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Report: Moammar Gadhafi Captured; Moammar Gadhafi Reportedly Captured; No Official confirmation from Washington on Gadhafi Capture; 3rd National Security Plus for Obama; Do Military Intelligence, Commando Forces Stop in Libya?; Report: Sirte is Now Under NTC Control; Battle For Sirte Long Than Expected By Rebels

Aired October 20, 2011 - 07:26   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

ROMANS: Breaking news just in to CNN that Moammar Gadhafi has been captured in Libya. We're going to go right now to CNNi for their reporting.

MAHMOUD SHAMMAM, HEAD OF MEDIA RELATIONS FOR THE REBEL INTERIM NATIONAL COUNCIL OF LIBYA: -- Benghazi. (INAUDIBLE) and to think he's the one and (INAUDIBLE) who can confirm or deny that we caught a big fish himself. But regardless of anything, this is a big day for the Libyan people. Well, by the end of the day, that they will be bigger and bigger. I hope that people should be cautious about the last celebration we have in Tripoli. We lost 21 lives.

I am asking people to restrain from shooting in the air and using the civilized way to celebrate the victory.

DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If this is true, if Moammar Gadhafi himself has been captured, put it into context, what does this mean for you personally and the Libyan people? It's a massive day.

SHAMMAM: It's a great moment. I've been waiting for this moment for decades. And I'm thanking God that I'm alive to see this moment. But also, we'd like to assure the whole world that Libyan people are not going to take justice in the streets. They have to do it through the courts and through the -- the law and order.

We're not going to hang people (ph) in the streets. We're going to establish a state of law and order and the Gadhafi or other people will go to the courts and will get a fair trial that they never give to our people.

RIVERS: Will he go to the International Criminal Court? Or he be tried here in -- in Libya?

SHAMMAM: This is something to be decided by NTC. We would like as a Libyan to have our justice to be enforced inside Libya and we are able to do it. We have the justice system, the left -- what's remained from the Justice system (ph), we can trust our judges that they can try Moammar Gadhafi and the other criminals and they can do it in a very -- in a very fair way. RIVERS: What's next for the country? I mean, there were rumors that he was going to try and stop an insurgency, presumably if he has been captured that rumors has been dispelled now.

SHAMMAM: Yes. It would be a big -- a big blow to his supporters. We know that there's some sleeping cells around the country. There will be (INAUDIBLE). And even when he was -- and free, we would -- our revolution forces were able to control the country and able to take the law and order in very efficient way, we have some relation. We have some problem. But generally we're able to have a safe country.

RIVERS: When do you think you will have 100 percent confirmation that Moammar Gadhafi has been captured?

SHAMMAM: I'm sure in a few hours.

RIVERS: In a few hours.

SHAMMAM: I'm sure that -- (INAUDIBLE) is doing the proper contacts right now and to come out to the media either to confirm or to deny, but I'm sure that he's going to talk to the media very soon.

RIVERS: But you are confident that this is true?

SHAMMAM: I'm not going to comment on something that I don't have 100 percent confirmation because we are being -- have some disappointments before about such news. But I'm sure that the NTC people are right now are doing everything to confirm this beyond any doubt.

RIVERS: Mahmoud Shamam (ph), thank you very much indeed for joining us on what shaping up to be an historic day in Libya. Not only -- it looks like the liberation of the country after the fall of Sirte, but if these rumors are confirmed then the capture of Colonel Gadhafi who has ruled this country with an iron fist for 42 years.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Dan Rivers reporting on the bottom right hand side of your screen. You are looking at the live scene right now in the capital of Tripoli.

Many people behind the wheels of their cars driving around and hooting wildly in celebration of the news that's being reported, but has not been 100 percent confirmed that Moammar Gadhafi, the former Libyan leader, has been captured.

There are reports saying that he has been shot and wounded in the leg. There is a lot of shooting going around in Tripoli right now. You can see this picture of the bottom right-hand side of your screen, celebratory gunfire.

