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Libya Uprising

Aired August 21, 2011 - 21:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It is now the top of the hour and we are, in fact, following the breaking news out of Libya tonight where the long-time leader Moammar Gadhafi is under siege from rebel forces.

The rebel forces say two of Gadhafi sons have, in fact, been captured. This is one of them, Saif al Islam Gadhafi. The International Criminal Court at The Hague has an arrest warrant for them.

Rebel forces are now in the heart of Tripoli, including in Green Square.

Sara Sidner is almost there right now. We're going to be going to her in just a moment.

The Libyan government concedes that parts of the city are no longer under its control. It says 1,300 people have been killed over the past 12 hours. A government spokesman has called for immediate negotiation and a halt to the rebel assault.

The Libyan rebels say some Gadhafi loyalists are still holding out in the capital of Tripoli.

But let's go to my colleague Matthew Chance. He and other journalists have been watching these fast-moving developments unfold at a hotel where they were.

Matthew, tell us what it's like where you are right now. We're worried about you, but set the scene.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a very strange vantage point we have on this Tripoli crisis. As the gun battles rage outside as crowds celebrate in some parts of Tripoli, we're still confined to this hotel in the center of the city.

At one point earlier this evening, many of the government minders who have been assigned to us -- first of all, they started carrying weapons and as the evening progressed and as the situation, the security situation, outside of the hotel deteriorated -- eventually, they abandoned this place and we've just been left here now with a sort of skeleton security staff on duty on the perimeter of the hotel. We've got some, kind of, armed Gadhafi supporters on the ground floor of the hotel. The journalists have moved off to the upper floors to kind of separate ourselves from them.

Then on the gates of the hotel, there are heavily armed Gadhafi troops as well. And so, we're still sort of pretty much confined, though under slightly different circumstances inside the grounds of the hotel. It's still not safe for us to go outside the perimeter. There is still heavy machine gun fire very close to the hotel.

The area we're told around this hotel is still being very much contested between Gadhafi forces and the rebels who have taken over now large swaths of the Libyan capital. And you can hear the machine gun fire rattling behind me as you hear these armed groups, the Gadhafi supporters and the rebels who have come in from the west advance from other areas as well, and also just Tripoli residents who have risen up against Gadhafi's forces, taken up their arms and battle those armed forces around Tripoli tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We can hear the gunfire behind you. I want you to be very careful, Matthew. If you need to go someplace else, just let us know.

But let me just quickly get your thoughts, and just remember, your security and the security of our crews are priority number one for us. If you have to -- can you stay for a second or you got to go, Matthew?

CHANCE: It's priority number one for me as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. You tell me if you got to go. We'll let you go, of course. That's priority -- as we say, priority number one.

The minders, the pro-Gadhafi minders, the officials who have been watching you, monitoring everything you do over these many, many weeks and months, have they disappeared or are they still at that hotel?

CHANCE: No, they disappeared. They've completely disappeared. All that's been left are a couple of people wearing green bandanas, green, the color of Colonel Gadhafi, carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles and, you know, shouting in Arabic, shouting up in English sometimes that they're here to protect us. We mustn't say anything bad about their leader, Colonel Gadhafi.

So, there is still a lot of tension in the hotel. The mood in the hotel has very much changed.

You know, it was one of those places where in the middle of all this mayhem, the government had been trying to sort of give the impression of a -- you know, a degree of normality in their country, that's why we were taken to these confined conditions. That's why they were taken to places the government approved that we're going to, we only spoke to people that the government wanted to us speak to, so they could try to manipulate a section of Tripoli, of Libya.

That is now completely changed. There's no hiding the fact that there's complete mayhem out on the streets of Tripoli tonight. We don't know which areas are under government control anymore. We don't know which areas are under rebel control anymore -- though obviously we've seen very compelling pictures --

BLITZER: All right. Matthew, hold on -- hold on for a moment, Matthew. I just want to interrupt for a moment because we've re- established our connection with Sara Sidner. She was approaching what's called Green Square right in the heart of Tripoli. Sara, set the scene for us where you are right now.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): OK. We are at Green Square. What you're hearing is celebratory gunfire.

What we're seeing in the streets is rebels basically. There are not thousands of people. There are more like -- just doing a quick count here, maybe 100, 150. But they're not all together in one area. They are spread out all over -- around the square.

But what we're being told by the rebels coming over is that there are snipers, there are snipers on some of the buildings. And also, you are hearing (AUDIO BREAK) there are small fires that people have set purposely but they are not in any way going to subvert roles. They are in the middle of the square. But there are now (AUDIO BREAK) but there are a few people kind of milling about in the outskirts (AUDIO BREAK).

