Tripoli hasn’t fallen yet but reports of chaos inside the city are flying on Twitter faster than I can type them up. One credible reporter, Alex Crawford of Sky News, is on the ground with the rebels either on the outskirts of the city or inside the city itself and says people are coming out of their homes to greet them as they enter. (One rumor has it that Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the heir apparent, has been captured at the Rixos hotel.) News is moving so quickly that I recommend opening up a few tabs and following the key liveblogs: Al Jazeera, the NYT, the BBC, and the Guardian. Blake Hounshell, the managing editor of Foreign Policy, is collating tweets from reporters and Libyan residents; you can follow his feed here. And if that’s not enough, try the livestreams of Al Jazeera English and Sky News, where Crawford is transmitting.
Late word from Reuters as I write this is that rebels are entering Tripoli from the west and meeting no resistance. Another report on Twitter an hour ago claimed that prison guards inside the city are releasing prisoners from their cells and begging forgiveness for having served the regime. The hottest rumor of all? That Qaddafi himself has been shot dead — but that’s completely unconfirmed at the moment. I hope it’s not true, actually. If anyone deserves the spectacle of the lamppost, it’s him. Richly.
Updates are coming. Stand by.
Update: Time magazine noted this morning that a panel of Libya experts recently concluded the fight for Tripoli might take weeks or even months. That might be true if Qaddafi’s loyalists were prepared to make a last stand, but everything I’m seeing on Twitter and the liveblogs is that they’re throwing in the towel. McCain’s estimate appears to be better: Days, if not hours.
Incidentally, isn’t Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown, also a stronghold for regime loyalists? I haven’t heard anything about it being captured by the rebels (yet). And it’s as much a target for reprisals as Tripoli is, if not more so.
Update: This is a street fight now so NATO is winding down airstrikes. We’ll see if they change their minds once the rebels move on Sirte. Meanwhile, Time asks a good question: Which rebels are entering Tripoli, precisely?
Yet despite the military’s efforts, some anti-Gaddafi militias continue to operate outside the purview of the Benghazi military command. When asked about Brega’s capture, a fighter outside the town listed half a dozen brigades that participated in the offensive. Many of the rogue units are Islamist militias who refuse to disband and join the rebel army. The rebels’ political body, the National Transitional Council (NTC), has set up a committee to encourage harmony among its armed rnaks and to integrate the militias.
The NTC has encountered even more problems in the West in recent months. With no direct communication with that front (which is separated from Benghazi’s eastern stronghold by Sert, Gaddafi’s heavily fortified hometown), the political body discovered it had very little control over field units that were slowly making their way toward Gaddafi’s capital, Tripoli. Indeed, local troops in the west were waging campaigns independently of the NTC. “We move when we think the time is right,” said Sa’adun Zuwayhli, 29, a field commander in the Western city of Misratah, back in June. “We don’t really coordinate our movements with anyone outside Misratah.” To alleviate the tension, the Benghazi council sent some troops and arms to Misrata. But the move failed to enhance cooperation between the two sides.
So there’s a little extra tinder for the fire in post-Qaddafi Libya. Not only will the rebel council have to deal with loyalist insurgents, they’ll have to deal with rival rebel insurgents too.
Update: Al Jazeera reports that Qaddafi’s praetorian guard has surrendered. Full regime implosion.
Update: The editor of a pro-democracy Syrian satellite channel claims the Mad Dog has finally been put to sleep:
CONFIRMED: Mu’amar #Gaddafi, leader of #Libya for 42 years, has been shot DEAD in vicinity of Rixos Hotel in #Tripoli.
It makes sense that Qaddafi would be hiding in or near the Rixos. Lots of journalists have been staying there, which means it’s safe from NATO airstrikes. Needless to say, if it’s true, the body will be paraded before the cameras as soon as the rebels can find one. I wonder what Bashar Assad’s thinking right now.
Update: More rumblings of divisions among the rebels:
Libyan rebel Husam Najjair seems more concerned about the possibility of rebels turning on each other when they try to take control of the capital Tripoli than the threat posed by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.
“The first thing my brigade will do is set up checkpoints to disarm everyone, including other rebel groups, because otherwise it will be a bloodbath,” said Najjair. “All the rebel groups will want to control Tripoli. Order will be needed.”…
“There isn’t one rebel leader who is respected by everyone. That’s the problem,” said Kamran Bokhari, Middle East Director at STRATFOR global intelligence firm.
Libya’s ambassador to the UAE told Reuters, “We expect internal and external security forces to stay in their offices after Gaddafi, they will only change their allegiance.” That’s … quite an assumption.
Update: According to Reuters, rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil told Al Jazeera that they’ve captured Saif al-Islam Qaddafi. I wonder if they’ll kill him outright or put him on trial.
Update: Prepare for chaos:
A senior American military officer who has been following the developments closely and who has been in contact with African and Arab military leaders in recent days, expressed caution on Sunday about the prospects for any imminent fall of the Qaddafi regime. Even if Colonel Qaddafi is deposed in some way, the senior officer said, there was still no clear plan for a political succession or for maintaining security in the country.
“The leaders I’ve talked to do not have a clear understanding how this will all play out,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic delicacies surrounding the issue…
Untold numbers of … missiles, including SA-7’s, have already been looted from government arsenals, and American officials fear they could circulate widely, including heat-seeking antiaircraft missiles that could be used against civilian airliners. “What I worry about most is the proliferation of these weapons,” the senior military officer said, noting that the United States has already been quietly meeting with leaders of Libya’s neighbors in Africa’s Sahel region to stem the flow of the missiles.