Dan Rivers is monitoring the situation there speaking to the information minister. Dan, was it clear at all where exactly Moammar Gadhafi is believed to be captured and wounded?

RIVERS: I think the suggestion is that he was captured in Sirte trying to escape. We have no specific location of where in Sirte. There was -- talk a number of commanders trying to escape along the coastal highway, but we don't know.

I think it is important to stress, Zain, that there have been rumors about members of the Gadhafi family being caught before that have been proven to be untrue. You can hear the reaction here. It is very, very loud.

Lots of excitement as you can hear and see behind me. Lots of shooting in the air and ships blasting their horns and car horns as well with everyone hoping that these rumors are true, that Colonel Gadhafi who came to power in 1969 as a young captain in the army.

He staged a coup against the king in 1969. He was only 27 years old. He has ruled ever since. Don't forget a lot of people in the country have known nothing of him, Colonel Gadhafi running this place.

VERJEE: When will we know for 100 percent certainty that it is Moammar Gadhafi because there are so many reports that are conflicting right now? It is not 100 percent as the information minister says.

All they know right now for sure, according to Misrata radio and reports coming out of Misrata and the stations there that they have a big fish.

RIVERS: Yes, that's right. We heard not -- saying it will be hours before they have this completely confirmed. I would think, you know, they will want to show the world the photos of the captured Colonel Gadhafi. That will be the definitive proof they have him.

And until we see something like that, I think it is going to be -- nothing more than a strong rumor. But it sounds like we may get some sort of statement from the NTC in the next few hours.

Hopefully that will shed more light on exactly what has happened and the circumstances surrounding Moammar Gadhafi's capture if it is indeed true and perhaps even some video or photographic proof as well.

VERJEE: Dan Rivers, stand by. As you continue to work your sources and try to get more information that is coming in from Libya today, a dramatic day. It could turn out to be even more transformative for this country and the future of the country.

First, there were reports and then a confirmation from the NTC that Sirte, the final stronghold, the basting of resistance of Moammar Gadhafi, Sirte, had fallen. Now this, we are hearing reports from the Reuters news agency as well as from other sources quoting, the Libyan National Council officials that Moammar Gadhafi has been captured.

There are reports, too, that he has been wounded possibly in the legs. These are scenes, live pictures right now in Tripoli, a real cacophony here. People are celebrating perhaps prematurely because we do not know right now for 100 percent certainty that Moammar Gadhafi has been captured.

But people are honking their horns. Celebratory gunfire is being heard as well. This is the scene. This is major deal if it is true because there have been mistakes made before. So we need to be a little bit careful here. If it is Moammar Gadhafi, though, is it over?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zain, you are absolutely right to be cautious and careful because the NTC announced before that they captured the son of Gadhafi, but proved to be actually not true. So if it is true, this is the biggest fish since the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Eight months after the fall of Baghdad. The people in Tripoli, the people in Benghazi, they are entitled to celebrate because Sirte, the capture of Sirte, the liberation of Sirte, actually is a huge achievement. This is the last castle of Colonel Gadhafi. This is last simple of his rules, which fall to the hands of NTC.

So people, in fact, set to celebrate. But if it is true, Gadhafi captured, this is actually -- it means the end of 42 years of suppression of the Libyan people and a new era will start. Because if Gadhafi managed to escape and they are not being captured or killed, he could create -- for the new leader in Libya.

We know that he managed to keep billions of dollars in cash and gold. There were a lot of rumors that he is in the south of Libya hiding somewhere. He's trying to launch a guerrilla war to make it extremely difficult for the new regime to establish itself and to set a new democracy the Libya looking for.

So if it is true, yes, this is, you know, a turning point in this Libyan conflict. It could be for the whole Middle East.

VERJEE: We continue to look at live pictures. These are pictures from Sirte as people appear to be gathering to celebrate on the news that CNN cannot confirm for 100 percent certainty that Moammar Gadhafi has been captured.

