Return to Transcripts main page


Opposition Took over Gadhafi's Compound; Journalists Were Trapped in the Tripoli Hotel; Opposition Fighters Controls the Tripoli Airport; Reuters: Gadhafi Addresses Libyan People; Rare 5.8 Quake Rattles East Coast; Hurricane Irene Heading for U.S.

Aired August 23, 2011 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Hey, Candy thanks so much. Good evening, everyone. Major news on two fronts tonight.

Breaking news at home, the aftershocks from the totally unexpected east coast earthquake, and a massive hurricane headed our way.

In Libya, Moammar Gadhafi speaking out, though he hasn't been seen since this video taken two months ago.

According to Reuters, a local Tripoli radio station broadcast a taped message from the dictator. In it, he vowed murder them or victory. He said the retreat from his compound was in his words, a tactical move. Just breaking right now over the computer wires, we're seeing from Reuters, Moussa Ibrahim, who is the government spokesperson, who you know was in the hotel where those journalists was, but fled at some point yesterday. He is making a statement as well.

According to Reuters, now the mission is to just liberate Tripoli gradually, honestly, he said our men are assuring me, it will only get easier. He says they are trying to turn Libya into the next Iraq, so fight. He says Central Tripoli under the influence of gangs. "Gangs" is the term that they have been using a lot of times to describe the opposition fighters.

He says there are clashes this morning in Tripoli. Some of our men died, but for the rebel side, tens died, 65 just from this morning. He says our armed forces will regain control of the area. He claims that NATO is trying to terrorize and occupy the country.

Moussa Ibrahim of course, is the man who has been backing up Gadhafi's statements, which have been basically many of them outright lies for a long time, saying that all of these opposition fighters were influenced by drugs, all high, that they were young people that they were on some sorts of pharmaceutical drugs. So, take what he says with a grain of salt. But that is the statement he's making at this moment.

At the compound, at Gadhafi's compound as the sun went down, there was new fighting today. Loyalist gunmen, gunmen loyal to the regime trying to take back the compound which the opposition forces took yesterday.

Sara Sidner was there whether it happened. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're having to run out of the compound now, we see gunfire coming from outside of the compound, and it's getting a, it's getting too close, so we're leaving. We're not going to go all into the compound, exactly, now from the outside of the compound, firing towards us.


SIDNER: Yes, go ahead. Just got gunfire incoming over our head.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tracer behind me.

SIDNER: We are seeing all of these tracers, hitting the water tank, hitting the area, so we've got to go.


COOPER: Doesn't get more front line than that. Sara Sidner, outside of Gadhafi's compound this evening.

Contrast to that, we are seeing some earlier today as fighters poured and firing shots I celebration, climbing the statues, carrying out boxes of guns and ammo, some went room to room searching for Gadhafi but found no trace of him.

They did manage to shut of a key escape route, taking the airport, possibly paving the way for transitional leaders to fly in from Benghazi. Military instruction telling out that such a move could take place on Thursday, a lot of that of course depends on the fighting.

The Thursday date assumes continued progress bringing Tripoli under some sort opposition control. Now, opposition forces say they have driven the majority of government forces back to Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte. But that remains to be seen however, as we know that many of the statements made by opposition forces over the last several days have turned out not to be true.

Witnesses last night, when around this time Saif Gadhafi suddenly appeared after the international media. The world have been told that Saif Gadhafi as in the custody of the opposition forces.

In a moment, much more on that, a hunt for Gadhafi and who may replace him. We're trying to establish communication with CNN's Matthew Chance. He and his crew and other reporters are trapped inside the hotel, being kept there by Gadhafi loyalists, who were still in control of the area, the situation growing more intense by the minute, all of that ahead.

A quick wrap-up of an extraordinarily memorable day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER (voice-over): In the streets of Tripoli today, cries of victory, barely audible over the nonstop rattle of celebratory gunfire. Opposition forces fighting ferociously this morning with remnants of the government army still defending Moammar Gadhafi's compound. After a siege lasting for hours, the opposition forces break through.

SIDNER: This is an historic day. Psychologically speaking this is an important day, especially for the rebels who Gadhafi said would never be able to break his spirit, would never be able to take the city. But they have taken Bab al-Aziziya, Gadhafi's compound and you can see now some of the press coming out, so clearly they had it. Clearly they have taken this over and clearly there is extreme excitement here in Tripoli.

COOPER: Gadhafi's compound is not only his official residence but a symbol of his regime and defiance to the west. Opposition fighters searched the compound room by room, knocking down walls, confiscating valuable weapons, ammunition and even personal documents and medical records of Gadhafi and his family.

But the one thing they want most is nowhere to be found. Moammar Gadhafi has vanished, and with control of the palace, insurgents say they control 85 percent of the city. Today's victory, however, took a turn as residents began looting the come pointed and celebratory gunfire turned into chaos.

