msnbc.com news services
updated 9/9/2011 4:14:44 AM ET 2011-09-09T08:14:44

From hiding, Moammar Gadhafi denied rumors that he fled Libya, vowed "never to leave the land of his ancestors" and rallied followers to the fight in a new audio message broadcast Thursday on a loyalist TV channel.

The broadcast came amid conflicting statements about the fugitive Libyan dictator's whereabouts. Gadhafi, who ruled Libya for nearly 42 years, hasn't been seen in public for months, and has released only audio messages trying to rally his supporters and lash out at opponents.

In Thursday's five-minute-long address, aired on Syrian-based Al-Rai TV, a voice purportedly of Gadhafi denounced reports that he had fled to neighboring Niger and claimed he is still in Libya. He also blasted rebels who ousted him from power as "a bunch of mercenaries, thugs and traitors" and urged his follower to take up arms.

Video: Convoy of Gadhafi loyalists flee Libya

"We are ready to start the fight in Tripoli and everywhere else, and rise against them," Gadhafi said. "All of these germs, rats and scumbags, they are not Libyans, ask anyone. They have cooperated with NATO ... Gadhafi won't leave the land of his ancestors."

Gadhafi went into hiding after opposition fighters swept into Tripoli on Aug. 21. The rebels are still battling regime loyalists in three Gadhafi strongholds — Bani Walid, Sabha and Sirte.

Image: Rebel fighters near Bani Walid, Libya
Gaia Anderson  /  AP
Rebel fighters take control of a military vehicle, center, on Wednesday. It was positioned to defend what used to be Moammar Gadhafi's 32nd infantry regiment's base at Mardun, about six miles from the outskirts of Ban Walid, Libya.

Fresh clashes broke out early Thursday near Bani Walid, some 90 miles southeast of Tripoli. Shootings and loud explosions lasted for several hours, coming from about 18 miles outside the town, but subsided by daybreak.

Thousands of fighters have converged on areas outside Bani Walid and have threatened to attack if residents don't surrender by Saturday. Officials have said the town emerged as a focus because of the number of prominent regime loyalists believed to be inside.

"We will move into Bani Walid slowly. There was a message in Bani Walid from Gadhafi this evening," National Transitional Council (NTC) unit commander Jamal Gourji said as more truckloads of rebels arrived outside the dusty town of 100,000 on Wednesday.

"He was rallying his troops and calling on people to fight. He is hiding in a hole in the ground, like Iraq," he said, in a reference to late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, captured hiding in a hole nine months after he was toppled in 2003.

Story: Gadhafi last tracked heading to southern border, top Libyan official says

A commander of the Libyan fighters, Daw Saleheen, said Gadhafi's loyalists from inside Bani Walid tried to ambush one of the Libyan fighters' positions around the town early Thursday and the fighters clashed with them.

"They took advantage of our deadline and ongoing negotiations but they lost the chance when they tried to attack us," Saleheen said. He said one Gadhafi follower was killed in the clashes and that one Libyan fighter was wounded.

Outside the town on Wednesday residents leaving through a sun-scorched NTC checkpoint at the nearby settlement of Wishtata painted an increasingly desperate picture.

"People are terrorized," said Salah Ali, 39. "But many still support Gadhafi because they were paid by the regime, because many have committed crimes and are afraid of arrest."

Bani Walid is the homeland of Libya's largest tribe, the Warfala. In 1993, some Warfala attempted a coup against Gadhafi but were brutally crushed. The masterminds were executed, their homes demolished and their clans shunned while Gadhafi brought other members of the tribe to dominance, giving them powerful government jobs and lucrative posts.

Also Wednesday, a Tripoli military official said Gadhafi was cornered and the days before he is captured or killed are numbered, but another senior defense official contended that Libya's new rulers have no idea where the fugitive former leader is.

Hunting down Gadhafi would help seal the new rulers' hold on the country, and likely trigger the collapse of the remaining regime loyalists still fighting the former rebels.

Unguarded weapons
Meanwhile, crates of mortar shells sit unguarded and empty boxes for missiles to blow up tanks and bring down airplanes are strewn about arms depots around the Libyan capital.

Former rebels say they took some ammunition for the fight against Gadhafi, but U.S. officials and others have expressed fears Libya's weapons could fall into the wrong hands.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Libya's new leaders to secure the ousted regime's weapons. "They still have a huge hill to climb," Clinton said. "But they are working with the international community to secure both chemical weapons stockpiles as well as conventional weapons."

Slideshow: Conflict in Libya (on this page)

However, visits by The Associated Press to weapons caches around Tripoli show that many remain poorly guarded and have already been heavily looted. About a dozen rebels wandered around one site the AP visited on Wednesday, where a large hangar was strewn with the boxes of missing weapons. Rebels at another site were leaving with a load of tank shells they said they were taking to a safe place for storage. They acknowledged, however, that they'd found the site unguarded.

It remains unclear how many weapons have been uncovered in Tripoli since Gadhafi's fall, said Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch, who has been searching the city for them.

