Libya’s rebels have only been fighting for freedom since February 2011, but it seems like years now since they announced the imminent capture of deposed tyrant Muammar Gaddafi. On August 25, the rebel-rousing National Transitional Council (NTC) set up operations in the liberated capitol of Tripoli. Mustafa Mohamed Abdel Jalil, president of the NTC, offered a reward of 2 million Libyan dinars for the body of Gaddafi, “dead or alive,” and promised amnesty to “members of [Gaddafi's] close circle who kill him or capture him.”
Two weeks passed. Anis Sharif, a spokesman for the new Tripoli's military council, announced on September 7 that “high technology and human intelligence” had been used to track and “surround” Gaddafi and “he can’t get out.” The takeaway from Sharif’s report: Evidently, 2 million Libyan dinars don’t buy what they once did.
Sometimes it seems that, for all the rebels know, Gaddafi might be packed away in the coach compartment on a flight to Scotland.
Hisham Buhagiar, an NTC coordinator in the search for Gaddafi, suggested the fallen ruler is traveling in a 10-car convoy and camping out in a tent. Further credible sources report that senior members of Gaddafi’s entourage have motored across the Sahara into Niger.
Sometimes it seems that, for all the rebels know, Gaddafi might be packed away in the coach compartment on a flight to Scotland. Still, the National Transitional Council has a better grasp on where Gaddafi is than the outside world has on what the National Transitional Council is.
So here are five things that we know for sure about this loosely allied political body of approximately 80 activists, intellectuals, business people and military experts:
1) The Council’s president can be assumed to be fluent in torture and disinformation. Prior to the revolution, Mustafa Mohamed Abdel Jalil—top dog on National Transitional Mountain—was Libya’s minister of justice, serving at the pleasure of Muammar Gaddafi. In February, one of Jalil’s first acts as NTC president was to tell the Western world that Gaddafi possessed nuclear and chemical weapons. Unfortunately for Jalil, reporter Judith Miller is no longer at The New York Times.
2) The leader of the Tripoli Military Council is fluent in torture and rendition. Abdel Hakim Belhaj is the revolutionary hero who led the Tripoli Brigade that liberated the capital city and democratized Gaddafi’s fortified compound for use by the TNC. Belhaj is a veteran of the U.S.-backed resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, where he fought alongside obscure militants who later became famous as al-Qaeda. Secret Libyan documents captured in Tripoli confirm Belhaj’s testimonial that he was snatched out of Bangkok, Thailand, in March 2004, and passed into the custody of the CIA, who supervised his torture in a Libyan prison, where he spent seven years. “Revenge doesn’t motivate me personally,” insists Belhaj, which is a softening from a 1996 Islamist statement vowing to defeat “all the deviant groups that call for democracy or fight for the sake of it.”
3) The National Transitional Council has yet to exercise its power, but it’s already weathered at least one assassination. Abdel-Fattah Younis left a 40-year tenure at a cushy position as Muammar Gaddafi’s security minister in February. He took on a risky start-up role as the NTC’s military chief. On July 28, while en route to report on military matters to the Council, Younis was ambushed and fatally retired.
4) Globally recognized, the NTC is keeping its options open. France, the United States, Britain, Portugal, Panama and at least 44 other nations all agree on the National Transitional Council’s legitimacy. Russia, which denounced NATO air strikes as overstepping a mandate to protect Libyan civilians, came late to the NTC party, but may be a favored bedmate going forward. The NTC’s oil minister, Ali Tarhouni, has penciled in a visit to the former Soviet state, which hopes the new Libyan bosses will honor billions of dollars of deals agreed to by the Gaddafi regime. “The Libyans are ready to cooperate in the field of energy,” said Russian envoy Mikhail Margelov. “The number of topics for cooperation is more than just oil.” Military equipment heads that list of additional topics for cooperation.
5) The NTC expects to have its ass kissed. Libya is home to Africa’s largest oil reserves. Before the start of February’s civil war, the country produced more than 1.5 million barrels a day.