TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) -- Libyan rebels raced into Tripoli Sunday and met little resistance as Moammar Gadhafi's defenders melted away and his 42-year rule rapidly crumbled. The euphoric fighters celebrated with residents of the capital in Green Square, the symbolic heart of the fading regime.
Gadhafi's whereabouts were unknown, though state TV broadcast his bitter pleas for Libyans to defend his regime. Opposition fighters captured his son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, who along with his father faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. Another son was in contact with rebels about surrendering, the opposition said.
"It's over, frizz-head," chanted hundreds of jubilant men and women massed in Green Square, using a mocking nickname of the curly-haired Gadhafi. The revelers fired shots in the air, clapped and waved the rebels' tricolor flag. Some set fire to the green flag of Gadhafi's regime and shot holes in a poster with the leader's image.
By the early hours of Monday, rebels controlled large parts of the capital. They set up checkpoints alongside residents - many of them secretly armed by rebel smugglers in recent weeks. But pockets of pro-Gadhafi fighters remained: In one area, Associated Press reporters with the rebels were stopped and told to take a different route because of regime snipers nearby.
"We were waiting for the signal and it happened," said Nour Eddin Shatouni, a 50-year-old engineer who was among the residents who flowed out of their homes to join the celebrations. "All mosques chanted 'God is great' all at once. We smelled a good scent, it is the smell of victory. We know it is the time."
The seizure of Green Square held profound symbolic value and marked a stunning turn in the tide of the 6-month-old Libyan civil war. The regime has held pro-Gadhafi rallies there nearly every night since the revolt began in February, and Gadhafi delivered speeches to his loyalists from the historic Red Fort that overlooks the square.
The sweep into the capital came after the rebel fighters advanced 20 miles from the west in a matter of hours. They took town after town and overwhelmed a major military base meant to defend Tripoli, 16 miles from the city. All the way, they met little resistance and residents poured out on the streets to welcome them.
In a series of angry and defiant audio messages broadcast on state television, Gadhafi called on his supporters to march in the streets of the capital and "purify it" of "the rats." He was not shown in the messages.
His defiance raised the possibility of a last-ditch fight over the capital, home to 2 million people. Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim claimed the regime has "thousands and thousands of fighters" and vowed: "We will fight. We have whole cities on our sides. They are coming en masse to protect Tripoli to join the fight."
But it appeared that Gadhafi's military was abandoning him quickly.
The rebels' way into Tripoli was opened when the military unit in charge of protecting Gadhafi and the capital surrendered, ordering his troops to drop their weapons, the rebel information minister Mahmoud Shammam said.
In a sign of the coordination among rebels, as the main force moved into the city from the west, a second force of 200 opposition fighters from the city of Misrata further east landed by boat in the capital. They brought weapons and ammunition for Tripoli residents who join the rebellion, said Munir Ramzi of the rebels' military council in Misrata.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Gadhafi's regime was "clearly crumbling" and that the time to create a new democratic Libya has arrived.
The sooner Gadhafi "realizes that he cannot win the battle against his own people, the better," he said in a statement, adding that NATO will continue to strike his troops if they make "any threatening moves toward the Libyan people."
In a statement early Monday, President Barack Obama said the way to prevent more bloodshed was for Gadhafi "to relinquish power once and for all." Obama said the rebel leaders must pursue a peaceful transition to democracy.
It was a stunning reversal for Gadhafi, who earlier this month had seemed to have a firm grip on his stronghold in the western part of Libya, despite months of NATO airstrikes on his military. Rebels had been unable to make any advances for weeks, bogged down on the main fronts with regime troops in the east and center of the country.
Gadhafi is the Arab world's longest-ruling, most erratic, most grimly fascinating leader - presiding for 42 years over this North African desert republic with vast oil reserves and just 6 million people. For years, he was an international pariah blamed for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jumbo jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people. After years of denial, Gadhafi's Libya acknowledged responsibility, agreed to pay up to $10 million to relatives of each victim, and declared he would dismantle all weapons of mass destruction.
That eased him back into the international community.
But on February 22, days after the uprising against him began, Gadhafi gave a televised speech amid violent social unrest against his autocratic rule. In the speech, he vowed to hunt down protesters "inch by inch, room by room, home by home, alleyway by alleyway." The speech caused a furor that fueled the armed rebellion against him and it has been since mocked in songs and spoofs across the Arab world.
As the rebel force advanced on Tripoli, taking town after town, thousands of jubilant civilians rushed out of their homes to cheer the long convoys of pickup trucks packed with fighters shooting in the air. One man grabbed a rebel flag that had been draped over the hood of a slow-moving car and kissed it, overcome with emotion.
