* Tunisia sentences ex-PM for illegal entry
* Gaddafi manhunt drawing closer to target, say new rulers
* Loyalists in Sirte, Bani Walid still holding out
By William Maclean and Emma Farge
TRIPOLI, Sept 22 Libya's neighbour Tunisia
jailed Muammar Gaddafi's former prime minister on Thursday, and
Libya's new rulers said they were tightening their grip on the
desert towns where Gaddafi himself may be hiding.
In the highest profile detention of a Gaddafi associate to
date, a Tunisian court sentenced ex-prime minister Al Baghdadi
Ali al-Mahmoudi to six months in jail on charges of illegally
entering the country on Wednesday evening.
"Al-Mahmoudi was arrested yesterday evening," a Tunisian
Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity,
"(He) was arrested because he entered Tunisian territory
illegally ... He did not have an entry stamp in his passport."
The justice minister in Libya's new government said Tripoli
would request that the former prime minister be extradited to
stand trial in Libya.
"Baghdadi directly oversaw the operations which had to do
with the killings of Libyans," the minister, Mohammed al-Alagi,
said on Al Arabiya television station.
The National Transitional Council (NTC), Libya's de facto
government since Gaddafi was swept from the capital last month,
has been anxious to show that it can establish firm control over
a country riven by tribal and regional rivalries.
The new government said it was consolidating its grip on
Sabha and other oasis towns in the far south of the country
which had sided with Gaddafi.
"Our revolutionaries are controlling 100 percent of Sabha
city, although there are some pockets of resistance by snipers,"
NTC military spokesman Ahmed Bani told reporters in the capital,
"This resistance is hopeless ... They know very well that at
the end of the day they will show the white flag or they will
die. They are fighting for themselves, not for the tyrant," he
said, referring to Gaddafi.
Until now some parts of Sabha, the traditional base for
Gaddafi's own tribe about 800 km (500 miles) south of Tripoli,
had been occupied by fighters loyal to him.
The council says its forces have now also taken control of
Jufra, to the north-east of Sabha, and the nearby oasis towns of
Sokna, Waddan, and Houn.
The NTC official said the manhunt for Gaddafi, in hiding for
weeks though he occasionally issues defiant audio messages, was
drawing closer to its target.
"There is no whole tribe or city on Gaddafi's side," said
Bani. "I'm asking everyone in the south who has any news about
the tyrant or his loyalists ... to notify the legal bodies about
"We are doing our best looking for the tyrant. There is some
news here and there that he ran away from Sabha to another place
but it cannot be confirmed."
In Tripoli on Thursday, the U.S. ambassador returned to work
after a hiatus caused by the civil war, and predicted a quick
end to the fighting.
"I think it is a matter of time (for) Gaddafi and his
remaining loyalists. Their resistance is finished," Ambassador
Gene Cretz told reporters at a ceremony to mark the re-opening
of the U.S. mission.
Libya's interim government received a diplomatic boost when
its neighbour Algeria recognised the NTC as the country's
legitimate representative, according to a report broadcast by Al
Algeria was the last of Libya's neighbours to grant
recognition, and the two sides have for months been trading
The NTC accused Algiers of abetting Gaddafi in the civil
war, and Algeria said it was worried the new government was not
firm enough on the threat from Islamist militants.
Western security officials say good relations between Libya
and Algeria are vital if they are to keep a lid on al Qaeda's
north African branch, which has kidnapped foreigners and
attacked Western targets in the region.
The country's new rulers were faring less well on the
battlefield, aside from advances in the far south.
In the two biggest towns where Gaddafi loyalists are still
holding out, Sirte and Bani Walid, the NTC's offensive has been
chaotic, raising fresh questions about the council's ability to
run the oil exporting country effectively.
Despite support from NATO warplanes, government forces have
struggled to capture Sirte, Muammar Gaddafi's hometown and the
biggest of the towns still outside their control.
It is a thorny task because the sympathies of many residents
lie with Gaddafi. The city typifies the challenges the NTC faces
in reconciling the significant parts of the country that have
tribal loyalties to Gaddafi or did not support the revolution.
A spokesman for Gaddafi told Reuters on Thursday that NATO
air strikes and interim government forces' shelling of Sirte
were killing civilians.
"Between yesterday and this morning, 151 civilians were
killed inside their homes as the Grad rockets and other
explosives fell upon their heads," Moussa Ibrahim said in a
satellite phone call to Reuters from an undisclosed location.
His claims could not be verified as journalists are unable
to reach the city. NATO comment was not immediately available.
There was a counter-claim from rebel fighters near Sirte,
and from residents fleeting the city, who said that pro-Gaddafi
forces had been executing people suspected of sympathising with
the NTC forces.
An NTC commander on the outskirts of Sirte, who gave his
name as Saleh, showed Reuters a handwritten list of families
whose members were said to have been executed in Sirte.
"One man, they cut him like this," the commander said,
dragging his finger from the ends of his mouth across his
cheeks. "Another, they cut his lips."
On the Western outskirts of Sirte on Thursday there was
little fighting, and dozens of civilians poured out of the city
through anti-Gaddafi checkpoints. Over on the eastern side of
the city, NTC forces came under heavy artillery fire.
One fighter there said pro-Gaddafi artillery batteries
appeared to have found the range of the NTC tanks, positioned
more than 50 km east of Sirte, and were targeting them.
"There has been heavy shelling from Gaddafi forces," said
Adel Al-Tarhouni, an anti-Gaddafi fighter in the village of
Sultana, which came under artillery attack. "I was able to see
palm trees cut from the top by the shrapnel."
LACK OF ORGANISATION
North of Bani Walid, NTC military forces brought forward
tanks and Grad rocket launchers in preparation for a renewed
attempt to take the town. It was not clear when that attack
Later in the day, a Reuters reporter near the town said
fighting had resumed after a lull, though it did not appear to
be an all-out assault.
Gaddafi loyalists were firing shells at NTC positions on the
edge of the town, and plumes of smoke could be seen rising up
from within Bani Walid.
The offensive there has been frustrated by stiff resistance
from well-drilled loyalist fighters, and also by a lack of
organisation among the NTC forces. They operate in disparate
units based on their home towns, with little overall command.
On Wednesday, one fighter shot his own head off and killed
another fighter while handling a rocket-propelled grenade in
full view of a Reuters team. In another incident, a fighter
wounded himself and another fighter after losing control of his
The nascent NTC national army has tried to bring order.
If the NTC is unable to swiftly assert its control over the
country and its own forces, it could embarrass Western leaders,
especially France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain's David Cameron,
who took a gamble by backing the anti-Gaddafi leadership.
"We have set up a unified operations room to unite all
brigades," said brigade commander Omar Kabout. "The purpose is