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Where Is Muammar?

The longer the fight to gain control of Tripoli lasts, the more Muammar Gaddafi’s whereabouts become the central question. Has he left the country? Or is he hiding in a maze of tunnels beneath the capital city? Or an artificial underground river below the Libyan desert?

Article illustrative image Partner logo A Libyan military installation in the Sahara desert (

NATO, for starters, hasn’t got a clue. "When you find out where Gaddafi is, let me know," said its spokesman, Roland Lavoie, in Brussels on Tuesday. The rebels are also in the dark. If Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam can be believed, his father’s doing fine – but where?

The longer the fight for Tripoli lasts, the more stories, rumors and scenarios spread about the ways that Gaddafi might have fled, and the destinations where he may have been headed. South Africa, where there has been some sympathy for the Libyan dictator, was a front runner for a while until its officials declared that it would not give Gaddafi asylum. South African planes spotted in Libya had been sent in to evacuate the country’s diplomats. Gaddafi, Africa’s “King of Kings” turns out to be less welcome on the Cape than some thought. Even China has come down on the rebel side. That leaves Hugo Chávez, who sees the powers of Western imperialism at work in Libya. Gaddafi in Venezuela?

To many, it seems more likely that Gaddafi never left Tripoli – in fact, that he’s still somewhere in the vast Bab al-Aziziya complex that the rebels stormed on Tuesday. It is difficult to assess how many of its rings of walls and several-storied underground bunkers are still intact after months of NATO bombardment. According to reports from Switzerland, Swiss experts were involved in Gaddafi’s plans for the complex, so its construction reflects solid Swiss technology and bomb-proof doors. 

Underground tunnels are believed to link Bab al-Aziziya with the Rixos Hotel, where the regime is housing members of the foreign media. (Gaddafi once appeared there out of the blue, and no one saw where he'd entered.)

A "river" under the desert

But that same network of tunnels is said to criss-cross the underground of the entire city of Tripoli, and beyond. This gigantic system of tunnels linking different parts of the country are part of a 17 billion euro project called the "Great Man-Made River" that Gaddafi ordered built in 1984. What it does – in multi-ton meters-high concrete tubes -- is carrying fossil water beneath the desert to Tripoli and Benghazi. European and Korean engineers were involved in the construction that Gaddafi likes to portray as one of the modern wonders of the world.

However, the American secret services have long suspected that the installation, which also purifies water, has some sort of military purpose. They do not exclude that Gaddafi has some tanks and rockets stashed there, away from the reach of the destruction by NATO bombs.

So perhaps right now, Gaddafi is tucked somewhere along his artificial underground river. After all, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was found in a hole in the earth. Wherever he’s dug up, though, it will have been a pretty steep fall.

Read the original article in German

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