BLITZER: All right. Sara, I'm going to interrupt because we're losing that connection. We're going to try to re-establish it so we can better appreciate it. Sara Sidner, our correspondent, is moving in with rebel forces. They are now at Green Square in Tripoli which says a ton.

Hala Gorani and Michael Holmes are watching all of this as well. Let me bring you in to this.

Hala, the fact that she is now there and the gunfire that we're hearing behind her is celebratory gunfire -- that speaks volumes about the situation in the Libyan capital.

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes. And, Wolf, as we were discussing with Michael earlier, it's not a done deal. I mean, I don't know what 90 percent of a done deal sounds like, but you never know.

There are still tens of thousands of people who are armed, who profess their allegiance to Moammar Gadhafi over the last few months. Where are they? Did they remove their military uniform and are they now sort of -- have they tried to reintegrate civilian life now that they know it's not worth the fight? Or will they come out?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: I suppose the debate is how much -- how much actual support did Moammar Gadhafi have, even among his own troops. Now, as I said, last -- up until last weekend, I was with the western rebels, as they advanced on a number of towns. While there was fierce fighting at various points along the way -- and there was. Let's not be -- you know, let's not dilute the volume of fire that was going back and forth, particularly on the battle in Bir al Ghanam, on the way to Zawiya.

But what was remarkable was the fact that these guys did pull back reasonably quickly. Now, Bir al Ghanam went on for five hours. Other towns have lasted longer or shorter. But the forces did withdraw pretty quickly. I'm wondering just how much, even inside Tripoli, he's got people who are willing to die for him.

GORANI: Absolutely. And that is an excellent question because once the fight seems unwinnable, or extremely arduous, and you're not ideologically motivated --

HOLMES: Exactly.

GORANI: -- then what happens.

Matthew Chance -- do we still have Matthew, at the Rixos in Tripoli?

Matthew, that is a question -- because we were discussing earlier, does this all seem a bit too easy for the rebels?

CHANCE: It does, doesn't it? I mean, it's remarkable. We were all expecting -- I think perhaps if we're honest -- that the Gadhafi regime was eventually going to crumble, but we didn't really expect that it was going to crumble at this rapid pace. And yes, I mean, Colonel Gadhafi is sort of -- I think the suspicion is that, you know, he may have something up his sleeve.

They've said repeatedly, as you mentioned, Hala, I think, that they have tens of thousands of armed professional soldiers, 65,000, I was told today in fact -- a very precise number. Those troops according to government officials just earlier today saying that, you know, they're committed to defending this country, they're committed to defending this city. But we haven't really seen that much of them, have we?

And so, either it was bluster or, as you say, those soldiers have decided not to fight or something's going to be coming up in the hours ahead.

HOLMES: And, you know, time and time again, too, we would come across these allegations, the speculation of large numbers of mercenaries from neighboring African countries. And, in fact, during the battle for Bir al Ghanam, we came across four of them, all them from Chad.

GORANI: From Chad?

HOLMES: Yes, which we saw. We interviewed one of them and asked him, he had a dead comrade with him in the back of a rebel pick-up. And so, how much willingness is there to fight whether a large percentage of your front line troops are quite likely not even Libyan and don't even have that kind of -- money.


HOLMES: Money, indeed.

Matt, I wanted to ask you and I know you've talked about this a little bit already, too, but that hotel, you know, the Rixos, as we've often heard it described, a five-star prison for you guys in many ways -- the mood of that place and the time you've been there to right this minute, how has that changed? Because there was always such tight control basically the minute you left the room. What's going on there in the corridors?

CHANCE: It's certainly clanged. I mean, it's totally clanged because as I mentioned earlier, it was a place where the government would try to sort of perpetuate this idea that Libya was a country with no problems, that Tripoli was totally stable and calm. And, of course, with the gunfire erupting outside which you may be able to hear behind me, with the mayhem in Tripoli now, and with much of the city, you know, falling into rebel hands, or being liberated depending on what your perspective is, and celebrations in some parts of Tripoli I think indicates what many people's, you know, real feelings are about these developments in Libya.

The situation has totally reversed itself in this hotel. The mood has gone very sour, very dark.

At one point, we were extremely worried about our own safety. I mean, even now, we're a little bit concerned about what will happen because we're in this kind of limbo position where the government still controls this hotel. They've still got their troops on the outskirts. There are still gun fights outside the hotel, presumably with opposition fighters.

But the expectation is, is that at some point soon, the sort of management at this hotel, this hotel would fall under the rebels at some point. That's our expectation at some point, as much as Tripoli has already fallen under the control of the rebels.