SIDNER: That's the eastern, the first part of the eastern gate. There are large blast holes in that gate. The sun is setting in this area just behind us, so it's starting to become darker. Over here, you're seeing these are cars that belong to the Gadhafi regime. They are sitting on them. They are blowing out rounds on top of them, that are obvious way of security, close security.

I'm going to try not to get hit by any of those rounds and then if you go just over here, you see the people streaming through the main gate. Now, that's all the way into the compound. So, you see streaming into the main gate of the compound, a lot of smoke coming from the compound.

You see these huge walls, these were supposed to be protective walls. This also gives you a sense of the power of the Gadhafi regime. This honestly is the nicest part of the city. You're seeing these large, very nicely - let's pull back a little bit. Let's just pull back. I'm getting hit by some of the shells.

COOPER: Other parts of Tripoli continued to see fighting on the streets. Journalists held by government forces at the Rixos Hotel report explosions and gunfire. CNN's Matthew Chance is trapped there.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're pretty frightened to be honest, Michael. You know, we're all kind of like in this sort of silence that's come over us. We're upstairs, very hot in the hotel. We've all got our body armor on. We don't really know what to expect to the sense that we feel we've kind of been used. We're stuck here, not able to go out. We don't want to be here. We want to get out of here, but we're not being permitted to do that. And so, you know it's almost like a situation where we feel we're being kept here against our will.

But the government says they are taking care of us, Gadhafi loyalists say they are here to protect us, but it just doesn't feel like that up here sometimes.

COOPER: It's up clear how many Gadhafi loyalists remain in Tripoli, and despite of week of sweep victory by the opposition, it's also unclear if this is just the beginning of a prolonged urban battle.


COOPER: Here is what's great concern with the situation with Matthew Chance and other journalist in that hotel we have no way of actually contacting him. We have to wait until he tries to checks in with us. The situation there we believe to be deteriorating, deteriorating rapidly. We are waiting for word from Matthew as you can imagine, all of us are very anxious to hear from him and the other reporters there. The situation seems to be changing, really by the minute, very tenuous. We're not sure what the latest situation is. If he does call in while we're on the air at this hour, we'll, of course, put him on the air and get the latest.

Sara Sidner has been - well she has seen remarkable things today. She joins us from Tripoli's Green Square which has been now renamed Martyr's Square. What's the situation where you are right now?

SIDNER: Again, there is a lot of celebratory gunfire. Sometimes it's from fraud cannon truck and sometimes tracer fire overhead. But the situation here is that, there are about 200 people, most of them rebel fighters who have come into green square. And I can tell you from the last time I was in Green Square a little early, 48 hours ago, when the rebels first got here, this was a whole different scene.

Before, people were much more afraid. They were much more afraid to come out and celebrate. They were in fighting mode. Now, totally different, everyone celebrating, they are going around the square, screaming "Gadhafi needs to go", screaming "Libya is free." They are waving the flag. That rebel flag is actual the flag that was in place before the Gadhafi regime came.

They are also handing out, they are handing out these keys with Moammar rotor, and giving, he was say a person who was a very well beloved leader. They are handing out chocolates to people. They are getting all sorts of things and just going absolutely nuts blasting in the air, people from all over the country are here, celebrating, Anderson.

COOPER: Sara, you were at that remarkable scene at Moammar Gadhafi's compound today when opposition fighters fought their way in. We saw a lot of people basically kind of looting taking weaponry out.

Was anyone in control? Once the opposition fighters won at the compound, at Gadhafi's compound, was anyone kind of overseeing it or taking charge? Or are these fighters just kind of on their own and kind of taking orders on their own?

SIDNER: It's very difficult to hear you, but I think you're asking if anyone was in the control of the situation in Bab al-Aziziya. Certainly they were at the beginning. Certainly, there was a plan to break through the walls that were there. This is a heavily fortified compound. It has as much security they thought as anywhere in the city. So they believed they would have a massive fight to get into what is basically the equivalent of the White House here in Tripoli.

They were able to get in, that part I think was well coordinated. What wasn't expected, they would be able to get in so quickly. Go through the building, it's a very large compound and then we started hearing this gunfire as we were standing there, realizing all of a sudden that it was not celebratory, that it was coming right at us, that there were tracer fire over our heads, suddenly pandemonium, people were running out of that area, they were trying to get to cover, nobody knew what to do, they weren't sure where the fire was coming from, and then we realized that the fire was coming from outside of the compound to the east.

We talked to the rebel sources of ours and they were telling us that yes, Gadhafi forces are still there, and the headline at that point was, Gadhafi forces are actually shooting into this compound, which was really the home of Moammar Gadhafi. And unprecedented move, everyone surprised. But again the rebels say they are doing that because we now control of Bab al-Aziziya, Gadhafi's compound, Anderson.