There are reports, too, that he has been wounded perhaps in the legs. We spoke a short while ago to the information minister that said it was a big day and a big victory for the Libyan people, but they are not completely certain that it is, in fact, Moammar Gadhafi that has been captured.

He said to the radio is reporting that but the NTC, and many officials are waiting for a statement from Benghazi to be absolutely certain that they have the biggest fish that they have been searching for.

Dan Rivers is in Tripoli right now. How long is it going to take the statement to come out and are you getting more information about what may have happened?

RIVERS: Well, Zain, state TV is now reporting on one ticker, the bottom of their screen that Colonel Gadhafi was evacuated to Misrata, but was dead on arrival or dead in the process of being evacuated. Now, again, we have no confirmation or cell phone or any of this. But if that's true, that will clearly be a bitter disappointment to those who wanted to see him put on trial and have him answer the huge numbers of questions.

And bring him, you know, to face-to-face with some of the horrific reacts and repression that he was responsible for and his 42 years ruling this country.

But again, I'm afraid we just don't have any independent confirmation. That's just what one state TV channel is reporting. The same channel I believe that was reporting that he had been captured.

But certainly from what the minister of information just told us, it may be several hours before we get clarification on all of this. There were other reports as you were mentioning that he had been shot in the leg.

Again, we have no confirmation on that. But what seems clear is that this is going to be a momentous day in Libya whether he has been captured or not. The fall of Sirte is massively significant. It was the last basting of pro-Gadhafi support.

We were in Bani Walid yesterday that have fallen earlier in week. They secured Bani Walid after a fierce fire fight. We have been in Sirte for the week before that. And seen for ourselves just how fierce and brutal some of the resistance was.

That they used sniper fire and picking off NTC soldiers as they tried to move in. Now we are being told this morning at about 8:00 a.m., the operation started for the last push into district two, final place where pro-Gadhafi forces were hiding out.

VERJEE: If you are just joining us, we are hearing a lot of dramatic, but conflicting reports a big fish, those are the words of the information minister, in Libya has been captured. We are getting reports that it is Moammar Gadhafi.

Some saying he's been captured. Some saying he has been wounded in the leg. There is another report just moments ago on state TV that says that Gadhafi was evacuated to Misrata and was pronounced dead on arrival.

It is unclear exactly what the situation is right now. We need to be really careful here because the NTC has made announcements before in the past and they have been mistaken.

So we are just going to wait important the statement coming out of Benghazi. We are told it will come out in a few hours. Once they know for sure.

What we do know, what we can tell you, what the information minister told our Dan Rivers just a short while ago. Listen carefully to what he has to say.


MAMOUD SHAMMAM, NATIONAL TRANSITIONAL COUNCIL INFORMATION MINISTER: A big day for Libyan people. (INAUDIBLE) of Sirte. I think a great victory for the Libyan people. Great victory for revolution and we know now from our sources that we have a big fish. I don't know how -- we have a big fish.

RIVERS: You don't know who has been captured.

SHAMMAM: Yes. There -- radio confirmed it is Gadhafi himself. We are waiting for a statement from Benghazi. They will confirm or deny that we caught a big fish in Sirte.


VERJEE: The information minister of Libya speaking a short while ago to CNN's Dan Rivers as we continue to look at these pictures on what's proving to be a historic, a dramatic day for Libya.

Let's look at the scene here where people are just driving up and down the streets of Sirte, firing their guns in the celebration upon the news that they believe that Moammar Gadhafi has been captured or killed or wounded.

It is unclear for sure, for 100 percent, exactly what is the situation. We are waiting for word from an official statement from Benghazi to tell us what exactly is going on and the circumstances in which he may have been captured, killed or wounded.

The information minister is saying a big fish, that's all he's saying for certainty. According to reports on Misrata radio has been captured. As we watch the celebrations here on the streets, let's bring in (INAUDIBLE).

