Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi battled rebels in scattered pockets of the Libyan capital late Monday, as the leader’s son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, moved freely in Tripoli despite opposition claims they had detained him.
Seif al-Islam presented himself to foreign journalists confined to the Gadhafi-controlled Rixos Hotel early Tuesday. He told reporters that his father’s government still controls Tripoli and had lured rebels into a trap by allowing them to enter the city. He then led a convoy through loyalist areas, where television footage showed him pumping his fists in the air as supporters cheered him.
Earlier, opposition leaders as well as the Hague-based International Criminal Court, had stated that Mr. Gadhafi’s son – who has been indicted for crimes against humanity – was in rebel hands.
Senior rebel sources also said another of the Libyan leader’s sons – Mohammed – has escaped house arrest. A third son is apparently still in detention.
Meanwhile, the head of the opposition Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, said the rebels do not know whether the Libyan leader is still in the country. He said Mr. Gadhafi will receive a fair trial once captured and that the “real moment of victory” will be when he is taken into custody.
Jalil acknowledged that the rebels have yet to establish full control in Tripoli. Opposition fighters say pro-government forces still hold 10-15 percent of the capital, including Mr. Gadhafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound.
Fighting had intensified earlier Monday when tanks emerged from the compound and opened fire, although months of NATO airstirkes have left the area largely demolished.
Meanwhile, Libyan state television remained off the air late Monday amid reports that rebels seized what had become a key instrument of government propaganda.
In addition to parts of Tripoli, pro-government forces also control at least two major cities affiliated with his tribe – Sabha, to the south, and Sirte, some 450 kilometers east of capital along the coast. U.S. military officials say government forces fired at least one Scud missile from Sirte Monday. No injuries were reported.
The rebels broke through Tripoli’s outer defenses Sunday and reached the city’s central Green Square, where thousands celebrated the opposition’s arrival.
Jubilant Libyans in the square, which the rebels have renamed Martyrs Square, tore down posters of Mr. Gadhafi and stomped on them. Until recently, the government had used the area for mass demonstrations in support of Mr. Gadhafi.
The rebel troops moved into central Tripoli with little resistance after capturing a key military base run by the government’s elite Khamis Brigade and commanded by another of Mr. Gadhafi’s sons as they advanced from the west. On their way into the capital, opposition forces also freed several hundred prisoners from a government jail.
The International Organization for Migration said it had chartered a boat to Tripoli to begin evacuating stranded migrants. The boat, which can carry 300 people, left Benghazi early Monday.
Huge crowds gathered early Monday on the streets of Benghazi, the rebel capital in eastern Libya, as reports of the assault on Tripoli grew and expectations mounted that Mr. Gadhafi’s hold on power was faltering.
On Sunday, Libyan state television broadcast a series of defiant audio messages from Mr. Gadhafi. In one, he acknowledged that opposition forces were moving into Tripoli. The Libyan leader said he would stay in the capital “until the end” to defend the city and called on supporters to help liberate it.
The Libyan leader has seen the areas under his control shrink significantly in recent weeks as rebels advanced on Tripoli from the west, east and south after six months of fighting to end his four-decade rule.
NATO warplanes have been supporting the rebels by bombing pro-Gadhafi forces under a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing military action to protect Libyan civilians from government attacks.