Update: No surprise that early reports are conflicting: A member of the rebel tribal council says they believe Qaddafi’s fled to Algeria, not that he’s dead.
Update: An AP report from Tripoli captures the atmosphere as Qaddafi’s political prisoners are released. “We are coming for you, frizz-head.”
Update: It’s unclear how much of Tripoli is in rebel hands, but I’m guessing … a lot of it:
Rebel leaders in Tripoli said Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s compound was effectively surrounded, the rebel flag is now flying from many buildings across the capital and that the opposition is now only waiting for rebel reinforcements to arrive before beginning a final assault…
Two rebel organizers contacted by telephone in Tripoli said Gaddafi opponents had secured control of at least five central neighborhoods, including Souk al-Jumaa, Tajaura, Fashloum, Arada and Zawiyat al-Dahmani.
Anti-Gaddafi rebels, who have spent months quietly organizing for this moment, are now within a mile and a half of Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound and are hoping to launch an assault on the headquarters as soon as rebel reinforcements arrive, said an activist who uses the name Tony.
A rebel spokesman claims they control most of the capital.
Update: Via the Times liveblog, here’s video that purports to show a celebration in Tripoli this afternoon. If that’s what it is, then it really is all over; there’s not a whiff of fear here of being attacked by regime troops.
No surprise either, in that case, that Al Jazeera’s reporting Qaddafi’s son Mohammed has also surrendered.
Update: Also via the Times liveblog, here’s video of Sky reporter Alex Crawford riding along with the rebels as they enter Tripoli to cries of “freedom!”
Update: Yet another report, this time from BBC Arabic, citing rebel sources who claim Qaddafi’s flown the coop to Algeria. WaPo’s David Ignatius says he’s been hearing rumors for days that the Qaddafi family’s been moving money out of the country:
The endgame in Libya appears near, according to Western intelligence sources, who say that Moammar Gaddafi’s family has been moving money and other assets outside the country over the past five days in anticipation of the regime’s collapse. According to these sources, Gaddafi has left Tripoli but is still in the country…
A sign that the implosion may at last be happening is the reported transfer of money. Some of it has gone to Algerian accounts, according to a source in contact with the banking network that is said to be conducting the transactions. The Gaddafi family, including his three sons, is said by this source to be in Tunisia, perhaps on the way to exile in Algeria.
The rebels seem awfully sure that they’ve captured all three of his sons so Ignatius’s sources may not be credible.
Update: Breaking from Reuters. “Qaddafi” here is Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, not Muammar:
ICC PROSECUTOR’S SPOKESWOMAN SAYS HAS CONFIRMATION GADDAFI HAS BEEN DETAINED
Does that mean the rebels have reached out to the ICC for an international war-crimes trial for Saif? Or did the ICC get this info through the grapevine and decide to go public with it in hopes of pressuring the rebel leadership into not executing Saif summarily?
Update: A possible solution to the Sirte problem I raised earlier: “Al Arabiya: Revolutionary Sources: Gaddafi troops in Sirte & Brega are seeking negotiations.”
Update: A rebel spokesman says there’ll be no retribution against regime loyalists and that Qaddafi will be placed on trial, not summarily executed, when he’s caught.
We’re not going to put (supporters of the regime) on trial, we’re going to tell them they are Libyan, they are our brothers and sisters and we are going to ask them to join the revolution. We’re going to build a state where everyone can get a good education, etc etc.
There are many rumours about (Gadaffi’s) location. We’re going to guarantee his safety and the safety of his family. We want to see him be tried in Libya and not in any other place in the world. We’re establishing a state of law and we would like to see him in the court.
Update: A surreal scene on Al Jazeera as Mohammed Qaddafi, who’d already surrendered to the rebels, phones into the network — and is interrupted:
Call with Mohammed Gaddafi was interrupted amid shooting apparently. His voice was shivering. He said gunfire inside his house!
Update: An amazing photo taken at last year’s Arab-African Summit. Pictured left to right: Ben Ali of Tunisia, Saleh of Yemen, Qaddafi, and Mubarak. Three of them are now gone and Saleh, while nominally still in power, has been in Saudi Arabia for months recovering from an attack on his palace after mass protests. He’s vowing to return. He won’t.
Update: The first Qaddafi “death photo” is now circulating on Twitter. It’s almost certainly fake, but graphic. Here you go.
Update: Here’s Al Jazeera’s reporter with the rebels in Green Square, formerly the site of Qaddafi’s propaganda rallies.
Update: No press appearance for Obama tonight, but here’s a written statement issued by the White House:
Tonight, the momentum against the Qadhafi regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. The Qadhafi regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator.
The surest way for the bloodshed to end is simple: Moammar Qadhafi and his regime need to recognize that their rule has come to an end. Qadhafi needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya. He needs to relinquish power once and for all. Meanwhile, the United States has recognized the Transitional National Council as the legitimate governing authority in Libya. At this pivotal and historic time, the TNC should continue to demonstrate the leadership that is necessary to steer the country through a transition by respecting the rights of the people of Libya, avoiding civilian casualties, protecting the institutions of the Libyan state, and pursuing a transition to democracy that is just and inclusive for all of the people of Libya. A season of conflict must lead to one of peace.
The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people. Going forward, the United States will continue to stay in close coordination with the TNC. We will continue to insist that the basic rights of the Libyan people are respected. And we will continue to work with our allies and partners in the international community to protect the people of Libya, and to support a peaceful transition to democracy.