You know a lot about this region and Libya here. What does this mean for Libyans who have -- for 42 years have been living under the rule of Moammar Gadhafi?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could be the biggest day in Libyan history to get rid of Colonel Gadhafi to capture him or kill him. It is a huge relief for, you know, about six million Libyans who are waiting for an end to his regime.

The news when it comes from Misrata radio. It is very significant, Zain, here because we know the brigades, which actually are fighting in Sirte that -- which captured Sirte actually, it is the Misrata brigades.

So those people definitely, they have knowledge of what's happening on the ground. So it could be true. I'm not saying that it is 100 percent true, but those people, they do know actually what's happening in Sirte itself.

Because there are the -- the brigades -- the main brigades who managed to capture Waleed and now Sirte. So it could be authentic. But if it is 100 percent true, I think the Libyans for the first time will have a sigh of relief and they will relax.

And they will believe their ambition to have a democratic state will start to rebuild their country. Nation building process could start immediately and Gadhafi wouldn't be able any more to derail about the ambition of the Libyan people for a civil state, for democratic country, for law and order to be imposed. People to -- to enjoy the huge -- what they have, about $60 billion as added to the revenue, which could turn their country to a huge and prosperous paradise.

VERJEE: If is it Gadhafi and he is alive, what happens to him now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it is a very, very big question. Whether he is going to be surrendered to the International Criminal Courts or whether he is going to be charged and tried in Libya, we know there's no proper judicial system in Libya.

Gadhafi ruined the country completely. There are no institutions there. There's no law and order. There are no proper judges or actually entire system. So we have to wait for a long time until we see this system established.

And after that, if it is going to be free and transparent try as what happened to Saddam Hussein, it took more than six months before we seen -- we have seen Saddam Hussein brought to justice. So whether it will take that long when it comes to a monarch or not we have to wait and see.

The information minister, he actually -- would be free and it will be transparent. So let us take his words and hoping that we can see another trial of Colonel Gadhafi the way we have seen the similar one where -- to Saddam Hussein and most of his men in Iraq. So it is a historic moment and we have to wait for it. It will be very exciting and definitely the Libyan people entitled to celebrate at least, at least capture of Sirte and it could be if Gadhafi is captured or killed, it could be another bonus for them.

VERJEE: There could be other parallels here to Saddam Hussein. The Reuters News agency is reporting and quoting Libyan revolutionary fighters saying Moammar Gadhafi was hiding in a hole in Sirte. Now, we do not know for 100 percent certainty the circumstances of a possible capture. We don't know if he is wounded. We don't know if he is dead. But those are all the various conflicting and unconfirmed reports that are out there.

Let's go to our senior Pentagon reporter, Barbara Starr, for reaction from the U.S.

Barbara, what are you hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Zain, here in Washington, there's no official confirmation either that this is Gadhafi who has been captured. What are we going to be looking for over the coming hours, I think once the Libyans make that official confirmation, if they do, in fact, you will then hear the NATO secretary general out of Brussels making a statement, because NATO has been leading the military operations against the Gadhafi regime, and President Obama.

For the president, this is now a third national security plus. A win, if you will, after Osama bin Laden and the killing of Anwar al Awlaki, the al Qaida operative in Yemen, now, you know, a third in a row where his strategy of letting NATO talk the lead on this has apparently, by all accounts, perhaps, worked at the end of the day. So this will be something that will have political play in the United States. A plus for the White House. It will be hard to see how the Republican presidential candidates may decide to play it and what they will criticize now at this point.

But what will come next, as your guess is saying, is what happens to Gadhafi if he is captured? Will the Libyan authorities put him on trial? No justice system yet organized inside Libya. Of course, the international court has its own indictment, if you will, against Gadhafi for war crimes. They want to get their hands on him. The international procedure would be to have him transferred to the international criminal court and face war crime charges there. But there is a lot of political pressure obviously in Libya amongst the Libyan people. They will want to se some sort of action, some sort of justice perhaps against Gadhafi. So this will -- this will be a very sensitive situation.

