge to the autocrat’s four-decade-long rule. The International Criminal Court, meanwhile, confirmed that rebels had apprehended Gadhafi’s influential son and heir apparent, Saif al-Islam, who has been sought by the court for months on charges of war crimes.
Video from the streets of Tripoli, posted online by bloggers affiliated with the opposition movement, seemed to show residents gathering in celebration of the rebels’ advance and singing the Libyan national anthem, the first signs of anti-Gadhafi sentiment in the capital in months. But there were still reports of clashes throughout the city, including in the easternmost district of Tajoura. According to opposition bloggers who posted excerpts of his remarks, a rebel spokesman, Mahmoud Shammam, said late Sunday evening, “We are controlling most of Tripoli, but right now we cannot say we control everything.”
Rumors quickly began to spread that Gadhafi himself had been captured amid the clashes, or that he may have fled to a sympathetic country, such as Algeria. A vaguely worded statement from the ICC initially led some journalists and opposition leaders to believe that Gadhafi had been arrested along with his sons. That report was later discredited, but a spokesman for the Libyan opposition in Britain, Guma El-Gamaty, wrote on his Twitter account late Sunday evening that “Gadhafi himself may have been arrested in Alamiriya district outside Tripoli.” An opposition contact, meanwhile, told the @feb17voices Twitter feed, run by UCLA graduate student John Scott-Railston, that there were “many doubts that Gaddafi remains in Tripoli.”
Libyan opposition bloggers reported that the rebels had made inroads into Tripoli with relative ease, and were greeted with celebrations and residents waving the flag of the opposition, accounts that were corroborated by Western media in Tripoli. One blogger affiliated with the “Shabab,” or the Libyan Youth Movement, suggested that Tripoli’s Green Square, a frequent gathering place for Gadhafi loyalists, had been renamed “Martyrs’ Square.” The Associated Press reported that Gadhafi’s defenders had “melted away” as opposition forces swept in from the west, taking town after town and overwhelming the regime’s entrenched fighters.
The Libyana phone company, the largest mobile operator in Libya, sent out text messages to all of its subscribers congratulating the rebels and celebrating Gadhafi’s imminent ouster, according to Libyan opposition bloggers. “Long live free Libya, long live the National Transitional Council,” the mobile operator wrote, referring the Libyan opposition council, according to a translation provided by opposition bloggers. The message added: “We congratulate the Libyan people on the fall of Gadhafi.”
The Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said in a statement, “The Qadhafi regime is clearly crumbling. The sooner Qadhafi realises that he cannot win the battle against his own people, the better — so that the Libyan people can be spared further bloodshed and suffering.” Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, Victoria Nuland, urged the Libyan opposition to begin planning for a post-Gadhafi Libya. “Clearly the offensive for Tripoli is under way,” Nuland said in a statement.
The rebels, for their part, have already pledged to establish an open society that adheres to liberal, secular ideals. Shammam, the opposition council’s information minister, said Sunday that the rebels were urging residents to keep calm and maintain public safety by avoiding acts of revenge or looting. Shammam promised that, if the rebels do capture Gadhafi, they will not “engage in revenge. He will be put on trial.” Of Gadhafi’s supporters, he added: “We will not put them on trial. We will tell them ‘You are Libyan, join the revolution.’”