Muammar Qaddafi is believed to be hiding near the western town of Ghadamis near the Algerian border under the protection of Touareg tribesmen, a senior Libyan military official said.
“One tribe, the Touareg, is still supporting him and he is believed to be in the Ghadamis area in the south,” Hisham Buhagiar, a senior military official of the Libya’s new leadership, told Reuters by telephone late on Tuesday.
Buhagiar, coordinator of the hunt for Qaddafi, said the ousted Libyan leader was believed to have been in the southern town of Samnu a week ago before moving to Ghadamis, which lies 550 km (345 miles) southwest of Tripoli.
He said Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam was in Bani Walid and another son, Mutassem, was in Sirte, the family’s home town.
“They are both thinking about leaving Libya maybe to Niger,” Buhagiar added.
Sirte, one of the last bastions of support for Qaddafi, is encircled by forces of Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) and under bombardment from NATO warplanes.
Taking Sirte, 450 km east of Tripoli, would bring the NTC closer to gaining control of the whole country, a goal that has eluded it more than a month after its fighters seized the capital.
Buhagiar said most tribes in the south were against Qaddafi except for the Touareg, who still supported him.
“There has been a fight between Touareg tribesmen who are loyal to Qaddafi and Arabs living there (in the south). We are negotiating. The Qaddafi search is taking a different course,” Buhagiar said, without elaborating.
Qaddafi’s daughter Aisha, her brothers Hannibal and Mohammed, their mother Safia and several other family members fled to Algeria in August and have lived there since.
Anti-Qaddafi forces overran Sirte’s port on Tuesday, but in the other stronghold of supporters of the ousted Libyan leader, the new regime’s fighters were beaten back by fierce resistance.
On the political front, a member of Libya’s new ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) said formation of a transitional government, already delayed by disputes over power-sharing, had been postponed until they had won control of the entire country.
Capturing the port at Sirte marked a key victory in the battle for control of Qaddafi’s birthplace, but intense fighting carried on inside the city.
Hundreds of fearful civilians have fled Sirte, a sprawling Mediterranean city, as the new regime’s forces close in from east, south and west.
NTC fighter Fateh Marimri, who drove out of Sirte’s eastern gate in what he said was a captured Qaddafi 4X4, reported fierce fighting around the Mahari Hotel.
“They are using heavy weapons but we are not, as we want to cause minimum damage to civilians,” Marimri told AFP.
“They are now fighting us in civilian clothes and there are African mercenaries everywhere in Sirte.”
Qaddafi’s radio message
Al-Rai TV station has been broadcasting audio speeches by Qaddafi, reported on Tuesday that the toppled leader had addressed his supporters and urged them to fight in a speech broadcast on a local radio station in Bani Walid.
“You should know that I am on the ground with you,” he said. “Through your jihad, you are imitating the exploits of your ancestors.”
“Heroes have resisted and fallen as martyrs and we too are awaiting martyrdom,” Qaddafi said.
The report by Arrai television could not be independently verified.
Arrai also broadcast footage of what it said was Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, dated Sept. 20, rallying his forces at an unidentified location.
“This land is the land of your forefathers. Don't hand it over,” Saif al-Islam, shouted to a crowd of followers.
NTC forces said the fierce resistance of Qaddafi loyalists had stalled their offensive in Bani Walid.
"NTC fighters pulled out from some areas they control in Bani Walid due to the intensity of fire,” said Abdallah Kenshil, the new government’s chief negotiator in abortive efforts to broker the town's surrender.
In Benghazi, NTC member Mustafa al-Huni said Libya’s new rulers had decided to postpone the formation of a transitional government until they had won control of the entire country.
NATO meanwhile urged Libya's new regime to make plans to destroy stockpiles of chemical weapons and nuclear-related agents amassed by Qaddafi. Washington said Tuesday it was working closely with the new regime to secure all arms stockpiles.
In a letter to the U.N. General Assembly meanwhile, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a staunch supporter of Qaddafi, said the Libyan conflict marked "a new cycle of colonial wars... with the sinister goal of refreshing the capitalist global system."
Meanwhile, Libya’s transitional government delivered 20 million dinars ($16 million) Tuesday to Sabha, a remote southern city beset by Qaddafi loyalists, hoping to bolster support for revolutionary forces.