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Libya: NATO's Tripoli Attack An Assassination Attempt

Libyans loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi inspected a building inside his Bab al-Azizya compound in Tripoli that was damaged by a NATO airstrike Monday.
Libyans loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi inspected a building inside his Bab al-Azizya compound in Tripoli that was damaged by a NATO airstrike Monday.

Libya's government branded a NATO airstrike on Moammar Gadhafi's Tripoli compound Monday an assassination attempt, though Libyan officials said the reclusive strongman was not there at the time of the attack.

At least two guided bombs struck the sprawling Bab al-Azizya compound, destroying a library and damaging a reception hall for visiting dignitaries. A security official at the scene told The Associated Press that four people were lightly hurt, but other reports said several were wounded.

NPR's Peter Kenyon, reporting from the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi, said government officials in Tripoli branded the strike an attempt to take out Gadhafi, but NATO insists its mission is only to degrade the regime's ability to attack civilians.

Gadhafi was not at the compound at the time of the bombardment, according to government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim.

"He is well. He is healthy. He is in high spirits," Ibrahim said, adding that officials considered the airstrike an attempt on Gadhafi's life and "an act of terrorism."

Ibrahim said three people had been killed and 45 were wounded, 15 of them seriously, at the site of the attack.

A multistory building that guards said served as Gadhafi's library and office was flattened. Dozens of Gadhafi supporters climbed atop the ruins, raising Libya's green flag and chanting in support of their leader.

A second building, where Gadhafi received visiting dignitaries, suffered blast damage. The main door was blown open, glass shards were scattered across the ground and picture frames were knocked down.

Just two weeks before, Gadhafi had received an African Union delegation in the opulently furnished ceremonial building. The delegation had called for an immediate cease-fire and dialogue between the rebels and the government.

The Libyan government said it has been in touch with Russia, China, Turkey, Italy and other countries concerning the NATO strike. The foreign governments were told that the "message sent by NATO in the early hours of this morning was sent to the wrong address," according to government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim.

Gadhafi's compound was also targeted by international airstrikes last month when the enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya began. It was also hit in April 1986 by U.S. bombers in retaliation for a blast at a Berlin disco that killed two U.S. servicemen.

Monday's strike came after Gadhafi's forces pounded the city of Misrata with mortars and rockets during an especially bloody weekend. Doctors there said at least 50 people died, NPR's Kenyon said.

The battle for Misrata — the only major western city held by rebels — has become a flash point of the armed rebellion against Gadhafi. Hundreds of people, including many civilians, have been killed in weeks of fierce fighting.

While NATO's airstrikes have delivered heavy blows to Gadhafi's army, they have failed to halt attacks on the city of 300,000 people. Video of civilians being killed and wounded by Gadhafi's heavy weapons, including Grad rockets and tank shells, have spurred calls for more forceful international intervention to stop the bloodshed in Misrata.

Libya's deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaim, has said government troops are withdrawing from the fighting in Misrata to give tribal chiefs in the area a chance to negotiate with the rebels. He said the tribal leaders were ready to send armed supporters to fight the rebels unless they lay down their weapons.

On Sunday, rebels dismissed government claims that the local tribes were siding with Gadhafi and that troops were redeploying voluntarily.

"It's not a withdrawal. It's a defeat that they want to turn into propaganda," said Dr. Abdel-Basit Abu Mzirig, head of the Misrata medical committee. "They were besieging the city and then they had to leave."

A NATO spokesman in Brussels, Belgium, said the alliance is increasingly targeting facilities linked to Gadhafi's regime with government advances stalled on the battlefield.

"We have moved on to those command and control facilities that are used to coordinate such attacks by regime forces," the spokesman said of Monday's strike on Bab al-Azizya. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military briefing regulations.

Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, struck a tone of defiance. He claimed that Gadhafi has "millions of Libyans with him" and said NATO's mission was doomed to fail.

In Washington, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee were demanding that more be done to drive Gadhafi from power.

"We need to take Gadhafi out. This guy is a person who has lost all legitimacy," the committee's chairman, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, another Republican on the committee, told CNN's State of the Union that Gadhafi "needs to wake up every day wondering, 'Will this be my last?' "

NPR's Peter Kenyon reported from Benghazi for this story, which also contains material from The Associated Press.

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