Video: Interpol issues warrant for Gadhafi

Image: Defaced portrait of Moammar Gadhafi
Francois Mori  /  AP
A portrait depicting Libya's former ruler Moammar Gadhafi is riddled with bullet marks and vandalized with paint on a wall in Tripoli on Thursday.
By
updated 9/9/2011 4:14:44 AM ET 2011-09-09T08:14:44

Determined to hunt down Moammar Gadhafi, Libya's new rulers say they have dedicated a special unit of fighters to track the elusive former leader, listening in on his aides' phone calls, poring over satellite images and interviewing witnesses.

Although leads come mostly from on-the-ground tips, help is also coming from France and other Western countries, according to a French intelligence official. Satellite-based transmission intercepts of suspicious phone calls try to pinpoint where Gadhafi might be. Small CIA teams are also assisting in the manhunt, according to former U.S. officials.

Gadhafi, who hasn't been seen in public for months, went underground after anti-regime fighters swept into Tripoli on Aug. 21. Capturing the ousted ruler would allow the former rebels to seal their grip on the country and shut the door on the possibility of Gadhafi's inspiring an insurgency against the new leaders.

After more than four decades under his authoritarian rule, Libyans are haunted by the question of Gadhafi's whereabouts, and the country has been awash with rumors that have put him everywhere from deep in a bunker under Tripoli to safe in exile in neighboring Niger or Algeria. On Thursday, Gadhafi himself dismissed talk of his flight, saying in an audio broadcast that he's still in Libya, and exhorting followers to keep fighting.

Story: Gadhafi vows 'never to leave the land of his ancestors'

A former rebel fighter, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said revolutionary forces stormed a villa on Tripoli's outskirts last week acting on a tip.

The fighter, who took part in the operation, said they believe Gadhafi was at the villa and escaped less than an hour before the raid through a secret tunnel. Computers were on and cups of tea were still warm, he said, indicating the occupants had just fled.

The fighters detained two chefs working at the villa and recovered documents.

'A matter of time'
Officials say the most reliable reports, culled from eyewitnesses and informants, put the fugitive leader in or near one of three remaining strongholds of loyalist support — his hometown of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast, the city of Bani Walid southeast of Tripoli, or the city of Sabha deep in the southern desert.

Anis Sharif, a spokesman for the Tripoli military council, said the former rebels have a unit of more than 200 "special forces" leading the manhunt in collaboration with the operations room in the capital. He claimed they have located Gadhafi — he would not say where — and that his capture is "just a matter of time."

"We are tracking his movements," Sharif told The Associated Press. "He's moving in a small convoy of cars trying to avoid any attention from NATO or the rebels, but successfully we have located a 60 kilometer square (40 square mile) area where he's moving. He's trying not to stay in the same place for more than two or three hours."

Video: New rumors swirling over Gadhafi's location

The operation is drawing on technology, tips from people on the ground and eyewitnesses to try to pinpoint Gadhafi's location.

"We are tracking the phone calls for his aide, we know he's trying not to use the phone himself," Sharif said. "We are using satellite photos as well."

The former rebels do not have satellites of their own at their disposal, and Sharif would not say who was providing them with the satellite images, only that they were from "different sources."

NATO, which has deployed spy planes, drones and satellites to the skies above Libya in addition to the warplanes that have carried out more than five months of airstrikes against Gadhafi's forces, could provide a bevy of intelligence material to help in the hunt.

But both NATO and Libyan officials have said the alliance is not helping track down Gadhafi, and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen insisted Wednesday that the former leader "is not a target of NATO's operation."

But Western officials say that some of the rebels' allies are indeed providing a helping hand.

The French intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said the help is mainly through communication intercepts, and declined to say whether Western agents were on the ground. During the Libyan civil war, France had about 50 special forces on the ground, pulled from the military and France's main spy service, the DGSE.

Slideshow: Moammar Gadhafi through the years (on this page)

In theory, such on-the-ground help would be useful only in catching high-frequency communications, such as walkie-talkies, which wouldn't be enough to speak with the outside world, according to the official.

The official said the assistance is more about "triangulation" of signals and trying to pinpoint Gadhafi's whereabouts through satellite-based transmission intercepts, even from Paris or other foreign stations. Gadhafi could have dozens or hundreds of phones to possibly use, and likely would.

Three former U.S. officials have said the former rebels are receiving help in the search from small CIA teams, including former U.S. special operators on contract to the intelligence agency, as well as a small number of advisers from British and French special operations teams.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

CIA officers on the ground will touch base with sources who have kept them informed throughout the battle to oust Gadhafi, one of the former U.S. officials said. But the agency does not yet have officers in sufficient numbers or the human intelligence network built on the ground to help the rebels conduct an effective manhunt, the official added.

Slideshow: Conflict in Libya (on this page)

One key to tracking Gadhafi will be to study what he did in the past, a U.S. official said. In 1986, when the U.S. bombed the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi, he went to the city of Sabha.

Located in a mountainous region some 400 miles south of Tripoli, Sabha would provide the easiest escape route for Gadhafi, with access to Algeria and Niger. However, any country found to be harboring Gadhafi would face enormous international pressure to send him to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Netherlands.

Another option is Bani Walid, about 90 miles southeast of Tripoli. Fighters have surrounded the city, trying to negotiate its surrender.

Abdullah Kenshil, the chief negotiator for the rebels in Bani Walid, told reporters outside a field clinic in Wishtat that Gadhafi's son and one-time heir apparent Seif al-Islam appears to be one of those hiding in the area.

Video: Gadhafi loyalists put up fierce resistance

Two fighters close to Libya's new leaders told the AP that they believe Gadhafi himself is in the town. The fighters, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said they based their suspicion on conversations with residents.

The city is home to the Warfalla tribe, one of Libya's largest, and members of the tribe filled upper ranks of Gadhafi's security forces and government.

The third most likely option is Sirte, Gadhafi's hometown. Located on the Mediterranean coast, the city is home to ousted leader's tribe, the Gadhadhfa. The tribe has benefited greatly from Gadhafi's rule, during which time he relied heavily on them.

___

Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Paris, Kimberly Dozier in Washington, and Ben Hubbard in Tripoli, Libya, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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:
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    Slideshow (13) Tripoli following Gadhafi's fall

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