COOPER: Sara, how far are you from the hotel where Matthew Chance and other reporters are trapped right now, basically in the custody of allegedly under the so-called protection of Libyan government troops?

SIDNER: We're in walking distance, Anderson, we are in walking distance. And I have to tell you, we feel very nervous for our colleagues. We feel very nervous for our colleagues. There is a lot of honking. I hope that you can hear me.

We have been watching the situation here and that nobody really wants to be in the situation where they are under the protection of Gadhafi forces, because clearly in this city, the rebels have it. We have driven through here today, and each and every checkpoint has gotten much more strict, there are more checkpoints. They clearly control much of the city, and I think right now, any Gadhafi forces in and around the area would be fearful and they would be thinking that they would be fighting for their lives and that's certainly what we've seen in pockets, but even if these forces know that the Gadhafi regime was broken and cannot regain power, now it's a situation where there are literally fighting for their lives. They are backed against a corner, and it's really a very nerve-wracking situation for our colleagues in that hotel. All of the journalists who have been so brave to stay there, because they are not allowed out, Anderson.

COOPER: Do you know how much territory, how many blocks, how many neighborhoods, the Gadhafi loyalists still control?

SIDNER: That's very hard to tell. What we can tell you, it's a definitely a different scene in the neighborhoods that we've seen so far, it's a definitely a different scene than it was even just ten hours ago.

The rebels are moving through the city "sweep the city" of Gadhafi forces. And so I think what's happening, Anderson is that they really are being backed into a corner in pockets of the city where they are trying to fight their way out. But rebels are coming at them and this is one of those situations you don't want to be caught in the middle of that.

COOPER: If there were Gadhafi forces or Gadhafi former volunteers, loyalists who wanted to escape and go to Sirte, which is Gadhafi's hometown, are there roads that would still allow them to get there?

SIDNER: Not that I know of. The rebels have closed off most of the roads. We couldn't get anywhere near Tripoli without going through at least 20 checkpoints and they've done that around the city from the east and the west. So it would be very difficult for someone to get out without, without at least having to go through a bunch of checkpoints.

Now, whether or not while they are looking through the checkpoints they are able to as err taken exactly who you are, that's another question. I can tell you most of the people at the checkpoints are very young, very inexperienced. They are really looking in to the window so there's tearing and say, are you OK? If you flash the victory sign, they sort of say, OK, come through. So, whether or not they know who they are dealing with, that's a different matter, Anderson.

COOPER: Sara, I've just - something just come across my computer. A statement from Moussa Ibrahim, he is claiming that the tribes which traditionally been loyal to Gadhafi, he said they are "organizing and heading to the capital in order to rescue it from gangs." Do you buy that?

SIDNER: It's hard to say, it's hard to say, Anderson, but this is the same line we've been hearing over and over and over from the regime. That suddenly thousands of people are going to rise up against these rebels.

Why are they here in green square? Why were they able to bust in to the Bab al-Aziziya, the Gadhafi compound? A place that nobody could get into, unless they were close friends or allies of Moammar Gadhafi, the question is if all of these people are lies rising up against this regime, excuse me, against the rebels then where are they? Why didn't they stop them from getting in the Gadhafi compound? Why didn't they stop them from getting to the middle of the square? Why didn't they stop them from being able to cut off all the roads? Where are they? And I think that's the questions that rebels have in mind. And they believe they are not coming.

COOPER: Sara, just hold on. I've told we just now have contact with Matthew Chance. Matthew, I believe you're on the line, what is the situation where are you inside that hotel? CHANCE (via telephone): Well, in terms of not much to report in terms of what is happening outside the perimeter outside of the hotel in the rest of Tripoli, I know you're speaking to Sara. I don't have any verification of what's going on from our very limited perspective here. We're still very much in the same kind of grim situation, which is that you know we're in a hotel. We're on the top floor of the hotel. We've corralled ourselves into the top floor.

Gadhafi's loyalists are still very much in control of this hotel and the immediate perimeter around it. Beyond that, I can't give you any good indication of what extent Gadhafi's forces, to what extent they have control over this area, but we are very close to Colonel Gadhafi's compound. Obviously, we were very close to the fighting that was going on, as the rebel wrestled control of that compound from the Gadhafi forces.

The concern we have now, Anderson is that, you know, we seem to be one of the few remaining patches of territory in Libya which is still controlled by Gadhafi's forces and so we're kind of very anxious about what might happen at this hotel in the hours ahead.

COOPER: Earlier we heard from you, and you said that the mood was grim, that you were al basic until this room, obviously very hot. You're all in your body armor. Do you have communication with the, the Libyan forces which are inside the hotel? Not allowing you to leave?

CHANCE: Well, I mean I don't know if we can describe it as communication. But certainly, we have contact with them. You know, they are walking around the hotel, patrolling the lobby floor. They are in the basement as well.

