Muammar Qadhafi and his inner circle have mysteriously disappeared from their stronghold, Tripoli. Thousands of soldiers and mercenary forces that Qadhafi was supposed to have mobilised to defend his capital have melted away overnight. And no seems to know what happened to Qadhafi’s weapons of mass destruction, mainly a large stockpile of chemical weapons, raw nuclear materials and some 30,000 shoulder-fired rockets that can threaten aircraft, US intelligence officials say.
The problem is that no one knows where they — or at least part of them — are stored.
Western officials are also worried that militant groups like Al Qaeda could lay their hands on part of the arsenal. British Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned that it is possible that someone in the regime who might have access to mustard gas and might try to use them for whatever reason.
Libya joined the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in 2004, but, according to US sources, the country’s plans to end production of chemical weapons and destroy those already in its possession were stalled because of disputes between Libya and the US over funding and logistics.
The best bet is that Qadhafi had anticipated that the rebels would be able to get into Tripoli and pose a serious challenge that would eventually find them in control of the capital, given the committed support that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) and others were (and are) giving them. So he had prepared an alternative: Moving somewhere from where he could launch a guerrilla war against the regime that replaces him and take revenge on those who helped the rebels topple him.
That could also explain why Qadhafi explained through media that he controls that he had staged a “tactical” withdrawal from his Bab Aziziya compound and his war against his foes would continue.
Qadhafi and his people are believed to have used tunnels under the six-square kilometre Bab Al Azizia compound to get out of Tripoli.
Regional observers believe that Qadhafi and his forces could regroup in Sebha in southern Libya where he enjoys the support of the local tribes. Sebha was where he was building nuclear facilities that he agreed in 2003 to dismantle under an agreement with the US. He also built underground military facilities and bunkers there to make Sebha an ideal place for shelter when the need arose.
Today, Sebha could be turned into a place from where he could launch a guerrilla war to keep Libya unstable for a long time.
Some reports indicate that thousands of fighters from his own Qaddafa tribe and other tribes loyal to Qadhafi have been moving to Sebha in recent weeks. Notwithstanding the freeze of Libyan funds and assets outside the country, Qadhafi should have enough resources to sustain a guerrilla war and pay his sleeping agents in Europe and elsewhere to Nato countries and allies to punish them for having supported the rebels.
For all we know, Qadhafi could have moved himself to Sebha (or any other place) days or weeks earlier. He was not seen in Tripoli since and his audio rhetoric came through telephone calls, some of them caught in bad connections, indicating that they could have been long-distance communications. Qadhafi’s last public appearance was on June 12 with the visiting president of the World Chess Federation, Kirsan N. Ilyumzhinov.
If he had been planning a guerrilla war, then Qadhafi would most definitely would have equipped himself well.
It is very alarming that despite the close surveillance and intelligence gathering that the US and Nato allies maintained on Libya using satellite, drones and other aircraft, they have not been able to locate the poison gas and rockets or intercept their transfer to wherever Qadhafi chose to move them.
US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has said that the US was taking steps to prevent the weapons from falling into the wrong hands. Two teams of US weapon experts are reportedly working to secure the sites of weapons of mass destruction in rebel-held areas.
Qadhafi located his chemical weapons facility in Rabta, south of Tripoli, where he is believed to have produced some 10 tonnes of various chemical agents which can inflict grave damage. Libya was also believed to have Scud-B missiles and mass quantities of conventional weapons.
Against that backdrop, it is frightening to even to imagine how these could come in handy for Qadhafi in a guerrilla war if he has made sure he could have them when and where he wants them, particularly if he decides to make a last-ditch stand. He could even slip in a tonne or two of mustard gas to Al Qaeda and other extremist groups with no end-use conditions attached except that it should not be used against him and his loyalists.
If that is indeed the case, then the fall of Tripoli and Qadhafi’s disappearance are definitely not the last we have heard of the Libyan conflict.