But that change-over period is clearly a very dangerous one for us. We don't quite know how it's going to happen. It may not be smooth at all. It may be, you know, a very frightening, very dangerous period.

HOLMES: Yes. I guess you're not just worried about crossfire. You're worried about what those who have been minding you for so long now might be feeling at the moment. Shall we put it that way?

CHANCE: Exactly. I mean, crossfire's one of the problems. You know, t here's every chance as the fighting gets closer to the hotel that we could be caught up in that. But there is a much darker scenario as well, which isn't far from our minds.

It's not something we're going to particularly explore perhaps in this broadcast, but, you know, obviously, there are all sorts of, you know, possible scenarios that we are sort of thinking about, worrying about, trying to plan for in this hotel.

But, you know, fingers crossed, we're going to try and come through this.

HOLMES: Yes, of course. Matthew, thanks very much, my friend.


HOLMES: Good talking to you.

GORANI: And, Matthew, of course, was describing the situation at the Rixos. Just for our viewers who are not familiar with that hotel, that is the hotel in Libyan capital where government minders and the government, in fact, information ministry --

HOLMES: Government officials, ministers, yes.

GORANI: -- forced international reporters to gather so they can keep a close eye on them. And, right now, that situation has changed and there's uncertainty, of course, is leading to some anxiety among some of the reporters, understandably.

HOLMES: Especially when they vanish, some of them.



GORANI: Within a minute.


GORANI: Wolf is in Washington.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, guys. Both of you will appreciate this. A lot of our viewers will as well. Throughout all of these six months, the Libyan regime of Moammar Gadhafi -- they allowed international correspondents, including from CNN, to stay there in Tripoli. They were obviously monitored. They were restricted what they could do.

But unlike in Damascus, for example, they allow their reporters to come in and broadcast from there. It's s a very different scenario between Syria and its media coverage, and in Libya, what's happened over these past six months.

Nic Robertson is one of our international correspondents, spent a lot of time in Libya. He's here in Washington with me right now.

Nic, you know, give us your perspective right now, because this is a moment that a lot of people around the world, especially in North Africa, the Middle East, will remember for a long time.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Obviously concern and perspective on Matthew's situation in the Rixos, the security around the perimeter there. We were there for six weeks. And on the first day of the NATO bombing, the Gadhafi regime allowed an armed group of thugs into the hotel just to rampage and show their ill will. The gates and the fencing there are not necessarily the most secure. And, obviously, Matthew will be intensely aware of that.

And certainly the difficulty you will have while in the Rixos, to understand what's happening in the rest of the city again is something I can certainly sympathize with Matthew's situation, kind of gain a greater perspective. Because you could only hear what's going on within perhaps half a mile of you. We were -- that location is quite close to Gadhafi's main palace complex. You can certainly hear heavy antiaircraft guns from there at times, and gunfire erupt around the walls and around the fencing, around the large park land area. It's a dark, unlit area. There's a zoo at the back of it. There are other government buildings.

It is a place you would imagine the rebels would want to take control of but the euphoria that's being exhibited in other parts of the capital now and other parts of the country will undoubtedly spread to that area. But the concern has been what kind of -- at what cost, what human cost, and that will be determined by how much resistance, sustained and careful resistance, the Gadhafi loyalists are willing to put up.

And the indications would seem to be they've folded in some areas like a deck of cards. So, why are they fighting it so intensely around the Rixos? What is to be guarded in that area? Are there other government figures there, in that particular area?

So, these would be my thoughts at that time watching that particular situation develop. It is - it is around that hotel a very difficult location to grasp and understand what's happening, even half a mile away -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Nic, you appreciate it as well from the U.S. perspective. President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, they worked hard, but largely behind the scenes, getting a coalition together, the NATO allies.

France was probably more out in front than the United States was, Italy, Britain to a certain degree. But this is a moment though that NATO's military operations, assuming Gadhafi is gone, the rebels take charge, a new regime takes over in Libya and all the signs point to that, not necessarily within days but only a few hours from now. It does represent a significant achievement for the U.S. and its NATO partners.

ROBERTSON: We certainly can say that at this early stage, Wolf. But there's an awful long way to go before, (a), Tripoli is secured and safe, (b), the rest of the country is secure and safe, and, (c), there is a leadership and a respected regime that represents the wide, vast Diaspora of sorts within the country. They all want Gadhafi gone. But underneath, there are tribal issues, there are factional issues, there are ethnic issues within the country. And these may take some time to tame, if you will.

