Libya: Is Gaddafi dead or alive?
Questions about the fate of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi intensified yesterday as rebels secured their first significant advance in weeks of fighting.
British officials believe that Moussa Koussa could still choose to return to Britain Photo: AP
Andrew Gilligan in Tripoli and James Kirkup 11:00PM BST 11 May 2011 14 Comments
leader has not appeared in public since April 30, the day of the Nato airstrikes which killed his youngest son, Saif al-Arab Gaddafi. He did not attend his son’s funeral last week.
One Libyan official with access to Col Gaddafi hesitated when asked by The Daily Telegraph if the leader had been incapacitated or killed, before saying that he was sure he had not been.
Gaddafi was last seen on Libyan state television on the evening of the 30th, shortly before Nato forces bombed a house in the presidential Bab-al-Aziza compound, killing Saif, 29, and three of the leader’s grandchildren. The Libyan government said that Gaddafi himself had been at the property, but had escaped unhurt.
Gaddafi’s twelve-day absence from the public eye is the longest from him since the beginning of the crisis on February 17.
The Libyan leader has appeared on state television or given interviews to other broadcasters at least 16 times in that period, with eleven days the longest previous interval between appearances.
Nato this week said it had “no information” about the colonel, and European governments yesterday said they had no definitive intelligence on him.
In London, a spokesman for David Cameron said: “I have seen no reports to suggest he is dead.”
The French foreign ministry said it had “no information relating to Mr Gaddafi's personal situation.” And Ignazio La Russa, the Italian defence minister, his country had no information about the dictator’s health or whereabouts.
One regime supporter in Tripoli said: “We are all asking questions. It could be for security reasons because he is worried about further assassination attempts by Nato, but it is unusual not to attend your own son’s funeral.”
The Libyan prime minister, al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, told journalists last week: “He has lost a son and he is in mourning. He will be back with us soon.”
The rebel leadership does not say that Gaddafi has been killed, but claims he is in a compound in the country’s southern desert, according to a statement on its website.
The regime prevents independent reporting by foreign journalists in the Libyan capital, but sustained small-arms fire was heard on Monday night around the main media hotel, along with some, for the first time, during the day yesterday.
A growing fuel shortage, with hundreds of vehicles queuing at every petrol station, has led to tensions and scuffles at petrol pumps in the city. The government has circulated text messages asking people not to buy black-market fuel.
Meanwhile, rebel forces yesterday took Misrata airport after a fierce battle with government troops. The victory, if sustained, could significantly ease the city’s siege, allowing supplies and other forces to be flown in to the rebel enclave.
The rebels claimed that they had also forced government troops about ten miles from Misrata and were readying to move on Zliten, the next major town on the road to Tripoli, about fifty miles east of the capital
Haj Mohammed, a rebel commander, said: "Every day we manage to advance along the coastal road toward Zliten. Yesterday 15 kilometres (10 miles), today only two, but the advance is unstoppable."