02.21.11 10:48 AM ET
Gaddafi's Final Days
As armies of rebels close in on Tripoli, Muammar Gaddafi has called on thousands of mercenaries and loyalist troops to help defend the capital.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi called on thousands of mercenaries Wednesday to help defend his nation’s capital, Tripoli, while nearby cities fell from his iron grip. Not trusting his own army, Gaddafi has for years amassed an irregular force—largely made up of fighters from Chad, Sudan, and Niger, in a group called the Pan Islamic Brigade—headed by his sons and known to be ruthless and loyal. Witnesses said the force has been gaining strength in Tripoli, while cities as close as 100 miles away fell to protesters. Meanwhile, rebels gained control of Misrata and Zwara, and an unconfirmed Facebook video showed anti-government protesters raising the pre-Gaddafi flag in Zawiya, 30 miles west of Tripoli.
Earlier Wednesday, President Obama broke his silence on the protests, calling violence against demonstrators “outrageous and unacceptable.” But the president didn’t directly name Muammar Gaddafi, who became a U.S. ally in 2003 after years as a pariah; he will send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Geneva Monday to discuss Gaddafi at a U.N. Human Rights Council. Meanwhile, the U.S. is acting to evacuate all American citizens from the strife-torn country, despite protests from Gaddafi’s son Saadi, who told the Financial Times that most of Libya was “very calm and very safe.” The younger Gaddafi added that while reforms are needed in the government, his father must remain as “the big father who advises.”
For days, national troops have been abandoning Gaddafi in droves, recoiling from the brutal force that has been ordered against demonstators. One defected general said he is sure that Gaddafi’s regime “ will fall in the coming few days.” Meanwhile, new WikiLeaks cables reveal the exorbitant lifestyle of Gaddafi’s reign—a New Year’s party with Mariah Carey in St. Barts, lavish expense accounts for his sons through oil profits, and more.
Italy’s foreign minister says 1,000 people have already died in the protests. On Tuesday, Gaddafi called for demonstrations from his supporters but Reuters says only 150 or so people have gathered so far in Tripoli’s main square Wednesday.
Separately, a Libyan defector has confirmed what’s long been suspected: Gaddafi personally ordered the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. Former justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil told a Swedish newspaper that he had proof of his allegations. During an interview in Libya, Abdel-Jalil told a reporter for Expressen that Gaddafi gave Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was in prison in Scotland from 2001 to 2009, the order for the attack, which killed 270 people. Megrahi was freed from a Scottish prison and returned to Libya in 2009 on the grounds that he was near death. Abdel-Jalil is one of several top officials to step down in opposition to Gaddafi’s violent response to demonstrators.