We can look at the lessons of recent history and perhaps Baghdad in 2003 when U.S. troops moved in to the city and Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed precipitously. There was a period of wild looting and rampage throughout the city that decimated the industries there and it was almost impossible to put back in the box, if will you. What happens over the next few days in Tripoli, can a security structure emerge rapidly to put a curfew in place to allow people's euphoria to express themselves but to maintain also law and order and bring together a common political will is a lot to expect in a short space of time. And this is what NATO has been work behind the scenes to try and achieve over the past few months, to try and talk to rebel leaders, to iron out their differences, to hear from a wide number of voices. But as we know, there have been many people in Libya that have sat on the fence, waited for Gadhafi to go, waited for this moment, and are now, for the first time going to express their opinions and their thoughts and will the rebel leadership want to hear from them? Will they want to do political business with people that haven't been part of the fight against Gadhafi?

So there's a long way to go and these hours now are hugely important. Controlling and maintaining security and stability in Tripoli is going to be key to saving life and key to establishing law and order across the country and being able to sort of not impose, but get a political direction and a political will disseminated to the people to bring -- to restore calm and order and that didn't happen in Benghazi quickly in the east where the rebels were.

So, a long way to go, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. We've been seeing celebratory crowds in Benghazi all day. They think this is over. They think it's a new Libya that has emerged.

We've got our reporters on the scene in Tripoli, Sara Sidner is there. Matthew Chance is there. We're going to go back to them.

Nic, I want you to stand by, because even though the reports that Saif al-Islam and Saadi Gadhafi have been arrested and could be handed over to the International Criminal Court for war crimes trials in The Hague.

Moammar Gadhafi's whereabouts unclear right now. We're investigating. We'll update our viewers on that and all the breaking news when our special coverage here on CNN continues.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, Michael Holmes, Hala Gorani. I'm Wolf Blitzer here in Washington.

A dramatic historic moment unfolding in the streets of Tripoli right now. Gadhafi's forces seem to be disappearing, although there is fighting that is going on. The president of the United States is at Martha's Vineyard where he's been vacationing, but he's watching what's going on.

Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian is up there with him.

Dan, what are White House officials saying specifically the prospect of hearing directly from the president tonight?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president himself, Wolf, was asked about the situation in Libya when he was out at a local restaurant here on Martha's Vineyard, in fact in Oak Bluffs. The White House is being very careful about getting out in front of the developments on the ground there in Libya.

First of all, I should point out that the president since this morning has been briefed on the situation there by his counterterrorism advisor John Brennan and then has been receiving updates throughout the day -- not only from John Brennan but also teams on the ground in Libya.

But again, they're being very careful because as one White House official described it, the situation there is fluid, and so, they want to be careful about what they say. That's why the president was also careful when someone asked him a question tonight.

Take a listen.


LOTHIAN: Now the message from the White House remains consistent, that Gadhafi's days are numbered and that the people of Libya deserve a democratic and peaceful future -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Dan, I just want to be precise. I could barely hear, the audio was not that great when the president answered that reporter's question as he was walking through that line. I'll read to our viewers precisely what the president said.

He said, "We're going to wait until we get full confirmation of what is happening. I will make a statement when we do." That statement from the president. So, he's obviously leaving open the possibility, perhaps making a statement later tonight, maybe in the morning, maybe over the next few days. But it wouldn't be the first time the president of the United States has to interrupt a vacation to address a major national security issue.

The United States has a huge stake in North Africa and the Middle East, this whole Arab spring has enormous ramifications for U.S. national security in that part of the world.

So, I'm sure the president is monitoring it very, very closely. We'll get back to you, Dan, as soon as you get more information, you'll let us know.

But let's bring back Hala.

GORANI: Thank you very much, Wolf. I'm here alongside Michael Holmes as well.

Let's bring in Steven Cook. He's a senior fellow at Middle Eastern studies at the Council of Foreign Relations, an expert on Egypt in particular. He joins us now on the phone from Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Also someone who's looked very closely at the situation in Libya.

Steven, first I need to ask you about what's happening tonight, your reaction to this very quick rebel advance on to Tripoli.

STEVEN COOK, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS (via telephone): Well, it's really another one of those extraordinary moments in a season of the unthinkable happening, Hala, as you well know. You've been covering this since the uprisings in December. It does seem that we are on the verge of seeing the end of Gadhafi's four-decade-plus rule which is a hopeful sign for the Libyan people.

But as your colleague Michael Holmes pointed out, there is a very, very long way to go here. There's some good news, but there's also some bad news in this Libyan story.

GORANI: Let's discuss. When you say there is a long way to go and possibly some bad news -- what are you referring to exactly?

COOK: Well, of course, something that you have all been talking about, which is the possibility of some sort of insurgency developing. There is quite curious that there seems to have been this collapse of Gadhafi's forces quite quickly. It is possible that they have withdrawn and decided to fight for another day, precisely what we saw in Iraq between 2004 and 2007.