Within the past few hours, a number of them have come up to the journalist floor as well and gone into some of the rooms which something we're a little concerned about. But in general, you know we don't have much communication with them, having said that, about two hours ago, leaning on the balcony, overlooking the interior courtyard of the hotel, and one of them shouted to me and said, you know I suppose you're happy now, aren't you journalists? And I asked him what he meant. And he said he was referring to that the rebels have made all of these gains and obviously taking control of Gadhafi's compound.

And so, you know, there is still that sort of little bit of hostility toward us, a little bit in which tense in which Gadhafi loyalists were dragged along in this conflict and regarded the international media being on the rebels side in this complex even though that's obviously that's not the case which is, we're trying to report that governance Gadhafi's side of things on this. But you know we're doing that and that you know very restricted circumstances. We've asked of course to get out of the hotel. We're not happy being here anymore for our own security. But that's not something that the authorities in control of this hotel are prepared to this point to let us do. We hope that will change soon.

COOPER: I heard you say earlier on the air you felt like had you been used. How so?

CHANCE: In lots of different ways, I suppose. Obviously, we're here so that the government thinks that you know feels that they've got the ears, the eyes of the international media, to put across their point of view and whenever they want.

And a good example of that last night, when Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, Colonel Gadhafi's oldest son, they knows he was reported to have been captured by the rebels as they advanced a day earlier, but made this surprise appearance in the lobby of the Rixos hotel as you just saw it. He wasn't the lobby at all. He was in the front door, in that car outside the hotel. I managed to speak to him. You may remember that.

And so, in that sense, we, you know we feel and they feel that we're valuable if you like at the moment, so we want to try and continue that. We will try to continue reflecting the government position as much as we can, Anderson.

COOPER: Matthew, have - you have - obviously, you have asked to leave, and what do they say? What is the reason for not letting you leave?

CHANCE: Well, we have confirmed over the past several you know minutes, past half hour there is a boat from Malta that stopped in a port in Libya, near Tripoli, and the Maltese government spokesperson, who I've been in contact with, has told us here that the space on that boat to take us all out to Malta and to safety obviously.

But the trouble is that, we've not managed to negotiate an exit from the hotel, and what the people here is say, the Gadhafi loyalist who's are controlling the hotel say, is that It's not safe for us to do that. They say that they are here for one reason only and that's to protect us.

And so at the moment, that means that we're not being permitted to move outside the hotel, even though we made the point that we believe it's our right to move outside the hotel if we choose to do that. That's not something they've agreed to yet.

COOPER: Have they indicated any knowledge, the men who are in the lobby, the loyalists, have they indicated knowledge of the fact that it seems like according to Sara Sidner, the area they control now is relatively small? Sara is very close by in green square, the Gadhafi compound obviously has fallen. So, it would seem that the areas that loyalists control have considerably shrunk in the last 24 hours.

CHANCE: Yes, I mean, we've certainly been hearing that as well. And I'm sure that, you know, the people down stairs in the hotel have been hearing the same reports. I mean, they will know what the reality is. They are not saying anything like that to us, though. They are potentially either in denial or denying it to us, saying everything is safe outside that the government is in control outside and that there are no more NATO warplanes flying in the sky outside, basically trying to give thus idea that the government is fully in control still. And so, even though that we know from our other sources and our other reporting that the Gadhafi compound has fallen to the rebels, and I've not heard anybody here sort of talk about that, acknowledge that fact.

Only that one instance which I mentioned to you earlier, where the loyalists shouted up to me, I suppose you're happy now aren't you journalists? And that was an indication that he was aware of what was going on outside and was a little bit you know angry with us for that, for that having happened. Anderson.

COOPER: Matthew, we wish you and your crew well. Please stay as safe as you can and Sara Sidner as well.

Let us know what you think. We're on facebook. You can follow us on twitter @andersoncooper. I'll try to tweet some tonight.

Up next, the battle at the airport. We are going to talk with our Arwa Damon who is there now.

We are trying as many correspondents to as many areas in and around Tripoli as possible to give you a full sense of what's happening in real time. We'll talk to Arwa live who was there as the airport fell in to opposition hands.

Also, we heard from him tonight, the question is, where from and how can he be found and captured, tracking Moammar Gadhafi?

Let's check in also with Isha Sesay. Isha?

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it hasn't happened in more than a century. Most couldn't believe what it was, an earthquake on the east coast and a pretty big one. We've got all the details on what may have it caused, the after aftershocks and a big hurricane coming right behind it, that, and much more, when "360" continues.


COOPER: Well, updating the breaking news, Moammar Gadhafi reportedly on the radio, vowing victory over what he called the rebel alliance or death as a martyr, those were the choices he says. His spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, promising to turn Libya into volcanoes, that's not alive picture of anything of him, lava and fire. Volcanoes, lava and fire, those are his words. He also he claims that tribes loyal to Gadhafi are making their way toward Tripoli to liberate the city. But that remain to be seen.

