By John T. Bennett - 08/25/11 02:13 PM EDT
A group of rebel fighters might have embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi pinned down in Tripoli, Reuters reported Thursday.
The rebels said they believe Gadhafi and some of his sons are hiding in what Reuters described as “a cluster of apartment buildings,” which they have surrounded.
"They are together. They are in a small hole," one of the fighters involved in the battle, Muhammad Gomaa, told the wire service. "Today we finish. Today we will end that."
CNN reported later Thursday on its website that Gadhafi's regime had released an audio message from Gadhafi to the Libyan people, urging them to not "surrender Tripoli."
The Libyan capital city "is for you, men and women. Go out, go out and free Tripoli," CNN reported the speaker said. "Destroy them wherever they are, fight them. Let the crowds from everywhere march to Tripoli."
In the message, Gadhafi refers to the rebel fighters and their Western allies as "rats."
"Do not leave Tripoli for the rats, do not leave them. Fight them, destroy them. You are the overwhelming majority, you have marched in millions (before). March with the same millions but fight this time. Fill the streets and the fields," the speaker said, according to CNN.com
"Do not be afraid of bombing, you will not be hit. Do not be afraid at all," the Libyan leader allegedly said. "They are just stun grenades to scare you. Do not be afraid at all, do not surrender Tripoli."
Gadhafi’s hold on power began to slip in February, when opposition forces began mounting an insurrection against his government. The United Nations on March 17 passed a resolution authorizing the establishment of a no-fly zone to assist rebel fighters.
U.S. and NATO war planes soon began hammering Gadhafi loyalist targets.
For months, loyalist and rebel forces seemed to be locked in a stalemate, allowing Gadhafi to cling to power. But last week, rebels forces scored what Western officials have called a deadly blow to the Libyan leader when they captured control of the nation’s capital city, Tripoli.
Gadhafi and his sons have been on the run for several days.
As the manhunt continues, the Obama administration, NATO and Libyan opposition officials are busily planning for what follows the Gadhafi regime’s four decades of rule.
If rebel forces are able to capture or kill Gadhafi, bringing a dramatic and formal end to his enigmatic reign, it would be a victory for President Obama, who sent in U.S. forces without the approval of Congress.
Many House Republicans and some Democrats opposed U.S. military involvement, saying there were no American national security implications for how the civil war in Libya turned out. They also questioned the cost of the no-fly zone operation, which now is nearing $900 million.
-- This story was updated at 1:02 p.m.