Rebels Storm Gadhafi's Tripoli Compound

Libyan rebels stormed Moammar Gadhafi's Tripoli compound Tuesday. NPR correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro entered after them and tells Robert Siegel about scenes of jubilant anti-Gadhafi fighters ransacking the barracks.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: And I'm Melissa Block. In the Libyan capitol, Tripoli, today there was a symbolic and strategic victory for rebel fighters. They overwhelmed government troops at Moammar Gadhafi's compound, Bab al-Aziziyah, seizing control of the regimes headquarters.

SIEGEL: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in Tripoli, inside Moammar Gadhafi's compound and she joins us now. And Lulu, where exactly are you?


LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am, indeed, inside Bab al-Aziziyah, Gadhafi's stronghold and the place where ordinary Libyans could never get to. And I can tell you right now that thousands of them are streaming into this compound after it was taken earlier today. The scenes of celebration are absolutely incredible and also a real sense of chaos. Many of the people here have gone in and are looting a very large weapons storage facility that they found and they're carrying anything they can get their hands on.

So it's a real scene of chaos with jubilation. People are just ecstatic. They say that they feel this is really the end of the war. This is where they wanted to get to these past six months, the symbol of his power and now they feel that even though they haven't captured him, they don't know where he is, he is effectively defeated.

SIEGEL: And is there any resistance to them at all from inside the compound or do they have the free run of the place now?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They have the free run of the place. I mean, I can't even tell you what I'm seeing right now. People are literally running in here. And the sound that you can hear behind me of shooting, it's celebratory gunfire. At one point, they actually fired an RPG into Gadhafi's house, setting it ablaze. And just - excuse me, and just the smiles on their faces as they're running into this compound is really something to behold.


SIEGEL: Lulu, can you just give us a sense, when we speak of the compound, how big an area is it? Is it enclosed within walls? How large a space are we talking about?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bab al-Aziziyah has always been a very secretive location. It is indeed enclosed within a series of wall, not just one, and only has several - a few access points. So it was very difficult to get in here. NATO played a key role. It has been bombing this compound for quite some time and did so again today, literally helping the rebels push through inside. And this is the place where Gadhafi not only resided and his family resided, there's a residential area to this compound, this is a place where he would receive dignitaries.

This is also a place where there are government offices. So it really is not only symbolically important, but practically, the place where Moammar Gadhafi ruled this country for 43 years is now destroyed.

SIEGEL: Lou-Lou, you referred to NATO's support here. Were there closer NATO airstrikes right on the compound that paved the way for the rebels to enter the grounds?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, yes. I mean, NATO has been bombing Bab al-Aziziyah ever since pretty much it started its bombing campaign. And I can see the damage here right in front of me. Many buildings are completely collapsed from NATO bombardment. And indeed, today, there were two strikes, the rebels tell me, while this offensive was taking place. And let me tell you, the rebels really threw everything they had at this fight today. Every single rebel fighter from Zintan in the mountains, from...


GARCIA-NAVARRO: As you can hear right there, he's saying, Libya freedom. We have freedom.

SIEGEL: Yes. Freedom, yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They really threw everything they had at this fight. Fighters from every single part of this country took part in it. They wanted to take part in it because they felt that they were owed their chance to really break into the seat of Moammar Gadhafi's power.

SIEGEL: The scene you're describing is extremely dramatic and this is, as you say, this was where Gadhafi ruled from. But does it mean that - if the rebels have the compound, does it mean that the fight is over or is there still any other resistance in Tripoli that you know of?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think for the people here today, they feel that this really is the end and that Moammar Gadhafi is gone. But practically speaking, he is still at large, his sons are still at large, several of them, and there are still parts of this country that are under his control, Sirte, his hometown, Sebha to the south. But people here today really do feel that this is only a matter of time now and that now that Bab al-Aziziyah has been taken, it's over.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, speaking to us from Moammar Gadhafi's compound in Tripoli, which is now under rebel control.

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