Libya fighters ‘mop up’ in Sirte as Qadhafi son held

SIRTE, Libya – One of the sons of ousted Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi has been arrested in his hometown of Sirte, the new leadership said as its forces mopped up the last isolated pockets of resistance.

"Mutassim Qadhafi was captured at Sirte and was transferred to Benghazi" in the country's east, National Transitional Council (NTC) advisor Abdelkarim Bizama told AFP.

"We did not announce the capture earlier to avoid that (his family or aides) try to free him," he added.

However, a spokesman for the NTC's military council was unable to confirm that Qadhafi's son had been caught.

Qadhafi opponents fired shots in the air in the capital Tripoli and Misrata after news of Mutassim's arrest broke.

Born in 1975, Mutassim Qadhafi is a career soldier and doctor who held the title of national security adviser. He had been considered a rival to his brother Seif al-Islam in any bid to succeed their father.

Seif al-Islam is believed to be hiding in Bani Walid, an oasis 170 kilometers (105 miles) southeast of Tripoli, possibly with Muammar Qadhafi who remains at large weeks after opposition forces captured the capital, Tripoli, in late August ending the Libyan strongman's four-decade rule of the north African nation.

Forces of Libya's new regime said earlier Wednesday they were mopping up the last pockets of resistance in Sirte, maintaining its fall was imminent.

Qadhafi loyalists Thursday were keeping up their dogged resistance in two parts of the fugitive strongman's hometown.

Rocket fire, and machinegun and small arms exchanges were heard from the Dollar neighborhood, facing the Mediterranean in the northwest of the coastal city, and in the Number Two residential neighborhood.

"The fighting has narrowed down to these two neighborhoods," Free Libya Brigade field commander Yahya al-Moghasabi told AFP.

A day after seizing Sirte's police headquarters, the National Transitional Council (NTC) forces spent the day closing in from the east and west on the last hold-outs of pro-Qadhafi forces.

Hundreds of NTC combatants in pickup trucks fired rockets from the west of the Mediterranean city, aiming to capture the city and declare the liberation of Libya, clearing the way to set a timetable for post-Qadhafi elections.

An AFP correspondent said Sirte's main square and entire waterfront were under NTC control, along with its fortress-like conference centre, university campus and main hospital, all of which the fighters seized on Sunday.

"All our lines are now in place. The area is completely surrounded," said NTC commander Zubayr Bakush.

As night fell, an AFP correspondent said dozens of NTC vehicles, their horns honking and jubilant occupants firing into the air, converged on the main square to celebrate.

They later withdrew to spend the night in more secure parts of the city.

"We will finish them off tomorrow. It's a done deal," said one, confidently.

NTC soldiers had spent the day going from house to house, sometimes taking prisoners. In one house, NTC forces found 15 Kalashnikovs, seven RPGs and a field radio.

A dozen black prisoners, their hands tied behind their backs, were taken from one house and put aboard a pick-up.

An AFP correspondent reported a fierce firefight around a school where Qadhafi loyalists were putting up strong resistance. He saw at least six bodies and said dozens of fighters had been wounded.

NTC forces then withdrew to bombard the building with mortar fire.

The plight of stranded civilians has raised the concern of Human Rights Watch, which called on both sides to minimize harm to them and ensure prisoners are treated humanely.

The NTC forces began their siege of Sirte on September 15 before launching on Friday what they termed a "final assault" that has seen at least 85 of their number killed and hundreds wounded, according to medics.

NATO warplanes overflew Sirte early Wednesday without firing, an AFP correspondent reported, as the alliance said in its latest update that it had struck six vehicles in Bani Walid.

Outside that oasis, 170 kilometers (105 miles) southeast of Tripoli, NTC fighters are also gearing for a renewed onslaught on the other remaining bastion of forces loyal to the ousted dictator.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said the alliance is close to ending its mission in Libya, but NATO "had no knowledge of the colonel's whereabouts," adding Qadhafi "is not a target of our operation."

Meanwhile, NTC oil and finance minister Ali Tarhuni said Libya will not award any further oil contracts until a government is formed after elections.

"The only government that can give new concessions in oil is an elected government, and that would be after we have a constitution."

Libya's oil production, which collapsed following the uprising in February, is expected to rise from current levels of around 400,000 barrels per day, to nearly one million by April, said Nuri Berruien, president of the state-run National Oil Corp (NOC).

"We are shooting to go back to previous levels of 1.6-1.7 million, hopefully before the end of 2012," he said.

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