Net tightens as Gaddafis found in Algeria

COLONEL Muammar al-Gaddafi’s wife and three of his children have fled Libya to neighbouring Algeria it was confirmed last night, and the rebel government said it would consider any sheltering of them abroad an “act of aggression”.

There is no indication that Col Gaddafi himself or his son and one-time heir apparent Saif al-Islam have left the country, however. The rebels also said yesterday that one of Col Gaddafi’s other sons, military commander Khamis, might have been killed in battle.

The Algerian foreign ministry said in a statement that Col Gaddafi’s wife Safia, his sons Hannibal and Mohammed, and his daughter Aisha entered the country across the land border. It said Algerian authorities have informed the UN secretary general, the president of the UN Security Council, and the head of the Libyan rebels’ transitional leadership council.

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National Transitional Council spokesman Mahmoud Shamman expressed anger at the development. “We have promised to provide a just trial to all those criminals and, therefore, we consider this an act of aggression,” he said.

“We are warning anybody not to shelter Gaddafi and his sons. We are going after them in any place to find them and arrest them.”

Ahmed Bani, military spokesman of the council, said he was not surprised to hear Algeria had welcomed Col Gaddafi’s relatives.

Throughout the Libyan uprising, rebels have accused Algeria of providing Col Gaddafi with mercenaries to repress the revolt. Over the weekend, the Egyptian news agency MENA, quoting unidentified rebel fighters, had reported that six armoured Mercedes cars, possibly carrying Col Gaddafi’s sons or other top regime figures, had crossed the border at the south-western Libyan town of Ghadamis into Algeria. Algeria’s foreign ministry had denied that report.

Meanwhile, Colonel Al-Mahdi al-Haragi, in charge of the Tripoli brigade of the rebel army, last night said that Col Gaddafi’s son Khamis had been killed in a clash near the capital. Col al-Haragi said he had confirmation that Khamis was badly wounded in the clash near Ben Walid and Tarhoni.

He was taken to a hospital but died of his wounds and was buried in the area, Col al-Haragi said, without giving the timing. Khamis was the most violent of Col Gaddafi’s sons during the revolution, commanding a unit that claimed many rebel lives.

Other rebel leaders told The Scotsman yesterday that they fear Col Gaddafi himself may have fled to the south-west corner of Libya, linking up with allies among the Touareg tribe in the Sahara for a long war.

They warned Nato countries that the missing leader remains a major threat to their country and to the rest of the world.

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There is still no sign of the world’s most wanted man, who has £1 million on his head.

Brigadier-General Abdusalam al-Hasi, the head of the country’s special forces before he joined the rebel uprising in February, said he believed the vanquished leader was with Touareg allies in the south-west of the country, close to the border with Algeria.

“The Touareg are supporting Gaddafi so I think he’s there,” he said at his headquarters in the rebel capital of Benghazi, indicating a swath of desert land to the south-west of the loyalist stronghold of Sabha.

The inhospitable region is sparsely populated, making it easier to evade pursuers.

The leader of Libya’s rebels, Mustapha Abdel Jalil, was in Qatar yesterday for a meeting with Nato countries.

He reminded them that the conflict was far from over as long as Col Gaddafi was on the run.

Speculation about his whereabouts initially centred on his home town of Sirte, where support of his tribe and residents who have prospered by being associated with Libya’s leader for 42 years.

In recent days, regime leaders have been preparing its 100,000-strong population for a fight as rebels close in.