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Originally published August 25, 2011 at 9:23 PM | Page modified August 26, 2011 at 12:26 PM

Gadhafi's secret tunnels lead all over Tripoli

Beneath the grassy courtyard of Moammar Gadhafi's private compound, long tunnels connect bunkers, command centers and spiral staircases that lead to a luxurious home filled with Gadhafi family photos.

The Associated Press

Related developments

Asset release: The U.N. Security Council approved an immediate infusion of $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets that the United States seized last spring. Officials said the money was needed to provide basic services, such as salaries and electricity. Analysts estimate that up to $110 billion is frozen in banks worldwide, and several European nations are also seeking to release funds. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi promised to provide $500 million to the new government by quickly unfreezing Libyan assets held in Italian banks.

Risky materials: The State Department expressed confidence Thursday that Libya's raw nuclear material and deadly chemicals are secure. The fate of thousands of rockets is less clear, and some U.S. intelligence officials and counterterrorism experts criticized slow work by the State Department to locate and buy back dangerous munitions, such as the 15,000 to 25,000 shoulder-fired missiles in Gadhafi's weapons stores.

Seattle Times news services

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TRIPOLI, Libya — Beneath the grassy courtyard of Moammar Gadhafi's private compound, long tunnels connect bunkers, command centers and spiral staircases.

When rebels took over the Bab al-Aziziya compound Tuesday, they discovered what had long been rumored: a secret underground network.

Many Libyans assume underground passages connect all of the capital, Tripoli, which they say explains Gadhafi's ability to appear for speeches in places where no one saw him arrive.

Some guess Gadhafi fled the city through one of the tunnels as the rebels entered Tripoli, though because of damage from NATO bombing, it was not possible to determine if the tunnels extend outside of Bab al-Aziziya.

Few rebels were surprised that Gadhafi, who ruled for four decades and survived multiple assassination attempts, would have a secret world where he could escape.

"It's normal that someone like Moammar would do this to protect himself," said rebel Riad Gneidi, walking through the tunnels with an assault rifle over his shoulder.

Four days after the rebels arrived in the capital, Gadhafi's location remained a mystery. His spokesman, in a Thursday phone call, insisted he still commanded resistance to the rebels. Gadhafi has released two audio messages urging followers to fight "until victory or martyrdom."

But the rebels are slowly taking control. On Thursday, 1,000 rebels laid siege to a cluster of Tripoli buildings not far from the compound, an area believed to be the last stronghold inside the capital of Gadhafi loyalists.

The tunnels have become an attraction for curious rebels.

They are high enough for a tall man to stand upright and wide enough so two people can walk comfortably abreast. Their walls are foot-thick concrete, with heavy metal doors that divide the tunnels into sections.

The tunnels lead to an array of rooms. Some are sleeping quarters with double beds, small refrigerators and dressers, perhaps meant for guards.

One area on the compound's edge, reduced to rubble by the bombs, has rooms full of TVs and at least three getaway ramps leading to the street. Another section has bunk beds, a sitting room, a bathroom, kitchen and an office full of video-production equipment.

One tunnel leads beneath the Gadhafi family home. Rebels set fire to the home, but some rooms remain partially intact. Family photos are stacked in a large, ornate sitting room: Gadhafi shaking hands with Nelson Mandela, his son and heir-apparent Seif al-Islam sitting in a tuxedo at a banquet.

One bedroom is full of stuffed animals and books for improving English. "Love You" is written in red letters on the mirror in an attached bathroom.

Two spiral staircases lead to bunker rooms below. Desks along the walls in one hold dozens of identical red telephones, each with the name of a Libyan city written on it. All the lines are dead.

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