Some of the fighters were hoarse, shouting: "We are coming for you, frizz-head." In villages, mosque loudspeakers blared "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great."
"We are going to sacrifice our lives for freedom," said Nabil al-Ghowail, a 30-year-old dentist holding a rifle in the streets of Janzour, a suburb just six miles west of Tripoli. Heavy gunfire erupted nearby.
As rebels moved in Tripoli, thousands celebrated in the streets of Benghazi, the rebels' de facto capital hundreds of miles to the east. Firing guns into the air and shooting fireworks, they cheered and waved the rebel tricolor flags, dancing and singing in the city's main square.
Rebel chief Mustafa Abdel-Jalil in Benghazi confirmed to the AP that the rebels arrested Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam but refused to give the details of the capture.
"We have captured Seif al-Islam and he is in safe hands," he said.
In the Netherlands, the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said his office would talk to the rebels on Monday about Seif al-Islam's transfer for trial. "It is time for justice, not revenge," Moreno-Ocampo told the AP.
Seif al-Islam, his father and Libya's intelligence chief were indicted earlier this year for allegedly ordering, planning and participating in illegal attacks on civilians in the early days of the violent crackdown on anti-regime protesters.
Another son, Mohammed, was in contact with the rebels and was asking for guarantees for his safety, said rebel spokesman Sadiq al-Kibir. Mohammed, who is in charge of Libyan telecommunications, appeared on the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera, saying his house was surrounded by armed rebels.
"They have guaranteed my safety. I have always wanted good for all Libyans and was always on the side of God," he said. Close to the end of the interview, there was the sound of heavy gunfire and Mohammed said rebels had entered his house before the phone line cut off.
A rebel spokesman based in London said Gadhafi's prime minister, Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi, was in a Tunisian hotel, indicating he had joined a growing list of defecting officials.
The day's first breakthrough came when hundreds of rebels fought their way into a major symbol of the Gadhafi regime - the base of the elite 32nd Brigade commanded by Gadhafi's son, Khamis. Fighters said they met with little resistance. They were 16 miles from the big prize, Tripoli.
Hundreds of rebels cheered wildly and danced as they took over the compound filled with eucalyptus trees, raising their tricolor from the front gate and tearing down a large billboard of Gadhafi. From a huge warehouse, they loaded their trucks with hundreds of crates of rockets, artillery shells and large-caliber ammunition.
One group started up a tank, drove it out of the gate, crushing the median of the main highway and driving off toward Tripoli.
"This is the wealth of the Libyan people that he was using against us," said Ahmed al-Ajdal, 27, pointing to his haul. "Now we will use it against him and any other dictator who goes against the Libyan people."
At the base, the rebels also freed more than 300 prisoners from a regime lockup, most of them arrested during the heavy crackdown on the uprising in towns west of Tripoli. The fighters and the prisoners - many looking weak and dazed and showing scars and bruises from beatings - embraced and wept with joy.
"We were sitting in our cells when all of a sudden we heard lots of gunfire and people yelling 'God is great.' We didn't know what was happening, and then we saw rebels running in and saying 'We're on your side.' And they let us out," said 23-year-old Majid al-Hodeiri. He said he was captured four months ago by Gadhafi's forces crushing the uprising in his home city of Zawiya. He said he was beaten and tortured while under detention.
From the military base, the convoy sped toward the capital.
Mahmoud al-Ghwei, 20 and unarmed, said he had just came along with a friend for the ride .
"It's a great feeling. For all these years, we wanted freedom and Gadhafi kept it from us. Now we're going to get rid of Gadhafi and get our freedom," he said.
The uprising against Gadhafi broke out in mid-February, and anti-regime protests quickly spread. A brutal regime crackdown quickly transformed the protests into an armed rebellion. Rebels seized Libya's east, setting up an internationally recognized transitional government there, and two pockets in the west, the port city of Misrata and the Nafusa mountain range.
Gadhafi clung to the remaining territory, and for months neither side has been able to break the other.
In early August, however, rebels launched an offensive from the Nafusa mountains, intending to open a new, western front to break the deadlock. They fought their way down to the Mediterranean coastal plain, backed by NATO airstrikes, and captured the strategic city of Zawiya.
On Saturday, they consolidated control of Zawiya, then launched their furious rush on the capital.
At the same time, rebel "sleeper cells" inside Tripoli rose up and clashed with Gadhafi loyalists. Rebel fighters who spoke to relatives in Tripoli by phone said hundreds rushed into the streets in anti-regime protests in several neighborhoods on Sunday."We received weapons by sea from Benghazi. They sent us weapons in boats," said Ibrahim Turki, a rebel in the Tripoli neighborhood of Tajoura, which saw heavy fighting the past two days. "Without their weapons, we would not have been able to stand in the face of the mighty power of Gadhafi forces." --- Hadeel Al-Shalchi in Cairo contributed to this report.