Separately, French wire services are reporting that troops loyal to Gadhafi have fired a number of scud missiles from Sirte, which is Gadhafi's hometown in to the city of Misrata. Gadhafi forces are still suffering defeat today at Tripoli's International Airport. Arwa Damon was in the middle of the fighting.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a pretty (inaudible), but we also must note that a lot of this is outgoing fire. This is the rebels literally unleashing everything they have right now around them and what they believe is Gadhafi's forces advance because they are they say. They are worried that should any of incoming artillery rock hits one of these airplanes, it could cause essentially massive and devastating explosion. They also say that they are trying to preserve locations like the airport as much as they possibly can.


COOPER: Arwa Damon, during the battle today. She joins us now. Arwa, where the things stand right now at the airport? Who controls it?

DAMON: Well, Anderson, the rebels are still fully in control of the airport, but that gun battle there lasted for a good nine hours and then at around 10:00 p.m., it began to calm down. But we're still hearing sporadic explosions, sporadic exchanges of gunfire and around an hour ago, Gadhafi forces according to rebel fighters here, drove a vehicle up and again sprayed some gunfire into this compound.

Shortly thereafter, the rebels drove up in a car that they said they killed one Gadhafi fighter in, wounded another two. It was covered in blood. And they say they are still struggling to try to control this area, east of the airport. This is a sprawling farmland and it is also where two military bases are located.

In fact, rebel fighters who have been speculating that perhaps some sort of very important person or persons, the forces loyal to Gadhafi continue want to protect, is perhaps somewhere in the vicinity, because they say they are seeing an abnormal, unexpected amount of resistance around this airport.

COOPER: So are - is the airport itself operational? Are flights in and out coming out?

DAMON: No, Anderson. It doesn't seem as if flights have been coming in and out of this international airport for quite some time now. There are number of airplanes grounded on the tarmac from a variety of different nations. According to what the rebels are saying, according to it, we basically have been able to piece together, this airport has not really been operational ever since the NATO no-fly zone came into effect and it would also seem that part of this airport complex was being used by the military. There are some military aircraft on it, and when the rebels first took it over yesterday, at around noon, local time, they say that they found a number of locations in the field right around the runways, where Gadhafi's forces have dogged hidden weapons underground.

We went through and saw some of the containers that were buried under ground. They had ammunition in them, variety of weapons and a variety of artillery. And so, the rebels are saying that initially it would look as if Gadhafi's forces would really tried to dig themselves in to this location, to try to keep it as secure as they possible could because this is also located on the highway that goes straight to the Bab al-Ziziya compound. And rebel fighters in fact, have yet to be able to control that stretch of the highway that runs from the airport straight to Tripoli. There are also two key military facilities on it, one is the military's main refuelling station, the other is a very critical fuel deposit center, where they go to refuel, restock, that sort of thing.

So the rebels say that it seems as if Gadhafi forces are going to try to put up a fight. But again, the rebel fighters have really been throwing everything that they can to push these fighters back as much as possible.

COOPER: Arwa, you and your team, please be careful. Appreciate it.

Difficult days ahead. As we mentioned Moammar Gadhafi last appeared on TV on June 12th. He spoke on the radio tonight from where we do not know. There have been reports he fled to his hometown Sirt even that he left the country, conflicting reports.

However, American officials tell CNN they do believe that he is still somewhere in Tripoli. Last night as you know during his surprise appearance, his son, Saif Al-Islam said the same thing, saying his father is alive and well.

The question then tonight is how to find him? Joining us tonight is "Daily Beast" contributor is Fadel Al-Ameen and retired Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmit. He currently serves as executive vice president of defense contractor, Advance Technology Systems.

So Fadel, you say people that you've spoken with they believe that Gadhafi has not been in Tripoli for quite some time. If he's not there, where do they think he is?

FADEL AL-AMEEN, DAILY BEAST CONTRIBUTOR: They think that either he is very close to the Algerian border, which is that's a possibility. There is a road there to Algeria that is sympathetic or has been sympathetic to Gadhafi's regime for a while.

The other possibility, that he's much down closer to the south, close to the south close to Mali, close to the Tawariq area, where he might be able to find a safe haven that they may be able to protect him.

As far as Sirt, the latest information I have is that the -- the heads of the tribes in Sirt are negotiating a peaceful surrender to the city there. So if they are doing so, which is believed to be the fact, then Gadhafi is not there. Probably he will not be there.

COOPER: General, at the start of the NATO campaign, you expressed concern about how NATO working in conjunction with U.S. command might be able to pull this off. Are you surprised at all how this has played out?

BRIG. GENERAL MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Not really. I mean, much like the NATO air campaign in Kosovo in 1999, it took 78 days, we fully anticipated this was going to take some period of time.