More broadly speaking, should the rebellion prevail, which it looks like it does, they are confronted with the situation where they have to build the Libyan state from the ground up. Gadhafi's very strange way of governance, his strange form of direct democracy essentially left Libya without state institutions or organizations. Who is going to pick up the pieces, how unified they're going to be, and how to go about building the institutions of a new Libyan state is going to take --

GORANI: Steven, that is the challenge for all these countries who have been ruled by totalitarian leaders. But one of the things you brought up is interesting, the possibility of an insurgency, retreat now, come back later when you're better organized and when your adversaries perhaps don't expect it as much.

How real is that possibility for Libya? Because that would be -- Steven, that would be a tragic outcome for that country.

COOK: It absolutely would be a tragic outcome for Libya. But the fact of the matter is, as American forces advanced on Baghdad in 2003, we felt that we were basically in the free and clear and we -- it became very clear very soon that we were not. And (AUDIO BREAK) in a long time, and it may be his end, it may be the end of him and his children, but there are loyalists out there who have interest in this regime.

GORANI: But what would the interests of these loyalists be? In Iraq, we have sort of extremist, militant, Islamists-inspired in some cases insurgent fighters, in a Shia-dominated power structure so there was a sectarian element to it.

What about Libya? What would motivate pro-Gadhafi forces to come back out in an insurgency?

COOK: Well, I think that you would find elements of all of those things happening in Libya and I think that people directly tied to the regime who have a vested interest will either try to leave the country or try to fight on.

There - let's just not discount the fact that there are people who are ideological believers in what Moammar Gadhafi has said. Despite the throngs in the streets in Tripoli right now, he had been in power so long, there were many people who don't even know or understand a Libya without him and can be expected at least some of them perhaps to take up arms to defend their dear leader.

GORANI: As we know and as we've seen, Steven, it doesn't take many people to create a very difficult situation.

Michael Holmes is here with me. We're both in vision, my friend. Steven Cook is the council on foreign relations, thanks so much for getting us there on the phone from Martha's Vineyard tonight in Massachusetts --Michael.

HOLMES: You make a very good point that as we keep saying with this country, this country is not that country, is not that country. You're right about the ingredients for -

GORANI: Look, it's like saying something that's happening in France is the same that's happening in Norway, is the same as something that's happening in Czechoslovakia except in those countries they don't share a language, in the Arab world they do. And that is the only difference.

The power structures are different, the tribal structures are different, the religions are different, the way the people react to a crackdown by the government is different. So in each case it is an individual scenario. And you have to treat them as almost individuals.

HOLMES: Exactly. Ben Wedeman spent a lot of time in Benghazi, elsewhere.

Ben, I drove that road you were shot at just the other day. When you look at this unfolding, and I know the pace of it has caught all of us a little bit off-guard, probably caught the rebels off-guard as well. When you look at tomorrow and I'm speaking metaphorically tomorrow, what do you see? Because you were dealing a lot in Benghazi with those who would run the country.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Really, they've got a huge task ahead of them because as you've seen yourselves, Michael, this is a country where the resistance so to speak has grown up locally.

You have these fighters in Western Libya. You have these fighters in Misrata, You have the fighters in the transitional national council in Benghazi. All of them in some respects, acting independently.

We have seen over the last few weeks a certain amount of coordination between the various pockets of resistance which has culminated in these images we're seeing from Tripoli tonight. But how they're going to translate that sort of battlefield coordination into the creation of some sort of functioning state structure is going to be a real challenge given also the fact that there are quite sometimes intense regional rivalries between towns and cities and parts of the country --Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. And Ben, you and I were both in Zintan, and I'd never talked somebody in Zintan, in the western mountains saying basically down the road in say, Nakup (ph), there were people you wouldn't go and share dinner with, but now that united front for the common cause, if you like, that that's not necessarily something that's going to last out this war.

WEDEMAN: No. There is no guarantee of it. I mean certainly at this moment there is a certain facade of unity that Libyans are taking pride in, but whether it comes down to the nitty-gritty of dividing up country's resources, dividing up power, it is going to become much, much more complicated.

And of course, as we've seen in Egypt, as we've seen in Tunisia, when these dictatorial systems fall apart, all the tensions in rivalries and competition and resentments, it is been in some extent have been kept under wraps for decades come to the surface, it gets very messy. We see this in Egypt day after day. All sort of these things that are bubbling up from the distant past in relative terms are complicating the efforts of trying to move beyond that revolutionary moment when the regime falls and to create a functioning government, a functioning system.

