Dario Lopez-Mills, Associated Press
TRIPOLI, Libya — Moammar Gadhafi's son and heir apparent Seif al-Islam resurfaced free and defiant early Tuesday, thwarting Libyan rebel claims that he had been captured and boasting the regime still has control in Tripoli and will crush the rebellion.
Seif al-Islam's sudden — even surreal — arrival at a Tripoli hotel where foreign journalists are staying threw the situation in the capital into confusion just a day after rebels entered the capital with surprising ease, sparking a wave of euphoria. It underlined the potential for Gadhafi, whose whereabouts remain unknown, to lash back even as his grip on power seemed to be slipping fast.
Rebels say they control most of Tripoli, but they faced pockets of fierce resistance from regime loyalists firing mortars and anti-aircraft guns. Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Rahman, who was in Tripoli, said the "danger is still there" as long as the longtime Libyan leader remains on the run.
He warned that pro-Gadhafi brigades are positioned on Tripoli's outskirts and could "be in the middle of the city in half an hour."
The rebel leadership seemed stunned that Seif al-Islam was free. A spokesman, Sadeq al-Kabir, had no explanation and could only say, "This could be all lies."
He could not confirm whether Seif al-Islam escaped rebel custody, but he did say that another captured Gadhafi son, Mohammed, had escaped the home arrest that rebels had placed him in a day earlier. On Monday, the rebels had said Seif al-Islam was captured, but did not give details on where he was held. The Netherlands-based International Criminal Court — which indicted Seif al-Islam and his father — had confirmed his capture.
The court did not immediately return calls seeking comment Tuesday morning.
Seif al-Islam, with a full beard and wearing an olive-green T-shirt and camouflage trousers, turned up early Tuesday morning at the Rixos hotel, where about 30 foreign journalists are staying in Tripoli under the close watch of regime minders.
Riding in a white limousine amid a convoy of armored SUVs, he took reporters on a drive through parts of the city still under the regime's control, saying, "We are going to hit the hottest spots in Tripoli." Associated Press reporters were among the journalists who saw him and went on the tour.
The tour covered mainly the area that was known to still be under the regime's control — the district around the Rixos hotel and nearby Bab al-Aziziya, Gadhafi's residential compound and military barracks. The tour went through streets full of armed Gadhafi backers, controlled by roadblocks, and into the Gadhafi stronghold neighborhood Bu Slim.
At Bab al-Aziziya, at least a hundred men were waiting in lines for guns being distributed to volunteers to defend the regime. Seif al-Islam shook hands with supporters, beaming and flashing the "V for victory" sign.
"We are here. This is our country. This is our people, and we live here, and we die here," he told AP Television News. "And we are going to win, because the people are with us. That's why were are going to win. Look at them — look at them, in the streets, everywhere!"
When asked about the ICC's claim that he was arrested by rebels, he told reporters: "The ICC can go to hell," and added "We are going to break the backbone of the rebels."
In Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital hundreds of miles east of Tripoli, the head of the rebel National Transitional Council said the rebels have no idea where the 69-year-old Gadhafi is or whether he is even in Tripoli.
"The real moment of victory is when Gadhafi is captured," Mustafa Abdel-Jalil said. An Obama administration official said the U.S. had no indication that Gadhafi had left Libya.
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