Story: Should US fear Islamists among Libyan rebels?

Lots of munitions appear to have been hidden in civilian buildings to avoid airstrikes by NATO, which bombed regime military targets under a United Nations mandate to protect civilians.

At one unguarded site, Bouckaert said he found 100,000 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. Elsewhere, he found weapons caches hidden under fruit trees.

"The problem is that the locals usually find out first and by the time we arrive and we can get some guards there, a lot of the most dangerous weapons have already been taken away," he said.

Slideshow: Tripoli following Gadhafi's fall (on this page)

A green sign at the entrance of a site the AP visited Wednesday said the facility belonged to the Libyan Education Ministry. The large hangar was strewn with hundreds of crates of mortars and tank shells.

Empty boxes of rifle ammunition and the anti-aircraft guns the former rebels fixed to the backs of trucks to fight Gadhafi's soldiers were scattered on the floor. Among them were dozens of long skinny boxes for missiles — all of them empty.

Salim Badi, a rebel who said his brigade came the day before to secure the site, said he'd been there 10 days earlier and found many more weapons.

He guessed the rebel fighters had taken the rifle and anti-aircraft ammunition, but doubted they'd taken the missiles.

"None of the rebels would take this stuff," he said, standing over an open box of tank shells. "These here, we don't even know what to do with them."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Interactive: Libyan tribes