The -- NATO, United States, the West will pressure the new emerging Libyan government not to engage in the so-called street justice or vengeance. But the new emerging Libyan government must also respond to the pressures of its own people in the street. You can see their feelings right now as we watch these pictures out of Libya. The Libyan people believe it is true. They are very pleased about it. But what happens next, what legal proceedings happen next, will be a very sensitive question -- Zain?

VERJEE: Barbara, you have been in close touch with your NATO sources, as well, about the battle for Sirte. This has been a NATO- backed operation over the past few weeks for the liberation of this country. What have they told you about how tough the battle for Sirte has been?

STARR: Well, you know, it is very interesting you ask that. Even at this hour, Pentagon officials, U.S. military officials are looking at the situation. and while there have been these statements that, you know, Sirte has been entered, that the rebel forces, the so- called rebel forces, now the emerging government in Libya, are taking control of Sirte.

And that perhaps seems inevitable. People here are a little more cautious about it. They know there are still pockets of resistance in Sirte. They know loyalist forces are still fighting at various points across the country. Things like this become a question of, when can you militarily say Sirte has fallen, when can you militarily make the statement that it is now in control of the authorities of the transitional council.

Again, these are very sensitive questions of -- the inevitability of all of it may not be in question, but these statements coming out of Libya are looked at very carefully. And the U.S. is continuing to look for the independent confirmation it can make on all of these statements on all of the events.

NATO is very much in the same position. Because what's facing NATO now, after being involved, after leading this thing military operation against Libya since March, is NATO, along with the United States as a member of NATO, the alliance has to make the decision, when do they say, OK, we're done. We're now going to take the boat and exit from the Libya operation? You know, what will happen then? Does that embolden any leftover insurgent, any leftover loyalist element?

Again, a very sensitive question because it is not only NATO that is involved. We know that several countries, several of the European and Middle Eastern members of the alliance that's been working inside Libya, aside from NATO, these countries have been sending in their own forces. Qatar, Jordan in the Middle East, some of the European members have been sending in their own special forces and their own intelligence operatives and their own commando forces working on the ground with the rebels, trying to develop this intelligence, trying to protect the weapons sites in Libya. So, there's been a lot of activity militarily, intelligence wise, commando forces wise, inside of Libya. Does all of that now go away? Does the capture, the potential capture of Gadhafi mean, OK, it's all over? Certainly not. A lot of international concern. Not just about Libya's leftover stockpiles of chemical agents for chemical weapons. Mustard gas, that sort of thing. But the fundamental concern right now are these potential thousands of surface-to-air missiles that have gone missing or not accounted for or not under control.

A couple weeks ago, our own Ben Wedemen had these amazing pictures, video from a weapon site in Libya where you saw empty crates, you saw weapons strewn about, under no one's control. There is huge concern across this North Africa region that some of these thousands of weapons may have crossed borders, maybe in the hands of terrorists or other insurgents. Getting all of that back under control is now a major security concern.

So, as important as this day may be about Gadhafi's capture and the reaction of the Libyan people, and the plus for the president of the president of the United States as in the national security column of events, still, huge security concerns on the ground. This remains a very sensitive area and a very sensitive issue to deal with -- Zain?

VERJEE: CNN's Barbara Starr reporting to us from the Pentagon.

Today could be the biggest day in Libyan history. It could be quite extraordinary. We will only really know in the coming hours. There are so many conflicting reports right now. We just need to be a little bit careful. It's not clear if Moammar Gadhafi, the former leader of Libya, has been captured, wounded or killed. There are many different reports. The NTC, the information minister that we spoke to a short while ago says he's certain that a "big fish" has been captured, but he's not 100 percent certain that it is, in fact, Moammar Gadhafi. There have been mistakes and disappointments before. So, they're going to take their time on this one and be extra careful and sure that it is, in fact, Moammar Gadhafi.