HOLMES: And I know Wolf's got a question for you. But when you talked about the herd as well, which is the whole of an ethnic group, but it's going to be the one to stay it's climbs in various part particularly in the west. Wolf, you have a question? BLITZER: Yes, I do. And Ben knows these rebels. You know these leaders in what's called the national transition council, the people who will be taking over Libya probably within days, Ben. You know they hate Gadhafi, they hate Gadhafi's sons. If all of these individuals are captured alive and arrested, will they want to put them on trial in Libya or will they hand them over to the international criminal court in the Haig for trial? What's your gut tell you?

WEDEMAN: Well, I was in Misrata in the main square when the ICC, the international criminal court, issued its warrant for Moammar Gadhafi and Saif al Islam Gadhafi, his son. Now the transitional national council organized a rally where they had essentially written up boards or posters for people to hold up saying thank you to the ICC.

But when you actually spoke to people in the crowd, they were quite clear, they want to see these people not even necessarily put on trial. They want to see them executed. One man saying he'd like to stab him to death 100 times. On the one hand they want to show the world that they can act responsibly, that it can follow the requirements of international justice. Whether that means a trial in Libya itself or in the Haig, the headquarters of the ICC. But in fact I think revolutions can get messy and that applies to revolutionary justice.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you're right on that front, Ben, given the hatred involved, given the tensions, the emotions and how many people have died in Libya over these past six months. My own instinct tells me that this new leadership of Libya, they're not going to hand over Gadhafi or any of the sons in international criminal court. They're going to want to deal with them in Libya itself, sort of like the Egyptians. I don't think there was ever any intention to hand over Hosni Mubarak to the international criminal court. They wanted to try President Mubarak in Egypt and we've seen him in that cage lying on that gurney brought in over these past several days.

Ben, stand by. Nic Robertson, stand by. Hala Gorani is with us, Michael Holmes is with us. We'll continue the breaking news coverage on this historic night. What's unfolding in Tripoli right now. Much more of our coverage when we come back.


BLITZER: Looking at those pictures from Benghazi, the second-largest city in Libya, the home of the opposition where people are thrilled that it looks like Gadhafi's days are numbered. That the long-time leader Moammar Gadhafi is under siege from rebel forces right now. The rebels say two of Gadhafi's sons have in fact been captured. This is one of them, Saif al Islam Gadhafi. The international criminal court at the Haig has an arrest warrant for him.

We are just getting a statement in from two influential U.S. senators, both Republicans. Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham. They've issued a lengthy statement. Both of them have gone to Libya to meet with the opposition in recent months. The two senators saying the end of the Gadhafi regime and Libya, it is a victory for the Libyan people and for the broader cause of freedom in the Middle East and throughout the world.

They then go on to say Americans can be proud of the role our country has played in helping to defeat Gadhafi but we regret that the success was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our air power and in the end, the two senators conclude by saying ultimately our intervention in Libya will be judged a success or failure based not on the collapse of the Gadhafi regime but on the political order that emerges and its place. Today marks a big step forward for the Libyan people towards freedom and democracy as they continue on this journey. America must continue to stand with them.

That statement in from senators McCain and Lindsey Graham. Nic Robertson, who spent a lot of time in Libya with the Gadhafi's forces in Tripoli. As we watch this situation unfold and you make excellent points, Nic, this is by no means over with. The world cannot simply relax and assume this is going to be smooth and not very violent, these immediate hours and days that come.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And if we look at what the rebels have experienced in Benghazi, for example, pockets of resistance that went on for in some cases almost months, even when they're taking control of large parts of the area, potentially this is what could happen in Tripoli, there will be pockets of Gadhafi loyalists who won't give up their weapons without a fight. There will be potentially the notion that we've heard discussed here that these fighters loyal to Gadhafi right now will melt away, these people we have seen on the streets waving green flags so many times thrust in our faces, government officials taking us down to see them, that they will melt away for right now but will then mount some kind of campaign of perhaps roadside bombs, perhaps sniping, many possible types of attack to try and thwart the effort of the rebels to build and bring stability and normality to the capital but the key here will be establishing and bringing security to the city.

And how do you do that? Because the army ostensibly has been fighting for Gadhafi against the rebels. This will mean rebels having to position people on the street, give them authority, people without uniform, people just with weapons, it is a scenario that is fraught. It is one that the rebels, because of the disparate way, as Ben Wedeman described, you had rebels in the west of the country, in the center Misrata, in the east of the country Benghazi, bringing their forces together and then trying to take control of Tripoli and bring the stability for the population.

Those are going to be the difficult things beyond or before rather you build a political consensus to bring and ensure that temporary stability exists. But if you don't have that stability quickly, then you do have a chaotic situation that can emerge and we've seen that in Iraq.