Probably took longer than necessary, but it's good to see that this has finally reached a tipping point. But six months is an awful long time to be carrying on a protracted military campaign against a country like Libya.

If you take a look at the costs it produced to the NATO weapons stocks and quite frankly to the reputation of NATO as military organization, this quasi victory has come at some cost.

COOPER: General Kimmitt, does it concern you, the ease of which or the relative ease I should that opposition forces were able to move into Tripoli?

I ask this question, just in the time we've been on the air in the last 30 minutes, we've got new reports of Libyan government forces firing rockets or attacking positions in Misrata and one other location.

So it possible that they basically did as Gadhafi claims on the radio, make some sort of tactical withdrawal and just kind of fanned out in other areas?

KIMMITT: I don't think so. I think what we're seeing here is the last gasps of the Gadhafi regime. The last gasps of the Gadhafi military. They may be able to do some sort of post conflict insurgency small scale insurgency. But by and large, it looks like the rebels have finally achieved the aim they set out to achieve six months ago.

COOPER: Fadel, do you agree with that? Because Ibrahim just in the last 30 minutes or so has made the statement that Libyan tribes are on their way to rallying. They're on their way to help, quote/unquote, "liberate" Tripoli from gangs.

AL-AMEEN: I think what your reporter in Tripoli said is quite right. There were no tribes, even as I mentioned right now, the tribes in Sirt itself is negotiating a peaceful surrender. There will be no thousands or hundreds of thousands rallying to Tripoli to save it from the rebels.

I think what he's been doing now, they may be -- I agree with the general that there may be pockets of resistance here and there. It will take a few weeks to clear up the -- the city, the Tripoli, maybe less.

And maybe a few months to clear the rest of the loyalists, but they have no support. We haven't seen these tribes. He called them the tribal cards and the tribal cards never worked even his own tribe didn't show up so you can tell.

COOPER: Fadel, you were just in Tripoli, spending time with opposition forces, what do you attribute their ability to advance so quickly? I mean, when we first saw them, other than the fighters in Misrata, and a few other cities, who have fought extraordinarily bravely, who have fought -- really learned how to become urban fighters in a short amount of time.

Because their lives were on the line, a lot of fighter who's came from Benghazi were very disorganized, were kind of advancing and retreating, firing wildly into the air, wasting ammunition, not digging into positions. Have they improved markedly, and if so, why? Who has helped them?

AL-AMEEN: I think they improved. I think there are some kinds of tactical support from NATO, from the United States, from France. They also have a good number of senior officers who fled and joined the opposition and able to help.

The other thing is they have changed tactics. They have leash learned to take it easy and be patient and hold the ground they liberate and not be in a hurry. I think the other thing, they are able to recruit in the city itself and who knows the cities and who knows how to deal with the local population, so that helped a lot.

COOPER: Fadel Al-Ameen, I appreciate your expertise. Thank you, General Mark Kimmitt, yours as well. Thanks.

Ahead, I'm going to speak with a young woman in Tripoli, witness to today's fighting. But, first, what's next for Libya if Gadhafi relinquishes power? One way or the other.

Opposition fighters are talking about a smooth transition, but is that possible. We'll talk it over with Fran Townsend.

And other breaking news story tonight, a rare magnitude 5.8 earthquake rattling the east coast. Did you feel it? Meteorologist Chad Myers has the latest on it.


COOPER: A senior NATO official said today the war in Libya is not over, but that it's close. The opposition has started thinking about a post-Gadhafi Libya. The National Transitional Council, which is the opposition leadership says there will be a meeting tomorrow with officials from the U.S., the U.K. and other international leaders to talk about aid for Libya.

One NTC leader said today that it is important to bring the country together to try to start a smooth transition right now. But there are questions about whether the NTC is ready to leave and how reliable the statements are.

Matthew Chance mentioned this earlier, yesterday, opposition leader claimed they had Gadhafi's Saif Al-Islam was in custody, but then around - exactly 24 hours ago, he showed up outside a hotel in Tripoli.

Joining me now is CNN national security contributor, Fran Townsend and member of the CIA external advisory committee. In May back in 2010, she visited high-ranking Libyan officials with the invitation of the Libyan government. She was in Gadhafi's compound at one point and Fouad Ajami joins us, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

For everyone wondering whether the National Transitional Council is up to the task. You say what?

FOUAD AJAMI, SENIOR FELLOW, STANFORD UNIVERSITY'S HOOVER INSTITUTION: Well, I say that they are up to the task. If we look at them and what they have been through and what they have done, and if we look at the cast of characters, look at some of the principal figures.

Al-Jalil is a former Minister of Justice of the Gadhafi regime, good man and Mohamed Jubril, a PhD from Pittsburgh, a technocrat is prime minister. Ali Tachoni, the Minister of Finance, who left a job at the University of Washington as an economics professor to go back to his country.

