Three weeks after Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was driven out of Tripoli, effectively ending his 42-year reign, his would-be successor addressed a cheering crowd of thousands in what used to be called Green Square, the now renamed Martyrs’ Square.
“We seek a state of law and prosperity,” said Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the interim head of the anti-Gadhafi forces’ National Transitional Council. The interim government has been recognized by scores of other countries as Libya’s new governing authority.
“To anyone who harmed the Libyan people in any way,” he intoned, “we need the courts… the judicial system… to decide.” With that there were more fireworks, a crescendo of shouted acclamation.
Unfortunately, no one, including Abdul Jalil, has proclaimed a “declaration of liberation.” The civil war isn’t over, and won’t be over until one question on the minds of all Libyans is answered: “Where is Gadhafi?”
On the hunt
A half mile from Martyrs’ Square where Jalil was speaking, a quiet man in a neat charcoal grey suit sighed at the question. “Psychologically,” said Hisham Buhagiar, “It is hard to believe that Libya is free. I look over my shoulder when I call people on the phone, and wonder if the phone is tapped. We still talk in codes…”
A carpet salesman by trade, there are colorful rugs hanging on the walls of his modest office and sample swatches in the entranceway of the nondescript building, Buhagiar has spent almost his entire adulthood in a secret group fostering opposition to Gadhafi and planning his ouster.
When the war started on Feb. 17 his group came out of the shadows and took up arms – they had trained for it over the years, Buhagiar said, in clandestine trips to weapons camps outside Libya. Buhagiar had been a soldier in four battles during the war earlier this year, suffering gunshot wounds to both legs along the way. Now he’s no longer a soldier, but has a different task: He’s the man leading the hunt for Gadhafi himself.
I think we are close enough to get him, perhaps in 10 days or so. I really mean it.” But by “close enough,” Buhagiar concedes it means an area of some 150 square miles in the southern Sahara around the town of Sabha, near the border of landlocked Niger.
Buhagiar’s team is made up of around 60 hunters – but there’s no catchy name for the unit or for their mission, nothing like “Operation No More Moammar.” The team relies on both technology and “human assets,” people on the ground in the southern desert enclaves whose reported sightings of Gadhafi’s large contingent match the chatter they’ve picked up through cellphone triangulation.
“But we don’t have the technology to track satellite phone conversations,” he said, saying carefully that “we have help with that” from other countries. From the U.S.? Great Britain? NATO countries? He nodded in general assent, but said nothing more on the subject.
“The guy has a lot of money, a lot of power,” Buhagiar said of his nemesis. “He can hide. Libya is a big country, there’s a vast desert with a lot of different tribes. Believe me, that’s his neighborhood…That’s where he grew up, it’s home for him. And he’s been paying his people a lot of money.”
Excerpts for this blog story came from: http://worldblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/09/13/7743955-carpet-salesman-leads-hunt-for-gadhafi
Story Written By: Mike Taibbi, NBC News Correspondent