One week after Libyan rebels overran the former strongman’s compound in the capital of Tripoli, the hunt for Muammar Gaddafi continues. A crew of FRANCE 24 journalists was allowed to film part of the complex underground system of bunkers and tunnels by which it is suspected Gaddafi and his family escaped.
In the wake of the former Libyan leader’s dramatic fall, his compound has become something of a tourist attraction. But the focus of visitor’s interest is a hatch that leads to the vast underground network underneath the residence and, it is now clear, much of the city.
A frail metal ladder leads down to a heavy, storage-room like door, which opens to a dark labyrinth of corridors. Narrow passages seemingly go on without end, until they open on to small rooms or branch off toward different hallways. A strong smell of stale smoke hangs in the air.
“These bunkers that we're in go on for kilometers under the city of Tripoli. We could go all the way until the Nassera forest and then on to the Palace of Honor and then on to Green Square,” says Nabil Al-Arabi, one of the guards leading this unusual tour.
Further along is a bedroom. There is a bunk bed, stripped of its mattresses, and shelves where cans of stored food were left, presumably in haste, by Gaddafi’s forces. The guards say this bunker was used to hide soldiers and weapons.
The visit ends abruptly when the guards say it's no longer safe. A landmine could be waiting for intruders ahead. The FRANCE 24 crew is told that specialists are due to comb the bunker in the coming days.
Even to those who know it best, the underground network remains largely a dangerous mystery. NATO forces have reported that Gaddafi is still commanding loyalist troops from hiding, therefore shedding light on the secret tunnels may still be key in overturning his regime.