Can they run the country? Of course, they can. Look what Gadhafi did to this country for such a long time, a primitive, crude, vulgar man. So I think by and large, if you take a look at the cast of characters, they have also said, they don't intend to rule Libya themselves. They will set the stage for a normal transition for a new country.

COOPER: It's also and maybe this is a naive way of looking at it. But I mean, Libya is a country of just six million people. It is so rich and has such potential for -- had Gadhafi focused just some of his resources on building the education system, building the school system, the hospitals there, it would have been a different story, perhaps.

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIOAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: That's right, Anderson. They're going to face some critical tests that will be remembered, the decisions they made. Will they try Gadhafi, Saif Al- Islam, when they get them into custody, if they capture them, will they try them there or will they honor the commitments to the International Criminal Court and turn them over?

Look at what's going on at the Rixos Hotel. This is an opportunity to assert leadership over this fledgling new country and bring international attention to the fact that these journalists must be released, must be granted safe passage.

These are opportunities for a young country, with young leadership beginning come together, bright men. But the question is, can these group of bright men in the NTC, actually turn that into political capital and political leadership and this is their moment. This was a test.

COOPER: We saw pictures of people leaving with weaponry from the Gadhafi compound and the NTC, they came out and said, look, people need to behave and act responsibly at this time. Almost learning the lessons from what happened in Iraq in those heady days after Saddam fell.

AJAMI: Look, Anderson, after 40 years of tyranny, we have seen relative restraint from Tripoli. And the leader of this council has pleaded with everyone, no retribution, no vengeance. Vengeance is normal. It's human. I mean, given what these people have endured I think they could have - we could have expected them to be much more --

COOPER: It's easy for us here to say look, you shouldn't have retribution, but I mean, if you've been living for 42 years under, you know, a man who have been able to kill whomever he wants, imprison whomever he wants, that's a hard thing. AJAMI: That's exactly right, but I just want to say something, you know, if you will give me the time some other time, everyone is talking about tribes in Libya, I want to tell you one thing. There are no tribes.

It's the nature of despotic society that the despot destroys the tribal system. That everyone must relate to the despot. And there is no tribe -- effective tribal system there wasn't one in Iraq, because you have the head man and he destroyed everything.

And he -- he creates this only direct relationship between himself as God and himself as diety and the people, so when people tell you about the tribes in Libya, there really aren't tribes.

COOPER: It really was a fascinating, bizarre system, where Gadhafi kind of set himself up as the embodiment of this revolution. He didn't even allegedly have a leadership role, but of course, he was the leader.

TOWNSEND: Even those closest to him, the head of the international service, and Moussa Koussa, who was the head of the internal service and then foreign minister, both of them when I visited Libya, both of them complained to me if he was having a bad day or he was angry at them.

Those closest to him and responsible of his security, he would throw them in jail. They didn't know how long they'd be there and they didn't know under what circumstances they would be let out. At any moment, everyone lived in absolute and total fear of him.

COOPER: I was reading a great book called "The Emperor." He did the same thing. These dictators are very effective, even though Gadhafi may seem crazy, very effective playing one group off another group.

We got to go, because we're very over time. Fran, I appreciate it. Fouad Ajami as well.

Coming up, a resident of Tripoli, a woman, talks about what she has seen on the streets today in her neighborhood. Where there are still pro-Gadhafi forces.

But she is no longer afraid to speak out after months of remaining silent and she insists on using her name because she wants people to know that she and others are no longer afraid.

Also our other breaking news story here in America, up and down, the east coast getting shaken by a rare 5.8 magnitude earthquake. I missed the whole thing. I didn't even feel it. A lot of people did.

Just moments ago, I was told there was an aftershock in Virginia. We'll talk to meteorologist Chad Myers.


COOPER: Breaking news story, slight aftershocks being reported in Virginia tonight after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit Northern Virginia this afternoon. The second most powerful quake in that state's recorded history.

It was so powerful that in fact, some of us felt it right here in this building in New York City. I didn't. Not sure what I was doing. But there are no reports of major injuries, but there are reports of damage in a few counties in Virginia, Washington International Cathedral.

Inspectors are also checking for any possible structural damage of the Washington monument and other landmarks. People are definitely shaken up. A couple of buildings including the White House were evacuated as well court buildings in lower Manhattan.

Meteorologist Chad Myers joins us now live from Atlanta with more. So Chad is a place that you normally associate with earthquakes. Is it an active quake zone?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No, not at all. The map behind me show the active quake zones, including the Madrid, California, all that, but the earthquake was right there in the middle of little blue and green spot.

Literally, no threat, no risk of that, although there have been a few earthquakes here nothing like this, nothing like 5.8 and nothing with aftershocks for a very long time.

The last earthquake that was close to this was over 100 years ago in Virginia. Not saying that there weren't earthquakes 2,000 years ago that we don't know about, but certainly not an active zone.

