CAIRO — Even as images of gleeful rebels overrunning Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's main military compound saturated television screens Tuesday, questions still loomed over Gadhafi's whereabouts, the status of pro-regime holdouts and NATO's role in the effort to secure the country.
Early today, Gadhafi, speaking on a local Tripoli radio station, which was reported by Al Orouba television and Reuters, said that his withdrawal from Bab al Aziziya, the dictator's main compound and a key symbol of his power, was a "tactical move." The compound had been leveled by 64 NATO air strikes, he said.
Gadhafi did not say where he was speaking from. He vowed "martyrdom" or victory in his fight against NATO.
Al Arabiya television reported early today that forces loyal to Gadhafi were attacking the city of Ajelat, west of Tripoli, with missiles and tanks, and that dozens of missiles had hit Tripoli near Bab al Aziziya.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
On Tuesday, in scenes reminiscent of the days after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, rebels looted Bab al Aziziya, clambering onto and giddily spray-painting iconic buildings and statues.
"Oh my God. I was in Gaddafi's room. Oh my God. I'm gonna take this," said a man as he donned a hat and gold chain that purportedly belonged to Gadhafi, in images captured by Britain's Sky News.
The capital remained chaotic and violent, with both rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces claiming control amid ongoing fears of reprisal attacks. Rebels appeared to be consolidating their grip, but the surprise appearance of Gadhafi's son and onetime heir, Saif al Islam, outside a Tripoli hotel early Tuesday morning raised skepticism of the claims of the rebels, who had said they'd captured the son.
Libyan rebels told Al Arabiya today that more than 400 people were killed and at least 2,000 were injured in the fight for Tripoli.
Briefing reporters in Naples, Italy, NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie said that the alliance was unaware of any rebel attacks on civilians, saying it had "no signs that anti-Gadhafi forces are operating in a manner not consistent with the mandate," a reference to the U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing NATO to protect Libyan civilians. But privately, NATO warned the rebel National Transitional Council that it would protect civilians from them if necessary, a NATO official told McClatchy, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operation.
Relief groups reported that Tripoli residents were fleeing in greater numbers, and Amnesty International warned that prolonged fighting in the capital could create a humanitarian crisis.