But the people on the streets right now, as you're looking -- these are live from Sirte -- and they're already celebrating. There's celebratory gunfire being fired in the air. People are honking their horns and raising their arms in victory upon the news that they think it is, in fact, Moammar Gadhafi.

Let's tell you a little bit more about him as we wait to find out what's really going on and the circumstances in which this may have happened. He was the longest serving leader in Africa. He's actually been the ruler of Libya since back in 1969. He first came to power that year when he overthrew the regime of King Idris. That was in a bloodless coup.

And then in the 1970s, he published his whole philosophy of Islamic socialism in this three volume book that he called the Green Book. In 1977, he created a Jamahiriya. That is a system where powers were to be held by thousands of people's committee. Moammar Gadhafi called this direct democracy, but what it actually has done is it means that there are no functioning institutions, like the judiciary, for example, in this country because he made sure that they didn't exist.

In 1986, several U.S. soldiers were killed in an attack on a disco in Berlin. American officials blamed Libya and retaliated by bombing the cities of Benghazi and Tripoli. I988, 270 people were killed in the Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie. In 2003, Libya took responsibility for Lockerbie and also renounced weapons of mass destruction. In 2008, Libya and the U.S. signed a compensation deal for bombings by both sides.

CNN's Phil Black joins us now. He joins us because he's just spent a lot of time in Sirte and Libya as the fighting has been going on there. He joins us now from our London newsroom.

Phil, give us an idea how tough, how ferocious this battle was. And also talk a little bit about District 2, because we understand that was the big Gadhafi holdout.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Zain, the battle for Sirte has been going on for some weeks now and it has been long and slow and bloody, and that was against all expectation and all prediction made by the anti-Gadhafi forces, the NTC, at the time. And I think that is why, wisely, you're hearing a great deal of caution from around the world in reacting to, first of all, the alleged fall of Sirte and also the alleged capture of Gadhafi himself.

Because ever since Tripoli fell two months ago, there have been a great many claims that have, in the end, been disproven about the capture of high-profile figures within the regimes, his sons and also imminent military victories also. Too often, time after time, the claims made by anti-Gadhafi forces, the NTC, haven't lived up to the reality of the battleground itself.

So when they did finally move on Sirte -- and it was some time after the fall of Tripoli -- they came up against much greater resistance than they had expected. They lost far more fighters than they had thought. Those pro-Gadhafi fighters within the city were prepared and committed and well armed. And they were well established within this very tight urban environment. And from this environment, they were able to defend very effectively against the anti-Gadhafi forces who were simply not trained, not equipped, not ready to fight in that sort of situation.

The initial prediction before they actually rolled into that city for the first time is the fighting would al be over within a couple of hours. That did not happen. It was nothing like that at all. They say they were surprised because the residents within the city didn't come on their side and rise up against the pro-Gadhafi fighters that were still there. And as well as that, those pro-Gadhafi fighters were simply much better equipped and much better prepared than they had expected, also.

There's another reason why they think they fought so hard for Sirte and that is there was the belief that there were some big fish within the city. Having said that, the belief that it was Gadhafi himself that disappeared weeks ago. The reason why is because Gadhafi had no longer reason to remain in Sirte. The back door to Sirte, heading south deep into the country, had been open long before the anti-Gadhafi forces surrounded the city and engaged in it in any meaningful way. So the expectation on the ground among all the fighters, if Gadhafi had been there, he had left weeks ago.

So I think many people surprised within the NTC and among the pro-Gadhafi -- anti-Gadhafi forces if it turns out it be true that, yes, in fact, he was found within that city, given that he had has the opportunity to get out for such a long time -- Zain?

VERJEE: CNN's Phil Black, reporting and giving us a sense of what Sirte was like in the ferocious battle that went on there.