Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziyah Tripoli compound 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Louafi Larbi)
LONDON - The fortified Tripoli compound stormed by Libyan rebels on
Tuesday was the seat of Muammar Gaddafi's political power and the
principal base of loyalist fighters trying to rescue his 42-year-old
Gaddafi loyalist fighters confronted with an invasion of
rebels since the weekend had sought to use his Bab al-Azizyah bastion as
a springboard from which to carve out a loyalist zone and chip away at
rebel control of adjoining neighborhoods.
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encampment, surrounded by meter-thick olive green walls, is believed to
sit atop a network of tunnels and bunkers that lead to adjoining
districts, including possibly a subterranean route to the coast.
is Gaddafi's Pentagon," said Noman Benotman, a senior analyst at the
British think tank Quilliam and a former Libyan Islamist opposition
He said tunnels forking out from the complex
to nearby districts gave his fighters precious access to supplies. Many
could have fled before the final attack.
Long the seat of
Gaddafi's power as well as his main Tripoli home, the barracks may well
be the final battleground of Libya's war. Even if Gaddafi is not there,
its loss inflicted a potentially crippling symbolic defeat.
Gaddafi is at the six sq-km base, located south of Tripoli at the
northern end of the Airport Highway, there is a fair chance he is in a
tunnel under it rather than in a fortified room above ground.
compound has often been targeted by NATO air strikes, but it is still
defended by tanks and snipers, a fact that suggests Gaddafi or at least
some key aides are nearby.
The site was dotted with tents,
residential buildings, security encampments, and the cratered remains of
a house bombed by US warplanes in 1986 and kept in ruins as a memorial.
Rebels fired their guns in celebration before the building.
Umar al-Hariri, a military official of the rebel Libyan National Transitional Council, told Asharq Alawsat
newspaper in June that the barracks were linked to underground tunnels up to 30 km long, some of which led to the sea.
in the era of King Idris, overthrown by Gaddafi in the 1969 putsch that
brought him to power, the site was reinforced in the 1980s using an
array of foreign contractors.