TRIPOLI, Libya — With the capital now almost completely under rebel control, the Libyan war's focus is quickly shifting to an all-out manhunt for fugitive leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Wild rumors flew around Tripoli on Wednesday: He's holed up in a network of tunnels linking the Rixos hotel, his Bab al-Aziziya compound and the sea. He's at his farm near the international airport. He's hiding among the animals at the Tripoli Zoo, which is located in a park that lies between the compound and the hotel, an area still under loyalist control.
Rebel fighters also said they were looking for Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam, who was last seen Monday at the Rixos, confounding rebel claims that he had been captured. The journalists who had been held at the hotel by Gadhafi loyalists, virtually as prisoners, were freed and driven to safety Wednesday by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
In Benghazi, the rebel government announced a $1.7 million bounty along with amnesty for anyone who provided information leading to Gadhafi's capture, raising the stakes in the race to find the man who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on a charge of crimes against humanity.
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the leader of the Transitional National Council, also said that if Gadhafi, who has ruled for 42 years, renounced his claim to power, he would be allowed to travel to another country, a gesture that might not satisfy the many Libyans who have said they would like to see him sentenced to death by a Libyan court.
"Sometimes the lesser evil prevents the larger evil," Abdel Jalil told reporters, explaining that Gadhafi's exile would avert further bloodshed.
Rebel commanders said they were operating on the assumption that Gadhafi is still in the capital, most likely in one of the last few enclaves where his supporters are still putting up fierce resistance, including the staunchly pro-Gadhafi neighborhood of Abu Salim and the adjoining neighborhood of Hadba.
"It's the million-dollar question," said rebel organizer Abdel Azouz, who said he thinks Gadhafi is in Abu Salim, given the ferocity of the resistance there. "We're looking for him, and don' t worry, we'll find him."
U.S. officials also say they presume Gadhafi is in Tripoli. One official who was not authorized to speak on the subject said there were as many as 40 compounds he could be hiding in, most of them in the capital.
With alliance planes watching the skies and the seas, it would be impossible for Gadhafi to flee by plane or ship, the NATO official said.