Al Jazeera has exclusive video of Libyan rebels ambushing Gaddafi loyalists at a checkpoint. According to the news outlet, "this Al Jazeera Exclusive footage gives an inside view of the struggle as the fighters push towards Sirte, the last stronghold of Gaddafi."
Video below (via Al Jazeera):
Muneer Masoud Own, 33, who made a living doing manual labor, said forces loyal to longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi slaughtered nearly 150 prisoners as rebels closed in on Tripoli last week.
Charred bodies littered the ground around a warehouse -- roughly 30 feet by 45 feet -- where the detainees were kept. A volunteer who helped remove them, Bashir Own, estimated that he had seen about 150 bodies. He is not related to Muneer Own, who said he barely escaped an ordeal that started about a month ago.
Dozens of Libyans perform the last late afternoon prayer of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at Freedom Square in the eastern Libyan port city of Benghazi on August 29, 2011.
Libya rebels claim to have "almost certain information" that Gaddafi's intelligence chief was killed.
|@ Reuters : FLASH: Libya rebels have "almost certain information" that Gaddafi intelligence chief killed on Sat. -Spokesman tells al-Arabiya TV|
Al Jazeera's James Bays filed a dazzling report from Libya on the situation of African migrants in the embattled country. Migrants claim to be assaulted and are locked up in prisons until rebel fighters made sure they did not work as mercenaries for the Gaddafi regime.
Watch Bays' report here:
The rebel commander in Tripoli Al Mahdi Al Haraqi told Reuters that he had confirmation that Khamis Gaddafi has been killed in a clash near Ben Walid.
He was taken to a hospital but died of his wounds and was buried in the area, Al-Haragi said, without giving the timing. No independent confirmation of the death was available.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the United States could not yet independently confirm Khamis' death but said similar information was being received in Washington from "reliable sources."
Rebels claimed twice before Khamis Gaddafi was killed.
Libya's National Transitional Council reacted strongly on the message that relatives of Gaddafi would have arrived in Algeria, Reuters reports.
A spokesperson for the NTC said it considers sheltering members of Gaddafi's family an act of aggression.
"We have promised to provide a just trial to all those criminals and therefore we consider this an act of aggression," spokesman Mahmoud Shamman told Reuters.
"We are warning anybody not to shelter Gaddafi and his sons. We are going after them in any place to find them and arrest them," he said.
A rebel commander in Tripoli claims Gaddafi's son Khamis has been killed in clashes in southern Libya.
Khamis was claimed killed twice before.
|@ Reuters : FLASH: Gaddafi's son Khamis killed in clashes in southern Libya -Rebel commander in Tripoli|
AFP reports Italian energy company ENI reached an agreement with the Libyan National Transitional Council to take up gas supplies to Italy.
Libyan rebels they seek the extradition of Gaddafi's family members who fled to Algeria.
|@ Reuters : FLASH: Libya rebels say will seek extradition of Gaddafi family from Algeria|
Rebel commanders say Khamis Gaddafi, one of Colonel Gaddafi's most feared sons, has been killed in an air strike south of Tripoli.
Algeria confirms two of Gaddafi's sons, his daughter Aicha and his wife are in the country.
|@ Reuters : FLASH: Algeria confirms two of Gaddafi's sons, wife and daughter are in the country - Al-Jazeera TV|
Reuters reports Khamis Gaddafi, the Colonel's infamous ... son, may be next to be places on the ICC's most wanted list. The International Criminal Court earlier approved warrants for Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam.
ICC prosecutor Luis-Moreno Ocampo told Reuters in an interview that "Khamis should also be prosecuted because Khamis was the commander of the brigade that was more active on some of the crimes."
Official reportedly confirm three of Gaddafi's sons, his daughter and wife have arrived in Algeria.
From the Associated Press:
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The chairman of the African Union says Libyan rebels may be indiscriminately killing black people in Libya because they have confused innocent migrant workers with mercenaries.
Chairman Jean Ping told reporters Monday that this is one of the reasons the AU is refusing to recognize the National Transitional Council as the country's interim government.
He said "We need clarification because the NTC seems to confuse black people with mercenaries .... They are killing normal workers."
Libya's rebel National Transitional Council appears to have secured Libya's capital after a week of fierce fighting with loyalists to Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
He said there was no doubt the council now controlled the capital city and called on both sides to "stop the killing."