Libya will not necessarily follow that same model but the risk exists without law and order for people to take advantage of what the government has denied them of perhaps, things that they've seen in stores, in factories, that they will try and take this for themselves and the rebels leadership will obviously try to control that but they don't have the where with all to do it right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: People have told me, Nic and you know more about this I think than I do. But here in Washington, people have said that in recent weeks, there's been much more coordination between the NATO forces and the opposition, the rebel troops in terms of training, arming, helping them and in terms of spotting for NATO air strikes that are going in and that there are some NATO troops even that have been on the ground with the Libyan forces and helping them.

That's why we shouldn't necessarily have been all that surprised by this dramatic onslaught on Tripoli that has occurred over the past two, three days. But give me your perspective on how much help these rebels have in fact received from France, from Italy, from Germany, from the U.K., the U.S., the NATO allies.

ROBERTSON: And they've received it from some of the gulf Arab states as well. Qatar, to name but one other gulf state that's also supplied weapons and materiel hastily and temporarily built air strips in the mountains. For example that we saw when we were there with the rebels several months ago, they built an air strip out of a piece of desert so they could bring weapons in and we understood as well people who were going to be experienced to train the rebels.

We shouldn't be surprised at what we're seeing right now and with any military operation, it takes time to build it. The commitment from NATO has been tentative from the beginning providing air strikes, not wanting to put any operatives on the ground. Then there were some advisors who were put on the ground. Later we saw helicopters brought in to the process. Drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, brought in to the military process because the planes couldn't target in the urban environment Gadhafi's hidden forces.

So it's taken time to establish this. The rebels themselves have taken time to establish their weapons supply line, they've slowly taken bits and pieces of territory that have allowed them, the rebels in the west took control of the border from Tunisia which allowed as well for re-supply there.

In Misrata, they managed to grow the area there. And Benghazi, towing and throwing on the battle field in the west around Brega Les Lanu (ph), Estabia (ph), or these towns. It's taken time to build this kind of momentum that we're seeing right now and beyond doubt, we are seeing the rebels being able to work more effectively with NATO, what NATO can offer.

Many journalists like myself have been bombarded over the past several months from e-mails from rebels saying, these are the exact coordinates at this precise time of these Gadhafi weapons systems in the battlefield. Send them to NATO, tells NATO to take out these targets right now. When you can be sure if we're getting those e- mails with precise coordinates coming from the rebels, they're been passing it on to NATO as well.

NATO, clearly, has felt the pressure of time, politically. We've heard reports of weapons, of missiles, stockpiles running low for NATO. NATO knows that it's got a political time deadline on this. It's had to pull all the stops out of the bag. It had to accelerate this. It had to show success and now it does seem to be coming to fruition.

There are perhaps other elements that a NATO force would normally have on the ground. Forward air controllers, other elements like that. Certainly we're not being told they're on the ground but it does seem as if the rebels have been acting in this capacity to a certain degree and it does now seem to be being effective.

It has been a huge amount of political pressure on the NATO leaders to bring this to some kind of conclusion. They will be breathing a sigh of relief as they can see it does enter the beginning of the final military stages where it enters a political phase, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nic, stand by for a few moments. Michael Holmes is with us as well.

Michael, you were just there in Libya. Did you see any evidence of an accelerated NATO presence, including some elements on the ground, trainers, if you will, who were helping these opposition forces?

HOLMES: You know, there was couple of curious things I could add to that discussion, Wolf. When we were there we were based in Zintan, the western mountains. There are couples of things that happened there. During the battle in Bira Ghanum (ph) right in the middle some of the fighters came back and talked to a couple of commanders and said they been approached by a couple of westerners wearing local garb asking for directions where it was really a case of you know follow the noise.

But that was interesting. They were two westerners who had been asking for directions. The other thing that happened in Zintan, we could never nail this down, but during the battle in Bira Ghanum, we could clearly hear and we've heard them before in other conflicts, a drone. We could hear a drone over the battlefield.

We heard back in Zintan, post battle, 30 40 kilometers away, several days we were hearing this drone. And it was being practiced. And we asked around and had sources say, yes, it is a drone. It is sending back pictures. They are using it that way. But they were being trained. But we could never pin down who it was doing the training.

Somebody told us it was Cataris (ph), other said it was NATO. It was hard to pin the story down. But there was certainly a drone in the area. So it's an interesting point that you might look about outside direct help.

Now Sara Sidner is actually made it in the Tripoli. She's there in green square which is extraordinary, Sara that you know, a week ago I was with the west, and now with the western rebel that you're with now. They were now near Green Square. I imagine they were as surprised as anyone.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right. That's a great way to put it. We did not think we could push it this far this fast. It's been less than 48 hours since they captured the city of Zawiya and took control of that city. And they were able to push all the way into Tripoli.

