Rebels hunting the top officials in Muammar Qadhafi’s ousted regime have captured his foreign minister and are closing in on Mr. Qadhafi himself, rebel officials said on Thursday.
The announcement, made on the 42nd anniversary of the coup that brought Mr. Qadhafi to power, also came as rebels forces pressed toward three major bastions of the crumbling regime, including Mr.Qadhafi’s hometown.
“The regime is dying,” rebel council spokesman Abdel-Hafiz Ghoga said on late Wednesday, after two of Mr. Qadhafi’s sons made conflicting statements on Arab television stations — with one vowing to fight until death and the other offering to negotiate a truce. “Qadhafi’s family is trying to find an exit,” Mr. Ghoga said. “They only have to surrender completely to the rebels and we will offer them a fair trial. We won’t hold negotiations with them over anything.”
Mr. Ghoga said on Thursday that the rebels had extended the deadline for the surrender of Mr. Qadhafi’s hometown of Sirte — originally set for Saturday — giving the loyalist forces there one more week. “There are good indications that things are moving in the right direction,” he said, including that the rebels have captured a city near Sirte.
Ahmed Said, an adviser to the interior minister in the rebels’ interim government, did not identify the captured foreign minister by name, but “can confirm that he is in custody.” He offered no further details to confirm the capture.
A week ago, Foreign Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi told British broadcaster Channel 4 that Mr. Qadhafi’s rule was over.
Algeria offered safe haven to Mr. Qadhafi’s wife and three of his children Monday, angering the Libyan rebels. The Algerian newspaper El Watan reported that Mr. Qadhafi himself also sought refuge, but the Algerian president refused to take his phone calls.
With Mr. Qadhafi’s whereabouts unknown, Algeria’s foreign minister insisted on Thursday that he’s not in Algeria. Asked on Europe-1 radio if Mr. Qadhafi could be given asylum, Mourad Medelci said, “I don’t believe so.”
Thursday marks the coup against the monarchy of King Idris by 27-year-old Mr. Qadhafi and a group of military officers. Mr. Qadhafi took undisputed power and became a symbol of anti-Western defiance in a Third World recently liberated from its European colonial rulers. A brutal dictator, his regime was unchallenged until the uprising that began in February.
After six months of civil war, rebels have seized control of most of Libya, including the capital Tripoli, effectively ending Mr. Qadhafi’s rule. The longtime leader and his family have not been captured, but rebels say they are hot on Mr. Qadhafi’s trail.
Rebels say they are carefully pulling together clues about Mr. Qadhafi’s whereabouts from captured regime fighters and others, and learned earlier this week that Mr. Qadhafi and two of his sons — longtime heir-apparent Seif al-Islam and former special forces commander al-Saadi — were in the loyalist-controlled town of Bani Walid, said Mr. Ghoga. But, he added, it’s not clear where they are now.