Pier Paolo Cito, File, Associated Press
TRIPOLI, Libya — Taunting NATO, Moammar Gadhafi said Friday that he is alive despite a series of airstrikes and "in a place where you can't get to and kill me." The defiant audio recording was broadcast after the Libyan government accused NATO of killing 11 Muslim clerics with an airstrike on a disputed eastern oil town.
Gadhafi had appeared on state TV but not been heard speaking since a NATO attack on his Tripoli compound two weeks ago, which officials said killed one of his sons and three grandchildren. In a brief recording played Friday on Libyan TV, Gadhafi said he wanted to assure Libyans concerned about a strike this week on his compound in Tripoli.
"I tell the coward crusaders — I live in a place where you can't get to and kill me," he said. "I live in the hearts of millions."
He referred to a NATO airstrike on Thursday that targeted his Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, claiming it had killed "three innocent journalist-civilians."
Hours after Gadhafi's minute-long speech, the sound of four explosions — most likely a NATO strike — could be heard in Tripoli.
Government spokesman Ibrahim Uthman said the strikes targeted the country's Agriculture Ministry. The same building, however, was targeted days ago and, at the time, residents said it was a government intelligence building.
Reporters could not immediatley verify the information. They may only to leave their hotel in the company of government officials.
On Thursday reporters were shown the airstrike damage by Libyan officials, including one who said Gadhafi and his family had moved away from the compound some time ago. One missile appeared to have targeted some sort of underground bunker at the compound — a sprawling complex of buildings surrounded by towering concrete blast walls
Many people "driven by their love for me put in many calls to check on my well-being after they heard of the cowardly missile attack of the crusaders on Bab al-Aziziya last Thursday, May 12," Gadhafi said in the recording, which lasted just over a minute.
NATO shrugged off the statement.
"We are not targeting him, our targets are solely military," alliance spokeswoman Carmen Romero said in Brussels.
Shortly before Gadhafi's remarks were broadcast, regime spokesman Moussa Ibrahim claimed that NATO had attacked Brega while dozens of imams and officials from around Libya were gathered there to pray for peace. Ibrahim said 11 imams were killed in their sleep at a guesthouse, and 50 people were wounded, including five in critical condition.
One of the slain men was wearing beige military clothing.
The alliance, responding to the claim, said it had attacked a military command-and-control center in Brega, 450 miles (750 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli.
"We're very careful in the selection of our targets and this one was very clearly identified as a command center," said an official at NATO's operational headquarters in Naples, Italy, who spoke under the alliance's rules that he could not be named.
NATO has been intensifying airstrikes in several areas of Libya against Gadhafi's troops in a bid to weaken his campaign against a rebel uprising. The sound of two airstrikes could be heard in Tripoli early Friday, though it was not immediately clear what they targeted.
Ibrahim rebutted comments from Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, suggesting that Gadhafi may have been wounded and possibly had fled Tripoli for some other place in Libya.
"The leader is in very good health, high morale and high spirits," Ibrahim said. "He is in Tripoli, he is fighting... He is leading the country day by day."
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