Gaddafi: will the curtain come down in Bani Walid?
After his wife and daughter escape to Algeria, Gaddafi is said to be hiding in the desert south of Tripoli
Speculation about the whereabouts of Col Gaddafi has reached fever-pitch today following yesterday's revelation that his wife Safia and three of his grown-up children had escaped to Algeria, to the fury of the rebel leaders.
The party included his daughter Aisha, who, it has been confirmed, gave birth to a girl this morning. The government even put out a "mother and baby are doing fine" bulletin.
He could be in Algeria, too.
One rumour is that Gaddafi, too, fled to Algeria and that the authorities there are hiding him. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's government has refused to say whether Gaddafi is with his family.
It is unlikely. Agreeing to take his wife and heavily pregnant daughter is one thing; sheltering the world's most wanted man is another. As the Pakistanis discovered with Osama bin Laden, it means having the CIA and Nato special forces crawling all over the place.
The Sirte option is even less likely.
Speculation that the dictator might have left Tripoli for his home town of Sirte, to join his followers in a final showdown with rebel forces, is losing traction. As The First Post reported yesterday, the sheer physical reality of getting Gaddafi and his entourage the 450 kilometres from Tripoli to Sirte counts against the idea.
If he is in Sirte, he should be preparing for battle. Rebel leaders have now given Gaddafi loyalists in the coastal stronghold an ultimatum: lay down your arms and surrender by Saturday or get ready for an attack.
Bani Walid looks like the place.
Most probable is the explanation offered by the Italian news agency ANSA. It claims Gaddafi has moved from Tripoli to the desert town of Bani Walid, 170 kilometres southeast of the capital. He is said to be in the company of his sons Saadi and Saif al-Islam. Another son, Khamis, head of the once feared Khamis Brigade, is rumoured to have died on Saturday fighting the rebels.
Quite why Gaddafi would hole up in Bani Walid rather than escape the country is a puzzle – unless no one is prepared to take him, which is possible.
The rebels have made it clear that if they find Gaddafi alive, he will be tried for crimes against humanity and doubtless face a firing squad.
Gaddafi's former prime minister, Abdel-Salam Jalloud, said earlier this month that Gaddafi is unlikely to commit suicide. "He is not like Hitler, who had the courage to kill himself," he said.
Nor will he surrender, says the former PM, who knew Gaddafi for years. If Jalloud and the Italians are right, the end approaches in Bani Walid.