TUNIS, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi’s spokesman dismissed suggestions on Saturday that one of his last bastions of support, Bani Walid, was about to surrender to his enemies and insisted that tribal leaders there were still loyal.
“Bani Walid is a major city hosting one of the biggest tribes in Libya who have declared their allegiance to the leader and they refused all approaches for negotiation with the Transitional Council,” Moussa Ibrahim told Reuters.
He said he had spoken to leaders of the locally dominant Warfalla tribe, a group that includes up to a million of Libya’s six million people, who told him a meeting of elders had decided to continue backing the fugitive former leader.
Independent accounts of conditions in Bani Walid have been sparse, though a Libyan in touch with people in the town told Reuters on Friday that its leaders were discussing terms that would allow some anti-Gaddafi fighters to enter.
Ibrahim, who called Reuters in Tunisia to make a statement accusing the Gulf Arab state of Qatar of promoting Islamist rule in Libya, declined to say where he was speaking from.
But asked about a demand from the new ruling council urging a surrender, he said: “The transitional council’s messages to Bani Walid are not being heeded here in Bani Walid.”
On Friday, he had told Reuters he was in a “southern suburb of Tripoli” but moving around. Bani Walid is in the desert some 150 km (100 miles) southeast of the capital.
Saying that the Warfalla had lost some 1,000 men fighting the rebellion against Gaddafi this year and would not see that blood shed in vain, Ibrahim said: “They have one opinion and that is to keep the fight on until NATO stops its aggression.”
Forces of the National Transitional Council (NTC) say they have been negotiating with tribal leaders in Bani Walid to avoid bloodshed. But one military spokesman said late on Saturday that they had “lost patience” and were preparing to move on the town within the coming hours.
NTC commanders have said they believe Gaddafi and his most politically prominent son Saif al-Islam are in the town.
Asked about Muammar Gaddafi’s whereabouts, Ibrahim said he did not know: “But I know very much that he’s in the country — this is for sure,” he added. “And he’s in a safe place surrounded by many people who are prepared to protect him.”
In a prepared statement, which echoed previous comments by himself and the Gaddafis, Ibrahim alleged that the Islamist appointed by the NTC to command forces in Tripoli was an al Qaeda agent. He said the emir of Qatar, who has backed the NATO operation against Gaddafi, was helping al Qaeda establish a base in Libya to deflect threats against his own country.
“NATO needs to wake up to this conspiracy between al Qaeda and Qatar and start to see things for what they are in Tripoli,” he said in the statement. Gaddafi has often presented himself as a bulwark against radical, anti-Western Islam.
“NATO can go and explain that we are just trying to play the al Qaeda card against them,” Ibrahim said. “But soon enough they will see that our warnings should have been heeded.” (Reporting by Alastair Macdonald and Barry Malone, editing by Rosalind Russell)