NATO airstrikes struck Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s sprawling compound in Tripoli and three other sites early yesterday, hours after he was shown on state TV in his first appearance since his son was killed nearly two weeks ago.
Explosions thundered across the Libyan capital and wailing ambulances raced through the city as the last missile exploded.
Government officials and state-run Libyan television said the strikes early targeted Bab al-Azaziya, Qaddafi’s sprawling compound in Tripoli. They did not say which of the compound’s buildings were targeted.
At the nearby Khadra Hospital, medics wheeled in the bodies of two men they said were killed in the shelling. One of the men was completely blackened and charred, his hands pausing mid-chest as if trying to defend himself when he died. The other man’s body was covered by a green blanket, his leg dangling from the stretcher.
From a bus ferrying reporters to the hospital, smoke could be seen rising from part of the Qaddafi compound. Skid marks left from screeching vehicles crisscrossed the roads around it. The medics said others had been killed by the airstrikes and were still being retrieved from the compound.
Qaddafi’s compound has frequently been the site of recent airstrikes, including one on April 30 that killed the leader’s son, Seif al-Arab. Officials said the Libyan leader was in the compound when that strike occurred, but escaped unharmed.
In an apparent effort to dispel rumors that Qaddafi himself had been killed, Libyan state TV showed him meeting tribal leaders, but did not record him speaking. To authenticate the scene, the camera zoomed in on the date on a TV monitor in the room, which read “Wednesday, May 11.” It was apparently recorded at the hotel where foreign correspondents must reside in Tripoli. Qaddafi did not make himself available to them.
The last time Qaddafi had been seen in public was on April 9, when he visited a school in Tripoli.
According to the Libyan state news agency, JANA, one of the NATO strikes hit the North Korean embassy in the capital, Tripoli. JANA said the mission was badly damaged by fragments of a NATO missile fired on Monday.
Intensified NATO airstrikes on Qaddafi’s forces across Libya have given a boost to rebels fighting to oust the regime, with the opposition claiming on Wednesday that it had captured the airport in the western city of Misrata. In all, NATO said the alliance had carried out more than 2,400 airstrikes since March 31 as part of the effort to assist the rebels and pressure Qaddafi to end his 42-year authoritarian rule.
In Tripoli, a government spokesman denied the Misrata rebels’ claims of success.
“This is nonsense,” said Moussa Ibrahim. “We control the airport and we also control the sea port.”
Even though some of the recent reports of ground combat are difficult to confirm, they seem to represent a major boost for the rebels’ military prospects after weeks of stalemate on several fronts.
A rebel who identified himself as Abdel Salam said rebels were in total control of the airport in Misrata’s southern outskirts after two days of fighting. He said five rebels were killed and 105 injured.
He said rebels were also pushing west from Misrata, toward the nearby city of Zlitan, hoping to then advance farther toward Tripoli.