Libyan rebels captured Gaddafi's personal 'Afriqiyah Airbus' in Tripoli.
Libyan rebels leave Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's 'Afriqiyah One' Airbus A340 plane at Tripoli airport on August 29, 2011.
The tribe of Abdel Fattah Younes said it will take justice into their own hands if rebel leaders do not identify the commander's killers, Reuters reports. "After Eid, that is the final deadline," Tarek, one of Younes' sons said in an interview with Reuters.
Abdel Fattah Younes was killed on July 28 after he was summoned by rebel leaders for questioning. Libyan authorities identified two people who allegedly carried out the assassination, but head of the NTC Mustafa Abdel Jalil had told reporters on Wednesday the suspected killers would be arrested "when the higher interests of this revolution will not be damaged."
Al Jazeera reporters in Tripoli said rebels have surrounded Gaddafi's hometown Sirte. The main push in the battle for Sirte is expected to come from the east, the channel reports.
Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid reported from the eastern front near Sirte that rebels are holding off attacks, as they want to give tribal leaders in the city time to negotiations.
Andrew Simons, on the western front near the city, reported small fights between rebels and Gaddafi loyalists.
On Monday, NATO intensified airstrikes on Sirte.
The rebel flag waving over the Libyan embassy in Moscow.
A leaked United Nations report proposes elections in Libya within nine months, Al Jazeera reports. The UN would be looking to send a small contingent of 'Blue Barrets' to the country, if requested by the Libyan authorities and authorized by the Security Council.
"If requested by the Libyans and authorized by the Council, the UN could contribute to confidence-building and to the implementation of agreed military tasks, through unarmed UN military observer (UNMOs)," Al Jazeera quotes the document.
Read more on Al Jazeera.
France reopened its embassy in Libya, a spokesperson for the French foreign ministry said. France had closed the embassy six months ago.
Libyan rebels asked NATO to keep up pressure on the Gaddafi regime. The Associated Press reports NTC head Mustafa Abdul Jalil told a NATO delegation that former regime supporters who are now in hiding could still cause trouble.
"Gaddafi is still capable is doing something awful in the last moments," Abdul-Jalil said.
Tyler Hicks, photographer for the New York Times, found what seems to be a photo album from the Gaddafi family.
Watch the album on the NYTimes Lens Blog Website
Internet has returned in many areas in Tripoli.
|@ feb17voices : LPC #Tripoli: Internet has returned in many areas of the city. #Libya|
CNN correspondent in Libya Nic Robertson reports the Lockerbie bomber, Abdel Basset al Megrahi, is comatose and nearing death.
Read Robertson's full report on the CNN website.
The National Transitional Council announced earlier it will not extradite the Libyan.
CNN's report contradicts statements made earlier by a cancer specialist, who said Abdel Basset al Megrahi was in good health and could live for years.
Libya's National Transitional Council will not extradite the Lockerbie bomber
|@ Reuters : Minister in National Transitional Council says Libya will not extradite Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi|
An Iranian newspaper wrote on Sunday that foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi claimed Iran "discreetly" provided humanitarian aid to rebels in Libya.
According to AFP the minister told the newspaper that Iran was "in touch with many of the rebel groups in Libya before the fall of (Moamer) Gaddafi, and discreetly dispatched three or four food and medical consignments to Benghazi."
The minister also said the head of the NTC sent a letter to Teheran, thanking Iranian president Ahmedinejad for his help.
AFP reports Libyan rebels have freed more than 10,000 prisoners since they captured Tripoli. 50,000 prisoners would still be missing.
Ahmed Omar Bani, a spokesperson for the rebels, told reporters during a press conference that between 57,000 and 60,000 people have been arrested over the past months.
Libyan rebels declined an offer by Muammar Gaddafi to negotiate, saying they do not recognize him and are looking for Gaddafi as a criminal.
On Saturday, a spokesman for Gaddafi had offered the rebels by phone to start talks lead by Gaddafi's son Saadi.
Mahmoud Shamman, the NTC's information minister said in a news conference:
"I would like to state very clearly, we don't recognize them. We are looking at them as criminals. We are going to arrest them very soon .. Talking about negotiations is a daydream for what remains of the dictatorship."
Al Jazeera English has more on the latest overtures from the Gaddafi camp:
Moussa Ibrahim, the spokesperson for Muammar Gaddafi, has reportedly told the Associated Press news agency that the Libyan leader is ready to negotiate with the rebels to form a transitional government.
Ibrahim called AP headquarters in New York late on Saturday, and told them he was calling from Tripoli, the Libyan capital, and that Gaddafi was still in Libya.