NIAMEY, Niger — A convoy carrying ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's son al-Saadi has crossed into neighboring Niger, a spokesman for Niger's government said Sunday, one of the highest-profile former regime figure to flee to the landlocked African nation.
Al-Saadi, the fugitive ruler's 37-year-old son, entered Niger in a convoy with nine other people, said Niger Justice Minister Amadou Morou. The vehicles were traveling south toward the outpost of Agadez, where other fleeing Libyan loyalists are believed to be holed up in a hotel.
"I wish to announce that one of Gadhafi's sons — al-Saadi Gadhafi — was intercepted in the north of Niger by a patrol of the Nigerien military," Morou told reporters late Sunday.
He said al-Saadi "has no status at all" in Niger, indicating that he has not been granted refugee status, which would guarantees him certain rights.
Since last week, several convoys carrying senior officials of the former Libyan regime as well as civilians and soldiers have made their way across the porous desert border into Niger. Among them were several of Gadhafi's top military officers, including his chief of security and the head of his southern command.
Niger has faced increasing scrutiny for allowing the former regime members onto its soil, and al-Saadi's arrival will likely intensify international pressure on the country to cooperate with Libya's new rulers. They want all Gadhafi's sons — and Gadhafi himself, who is on the run — to be turned over for trial.
Last week, the U.S. urged Niger to detain any individuals who may be subject to prosecution in Libya, as well as to confiscate their weapons and impound any state property, such as money or jewels, that were illegally taken out of the country.
While some senior former regime officials have managed to escape, Libya's new leaders have arrested several former high ranking regime officials since then-rebel fighters swept into Tripoli on Aug. 21, effectively bring an end to Gadhafi's nearly 42-year rule.
On Sunday, anti-Gadhafi forces in Tripoli captured the former head of the regime's external intelligence service, Abu Zayd Dourda, said Anes Sharif, a spokesman for Tripoli's military council. A longtime Gadhafi insider, Dourda also served as prime minister in the 1990s.
As Libya's new leaders move to exert their authority in Tripoli, forces loyal to Gadhafi continue to hold out in three strongholds — Sirte on the Mediterranean coast, Sabha in the southern desert, and Bani Walid southeast of Tripoli.
Revolutionary forces battled their way back into Bani Walid Sunday, seizing control of the northern half of the town and fighting supporters of the fugitive dictator in the town center.
After a week of efforts to negotiate a peaceful surrender of Bani Walid, anti-regime fighters launched a two-pronged assault on the town that soon dissolved into street fighting. But Gadhafi supporters have put up fierce resistance, and forced former rebels to retreat Saturday amid a barrage of rocket and mortar fire.
Libyan fighters pushed back into the town Sunday, a day after retreating under heavy fire, said fighter Sobhi Warfali. He said revolutionary forces now control the northern half of the town and were battling regime loyalists in the center.
Resident Khalifa al-Talisi said "the rebels don't control the center yet, but everything from the city center to this (northern) side is liberated."
Around a mile from the town center, a cluster of abandoned houses in the desert showed signs of fierce fighting. The charred hulk of a car stood in front of a still-burning home that sent plumes of black smoke into the air.
Single gunshots, which appeared to be from snipers, occasionally echoed across the dusty town, and the thud of mortar fire shook the ground.
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