COOPER: How widely felt was the quake?

MYERS: It was felt all the way from about Montreal back into Toronto and then back down to Knoxville and Alabama. That's because there is one big plate on the U.S., on the east coast. In California, there are a bunch of plates. The plates are broken up into a million pieces.

But when this shook right there in Western Virginia, it's like the whole bell rung. The whole eastern part of the U.S. rung all at one time. Now when you talk about the west coast, if you break all of this, let's just take this, a bunch of lines here, a bunch of faults here.

If you shake this fault, this part right here in California, two miles down the road may not even feel it and especially 100 miles down the road may not feel it. When there aren't breaks or faults, you felt it everywhere.

COOPER: And shortly after we went on the air, there was another aftershock, which hit Richmond. Are there going to be more tremors? Do we know?

MYERS: That was a 4.2, and it just happened. Now the big one was a 5.8. The biggest aftershock is probably about 4.8. So what you felt, it could be a little stronger and then these will go down in about three months they're going to be gone, but there will be aftershocks for quite a long time.

COOPER: And Hurricane Irene, do we know where it's going to hit? Right now, officials are warning resident for I think from North Carolina northward to be prepared. How bad could it be?

MYERS: It could be quite a blow to the northeast. And you're probably thinking, weren't you talking about the Carolinas? Yes, because this is going to go up the east coast. It will miss Florida. Now there's going to be huge waves in Florida. There may be 20-foot waves and those waves may come right on shore. They may come right up on A-1-A. So there could be coastal flooding for sure.

But it's getting stronger, it's getting bigger right now. The storm will probably be back up to a Category 2 later tonight and for tomorrow into a Category 3. Driving right over the Turks and Caicos, in the next few hours, going to go downhill, at least 100-mile-per- hour winds there.

Runs up the east coast and slams into North Carolina or at least the outer banks, but look at that, it could actually hit D.C. or New York by Sunday afternoon with an 85-mile-per-hour sustained wind. Now, it could be as far east as Boston, but that's a big deal.

COOPER: Chad, appreciate the update. Up next, back to Libya. For months, people opposed to Gadhafi were afraid to speak out. But no more, tonight, you're going to hear from a woman who wants us to use her name. She shares what she's seen on the streets of Tripoli today, when we continue.


COOPER: We have been reporting on the war in Libya all night, but I want to take a moment just to focus instead on one of the many people caught up in it.

Her name is Maram Wafa, her Tripoli neighborhood has been full of pro- Gadhafi fighters, but she's no longer afraid to speak out. In fact, she insisted that we use her name because she wants the world to know how proud she is tonight to be a Libyan and to be on the dawn of a new day, to be facing the dawn of a new day. Here is part of our conversation.


COOPER: What's it like in Tripoli where you are right now?

MARAM WAFA, WOMAN IN TRIPOLI (via telephone): Well, right now, everything is -- in my neighborhood everything is pretty calm for the time being. The neighborhood is completely secured.

We have checkpoints put in place by all of the freemen of my neighborhood. But from my window I can see Bab Al-Aziya, where there is still conflict going on, but not as worse as what we saw today.

COOPER: You said today was the worse day, why? WAFA: Well, today was the day he bombed us. I mean, we were heavily bombed. It was the first time he bombed us. My house got bombed. Thank God nothing happened to us.

COOPER: So your building -- your area was hit by rockets today from Gadhafi forces?

WAFA: Yes, heavily -- heavily hit by rockets.

COOPER: You just listened to Gadhafi speaking on the radio. What did he say?

WAFA: From what I understood is that the first point is that -- as he said, today, the fact that he retreated from Bab Al-Aziya was a strategy that he put in place. Second of all, he said it was the end of this whole situation will be either my death or victory.

COOPER: You've asked to us use your real name. Are you not scared anymore? Because for months, nobody has talked to us from Tripoli, nobody has wanted us to use their real name. Has fear gone for you?

WAFA: Definitely. Definitely gone and I will explain to you why people were not giving their names or even talking. It's because, for example, two streets away from my house, there was a van with a satellite dish on top of it that was just there to spy on conversations. So whenever they detect something that is against them, they just come and pick you up.

COOPER: You say you've never been prouder than you are right now, than you are today?

WAFA: Yes, definitely.

COOPER: Why is that?

WAFA: Well, when you see that first of all, let's not forget if my figures are right, 70 percent or 75 percent of the Libyan population is a young population. This is the first point.

The second point, when I see that all these youths, which is my generation and I'm 26 years old has put a place over the movement. This movement you've been witnessing for six months and at the end being victorious against the man who has been ruling a country for 42 years, 42 years, with this iron fist, how can you not be proud? They are just heroes.

COOPER: Maram Wafa stay safe. Thank you. We'll talk to you again.


COOPER: We'll be right back.