Video: Fighting underway for Gadhafi stronghold

Image: Anti-Gadhafi forces near Bani Walid.
Zohra Bensemra  /  Reuters
Anti-Gadhafi fighters drive toward the front line of the besieged city of Bani Walid, Libya, on Friday.
By
updated 9/9/2011 9:36:02 PM ET 2011-09-10T01:36:02

Libyan fighters launched a two-pronged assault Friday on one of the last towns to resist the country's new rulers, clashing with Moammar Gadhafi's supporters inside Bani Walid as a weeklong standoff dissolved into street-to-street battles, the revolutionary forces said.

Libya's new rulers had set a Saturday deadline for Gadhafi loyalists in Bani Walid to surrender or face an offensive but decided to attack Friday evening after Gadhafi forces fired volleys of rockets at the fighters' positions around the town.

Abdullah Kenshil, the former rebels' chief negotiator, said the former rebels were fighting gunmen positioned in houses in the town and the hills that overlooked it.

Anti-Gadhafi forces were moving in from the east and south, and the fighters deepest inside Bani Walid were clashing with Gadhafi's men about a mile from the center of the town, Kenshil said.

Video: Interpol issues warrant for Gadhafi (on this page)

Revolutionary forces also battled loyalists to the east of the Gadhafi stronghold of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast, but were forced to pull back after taking heavy casualties in close-quarters fighting, a spokesman said.

In other developments:

  • More high-level defectors from the army of ex-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi continued to cross the desert border into Niger, with officials confirming late Friday the arrival of four more officers. Justice Minister Amadou Morou said at a press conference that the chief of staff of the air force as well as his pilot had arrived in Niger on Thursday night, as well as the commanders of two Libyan military regions. The minister said that, in addition, six civilians from Libya had also arrived. Morou declined to name the officers.
  • President Barack Obama has formally received Libya's ambassador to the U.S. and accepted his credentials to represent the country and its new rebel government. The ambassador, Ali Aujali, was also the envoy under Moammar Gadhafi until he broke with the regime and called for Gadhafi to resign.

Before the reported Friday evening assault on Bani Walid, Gadhafi holdouts in the city fired mortars and rockets toward the fighters' position in a desert dotted with green shrubs and white rocks, killing at least one and wounding several. Loud explosions were heard about six miles from the front line, followed by plumes of black smoke in the already hazy air. NATO planes circled above.

NATO says it is acting under a U.N. mandate to guarantee the safety of Libya's civilian population. Its bombing campaign has been crucial to the advance of Gadhafi's military opponents.

Daw Salaheen, the chief commander for the anti-Gadhafi forces' operation at Bani Walid, said his fighters responded with their own rocket fire, and advanced on the town.

"They are inside the city. They are fighting with snipers," Kenshil said. "They forced this on us and it was in self-defense."

He said three Gadhafi loyalists had been wounded and three killed, while the former rebels had one dead and four wounded. He said the former rebels had taken seven prisoners.

Kenshil said the former rebels believed that there were about 600 Gadhafi supporters in and around Bani Walid.

Video: Fighting underway for Gadhafi stronghold (on this page)

"Snipers are scattered over the hills and the rebels want to chase them," he said. "There is hand-to-hand combat. The population is afraid so we have to go and protect civilians."

Interpol said it had issued its top most-wanted alert for the arrest of Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and the country's ex-chief of military intelligence. The three are sought by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity, and there have been reports Seif al-Islam is in Bani Walid.

The elder Gadhafi hasn't been seen in public for months and went underground after anti-regime fighters swept into Tripoli on Aug. 21. As the National Transitional Council tries to establish its authority in Libya, speculation about Gadhafi's whereabouts has centered on his hometown of Sirte, southern Sabha, and Bani Walid, 90 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli. Gadhafi loyalists in all three towns have been given until Saturday to surrender, or face an all-out battle.

Officials in the National Transitional Council — which is the closest thing to a government Libya has now but still has only shaky authority — had set a Saturday deadline for the city of 100,000 to surrender. They have hoped to negotiate a peaceful entry into the city, but talks with local leaders have gone nowhere.

Before the former rebels announced their offensive, the dozens of fighters deployed at checkpoints outside the city were clearly impatient to move in.

Slideshow: Conflict in Libya (on this page)

Osama al-Fassi helped unload ammunition from the back of a large truck with a sense of urgency. The bearded man in sand-colored fatigues said that with Gadhafi loyalists rocketing the front line, he didn't attach much importance to the political leaders' plans on when to move.

"We in the field decide when we enter the city with force," he said as he loaded wooden boxes of Russian manufactured ammunition into a pick up truck that was headed to the front. The truck was quickly filled with RPGs still in plastic wrapping, small mortar rockets, and metal boxes of ammunition.

Another fighter, Abdullah bin Tashi, ran from comrade to comrade, urging them to move toward the front line.

"They've got mortars and (rockets) and they're rocketing us," he told one man. "Come on, you need to move forward, send your men to the front."

Asked if he needed to await order from chief commander Saleheen, he shouted: "Who is Daw? I don't recognize Daw."

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

A fighter who appeared dressed for a weekend outing in jeans, a blue button-down shirt and sunglasses walked from the front line, looking despondent.

"I lost a friend inside," he told reporters, choking on tears.

Ahmed Momen, a 23-year-old medic for the anti-Gadhafi forces at the front line, said casualties on his side in Friday's mortar and rocket exchanges included three injured and one dead.

Interactive: Libyan tribes (on this page)

The anti-Gadhafi fighters said they had captured 10 Gadhafi fighters they suspected were spying on them. Dressed in fatigues, their hands tied behind their backs, the 10 were being held in two pickup trucks at the Wishtata checkpoint, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Bani Walid. An Associated Press photographer who saw the trucks said two of the 10 appeared to be dead.

Revolutionary troops also engaged loyalist forces around 35 miles to the east of Sirte, battling them with small arms after cautiously pushing toward the city.

Image: Anti-Gadhafi fighters in Wish Tata
Alexandre Meneghini  /  AP
Anti-Gadhafi fighters unload ammunition from a truck in Wish Tata, Libya, on Friday.

"They (loyalists) were well positioned behind the dunes, and we had to fall back," said Jalal el-Gallal, a spokesman for Libyan forces. "There were some casualties on our side, about 15 killed and wounded."

The seizure of the capital by the then-rebel fighters effectively ended nearly 42 years of Gadhafi's autocratic, violent and unpredictable rule. The new leaders now control most of the country, but as long as Gadhafi is on the loose, able to urge his followers on with messages from underground, they cannot claim total victory.

Mahmoud Shammam, a spokesman for Mahmoud Jibril, the head of the former rebels' acting Cabinet, said Gadhafi's inner circle has been broken up. Most of its members are under arrest or in the process of handing themselves over, Shammam said.

Moammar Gadhafi, Seif al-Islam and former military intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi are the only people at large who matter, Shammam said in a telephone interview from Qatar.

In a statement Friday, Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble called the red notices it issued to its 188 member countries Friday "a powerful tool" in helping lead to the capture of the Gadhafis and al-Senoussi. A red notice is the equivalent to being on the Lyon, France-based international police body's most-wanted list.

Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb in Cairo, Jenny Barchfield in Paris, and Ryan Lucas 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.
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    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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