We have driven the road all the way into the city center. What we are seeing there are rebels in the city center. They are celebrating. They are firing their guns. But in the few minutes that we were there, all of the sudden they started to run. They were yelling "sniper, sniper." they were running, and hiding. And then about ten minutes later after we talked to some of those people in the square who were happy to be back in their homes, (inaudible). They had come back to fight. They said, we have intelligence that Gadhafi forces are coming back into this square. That they are going to put up a massive fight.

And so, they were all starting to take their positions. They told us to get out, so we got out of the square. We do not have that confirmed from any another source but the rebel in green square but very tense moment. We were headed out of the city and we are now seeing a massive fire. We are about - how many kilometers are we outside, guys? About 20 kilometers. We are somewhere around ten miles outside seeing a massive fire going in the outskirts of the capital. Michael?

HOLMES: All right, so have you seen, just confirming Sara, you went into green square. You have been told that Gadhafi forces were about to come back in. And did you see the evidence of Gadhafi forces while you were in that part of the city?

SIDNER: No. And the rebels said if you see them then you're in danger of losing your life. So they told us to get out as fast as we could. Of course you know it was hard to know what is rumor, and what is real, what is confirmed and what people have seen with their own eyes.

You know a lot of these things happen even when they were talking about sniper fire. We couldn't exactly hear anything but everyone is started running, and hiding and taking their positions even though they are armed to the teeth in the square.

And so, it's very hard to ascertain whether or not you are getting good information or if it's just a rumor. But nobody wants to be caught in a firefight. And so, everybody got back in position. We were told by the rebels that you must leave the area and basically get out of the city. For now they don't have complete control of Tripoli. And that they expected that there would be some sort of battle at some point.

HOLMES: Yes. That's not surprising either. It was all going too smoothly, wasn't it Sara Sidner? We'll check in with you as developments warrant. Thanks so much on the ground there with our producer and engineer and others as well. Stay safe you guys.

Now, we are going to take a short break here on CNN. A lot more of our rolling coverage of developments in Libya as rebel forces get into the capital, Tripoli.

Stay with us.


GORANI: Well, in June the international criminal court issued an arrest warrant for Moammar Gadhafi and two other, two others in his regime, including his son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi. Earlier I spoke by phone with the court's Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, about what the court plans to do in light of the developments in Libya.


LUIZ MORENO OCAMPO, CHIEF PROSECUTOR, INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT (via telephone): There are three warrants in the Libya case. One is against Moammar Gadhafi, one is against Saif Gadhafi, and the last one is against al-Sanusi. We understand, we have confidential sources confirming the information that Saif was arrested and that is very important news and we are planning tomorrow to instruct the transitional authorities how to manage the issue because normally, Saif should be transferred to the international court.

Crimes committed by Saif are crimes against humanity. So, the crimes against Libyan people affect the entire world and that while the international criminal court intervened. And that's why, we believe that it is very important that he was arrested and we discuss tomorrow with the transitional authorities how to manage to surrender him to the international criminal court.

GORANI: So the plan is tomorrow to discuss with the transitional authorities the transfer of Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, one of the sons of Moammar Gadhafi to the Haig. Is that correct?

OCAMPO: Exactly. Because there is an active warrant pending against Saif for his participation in crimes against humanity, against Libyan people during the last - since February 2011.

GORANI: So the discussion is tomorrow. Is there any timeline that is emerging in all of this?

OCAMPO: No, the issue now is the international criminal court investigates these three persons, in accordance with our evidence Moammar Gadhafi, Saif and al-Sanusi were the head of intelligence where the most responsible in crimes committed and these are the persons who should appear before the judges at the International Criminal Court.

The Libyan authorities had to deprive how to manage the other cases. For instance, we not another war against the Mohammed, the other son, the eldest son of Gadhafi who apparently also is captured. So that is not a person to be and that's why it is a different discussion for the Libyan government. How to manage all the cases where they desire have to manage these individuals.

GORANI: Can I ask you -

OCAMPO: But Saif, Moammar Gadhafi and al-Sanusi are to be surrendered to the agency.

GORANI: can I ask you, the transitional authorities, have they assured you that Saif al-Islam is being treated well? Have they told you where he's being held in anticipation of his transfer to the Haig?

OCAMPO: No. I got to talk to them tonight. I received different confidential information from different sources confirming that he was arrested and that it's also the only information now.

So, no. We're trying to talk tomorrow with the traditional authorities how to manage this problem.


GORANI: Luiz Ocampo there, the chief prosecutor for The Hague.