Photos: Moammar Gadhafi

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  1. Col. Moammar Gadhafi is seen in Tripoli on Sept. 27, 1969, after leading a military coup that toppled King Idris. Gadhafi has maintained his rule over Libya for more than four decades since the coup. Gadhafi was killed in Sirte on Oct. 20 as revolutionary forces took the last bastion of his supporters. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Gadhafi, left, and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, right, arrive in Rabat, Morocco, in December 1969 for the Arab Summit Conference. (Benghabit / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Col. Gadhafi, left, jokes with a group of British hippies in Tripoli in July 1973. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gadhafi was purportedly a major financier of the Black September movement, a band of Palestinian militants. Its members perpetrated the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. One of the Black September guerrillas who broke into the Olympic Village is seen in this picture. (Keystone via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Gadhafi during the summit of the Organization of African Unity on Aug. 4, 1975, in Kampala, Uganda. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Flowers are laid at the memorial to Yvonne Fletcher, a British police constable who was shot dead by terrorists in April 1984 while on duty during a protest outside the Libyan embassy in London. Fletcher's death led to an 11-day police siege of the embassy and a breakdown of diplomatic relations between Libya and the United Kingdom. (Fox Photos via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Gadhafi and his second wife Safiya wave to the crowd upon their arrival in Dakar, Senegal, for a three-day official visit on Dec. 3, 1985. Gadhafi has eight biological children, six by Safiya. (Joel Robine / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. U.S. Ambassador to West Germany Richard Burt, fourth from left, and West Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, fifth from left, inspect the damage following an April 5, 1986, bombing at a Berlin discotheque frequented by American serveicemen. Libya was blamed for the blast, which killed three and injured more than 200. Then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan retaliated by ordering airstrikes against the Libyan capital of Tripoli and city of Benghazi. (Wolfgang Mrotzkowski / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. French policemen and army soldiers unload crates of arms and ammunition seized aboard the Panamian merchant ship Eksund on Nov. 3, 1987 at Brest military port in France. A huge supply of arms and explosives purportedly supplied by Libya and destined for the Irish Republican Army was found aboard the vessel. (Andre Durand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. This Dec. 22, 1988, photo shows the wreckage of the Pan Am airliner that exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people - most of them Americans. Gadhafi has accepted Libya's responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to the victims' families. Libya's ex-justice minister was recently quoted as telling a Swedish newspaper that Gadhafi personally ordered the bombing. (Letkey / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, right, welcomes Gadhafi upon his arrival at Tunis airport on Jan. 10, 1990. (Frederic Neema / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi is escorted by security officers in Tripoli on Feb. 18, 1992. Al-Megrahi was granted a compassionate release from a Scottish prison in August 2009 on the grounds that he was suffering from prostate cancer and would die soon. (Manoocher Deghati / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, left, accompanies Gadhafi on a tour at the pyramids of Giza on Jan. 19, 1993. (Aladin Abdel Naby / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian border policeman counts passports belonging to Palestinians waiting at the post in Salloum for transit to the Gaza Strip on Sept. 12, 1995. Families were stranded at the border with Libya after Gadhafi decided to expel 30.000 Palestinians, reportedly in order to call attention to the political situation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. (Amr Nabil / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Libyan women bodyguards provide security for VIPs during a military parade in Green Square on Sept. 1, 2003, to mark the 34th anniversary of Gadhafi's acension to power. (Mike Nelson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Family members of people killed in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, read documents on Sept. 12, 2003, as the U.N. Security Council votes to lift sanctions against Libya for the 1988 bombing. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, flew to Libya in 2004 to hold talks with Gadhafi inside a Bedouin tent. Here, Blair and and Gadhafi stroll to a separate tent in Tripoli for lunch during a break in their talks. Blair's role was particularly vital in Gadhafi's international rehabilitation. He praised the leader for ending Libya's nuclear and chemical weapons program and stressed the need for new security alliances in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. (Stefan Rousseau / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. U.S. President George W. Bush looks at material and equipment surrendered by Libya, during a tour of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee on July 12, 2004. Bush officially lifted the U.S. trade embargo against Libya on Sept. 20, 2004. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. View of the remains of Gadhafi's bombed-out headquarters, now turned into a living memento, inside his compound in Tripoli on Oct. 15, 2004. The sculpture in the center represents a golden fist grabbing a U.S. jet fighter. U.S. jets bombed Tripoli, killing Gadhafi's adopted 4-year-old daughter, in April 1986 in retaliation for the Berlin discotheque bombing. (John Macdougall / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is welcomed by Gadhafi in Tripoli on July 25, 2007. Sarkozy arrived for a meeting with the Libyan leader a day after the release of six foreign medics from a Libyan prison. (Patrick Kovarik / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Gadhafi's son Saif, center, attends a ceremony in the southern Libyan city of Ghiryan on Aug. 18, 2007, to mark the arrival of water from the Great Manmade River, a project to pipe water from desert wells to coastal communities. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Gadhafi looks at a Russian-language edition of his book "The Green Book" during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 17, 2008, in Tripoli. Putin was in Libya for a two-day visit to rebuild Russian-Libyan relations. (Artyom Korotayev / Epsilon via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Gadhafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pose for a picture after signing an agreement in the eastern city of Benghazi on Libya's Mediterranean coast on Aug. 30, 2008. Berlusconi apologized to Libya for damage inflicted by Italy during the colonial era and signed a $5 billion investment deal by way of compensation. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gadhafi poses with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prior to a meeting in Tripoli on Sept. 5, 2008. Rice arrived in Libya on the first such visit in more than half a century, marking a new chapter in Washington's reconciliation with the former enemy state. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gadhafi attends the closing session of the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar, on March 30, 2009. (Marwan Naamani / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Gadhafi waves after delivering a speech during a meeting with 700 women from the business, political and cultural spheres on June 12, 2009, in Rome. The Libyan strongman drew cheers and jeers when he criticized Islam's treatment of women but then suggested it should be up to male relatives to decide if a woman can drive. (Christophe Simon / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. U.S .President Barack Obama shakes hands with Gadhafi during the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, on July 9, 2009. (Michael Gottschalk / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, top left, is accompanied by Seif al-Islam el-Gadhafi, son of the Libyan leader, upon his arrival at the airport in Tripoli on Aug. 20, 2009. Scotland freed the terminally ill Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds, allowing him to die at home in Libya despite American protests that he should be shown no mercy. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. The president of the U.N. General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki, top center, listens in apparent misery as Gadhafi speaks on Sept. 23, 2009, at U.N. headquarters in New York. It was Gadhafi's first appearance before the U.N., and he emptied out much of the chamber with an exhaustive 95-minute speech in which he criticized the decision-making structure of the world body and called for investigations of all the wars and assassinations that have taken place since the U.N.'s founding. (Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Gadhafi greets Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during the plenary session at the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island on Sept. 27, 2009. Chavez and Gadhafi urged African and South American leaders to strive for a new world order countering Western economic dominance. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Gadhafi and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a group picture of Arab and African leaders ahead of the opening of the second Arab-African summit in the coastal town of Sirte, Libya, on Oct. 10, 2010. Ben Ali and Mubarak were driven out of power by popular revolts in 2011. (Sabri Elmehedwi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Gadhafi is followed by members of the press in Tripoli before making a speech hoping to defuse tensions on March 2. Gadhafi blamed al-Qaida for creating turmoil and told applauding supporters there was a conspiracy to control Libya and its oil. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyan rebels step on a picture of Gadhafi at a checkpoint in Tripoli's Qarqarsh district on Aug. 22. Libyan government tanks and snipers put up a scattered, last-ditch effort in Tripoli on Monday after rebels swept into the heart of the capital, cheered on by crowds hailing the end of Gadhafi's 42 years in power. (Bob Strong / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A man in Tripoli holds a photo said to be of Moammar Gadhafi after the announcement of the former leader's death, Oct. 20, 2011. Gadhafi was killed when revolutionary forces overwhelmed his hometown, Sirte, the last major bastion of resistance two months after the regime fell. (Abdel Magid Al-fergany / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: TO GO WITH AFP PACKAGE ON THE 40TH ANNIV
    AFP - Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (34) Moammar Gadhafi through the years
  2. Image: A photo said to show people gathering during recent days' unrest in Benghazi, Libya. The content, date and location of the image could not be independently verified.
    AP
    Slideshow (81) Conflict in Libya
  3. Image:
    Benjamin Lowy / Reportage by Getty Images for msnbc.com
    Slideshow (13) Tripoli following Gadhafi's fall

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