TRIPOLI (Reuters) - In a rare glimpse into Muammar Gaddafi’s secretive power base, Libyan officials took foreign reporters into his heavily fortified compound Monday to show a building they said was destroyed in an allied missile attack.
A short walk from a brightly lit tent where Gaddafi receives his guests, the three-storey building stood in ruin, and a circular hole was visible on its gutted facade.
Reuters reporters in Tripoli had heard an explosion earlier in the night and seen smoke rising from the direction of the Gaddafi’s sprawling compound, which houses his private quarters as well as military barracks and other installations.
But there was no smoke was rising from the building they were shown, although rubble and slabs of concrete were scattered around.
Officials said it had been hit by a missile late Sunday and accused Western powers of trying to assassinate Gaddafi.
“It was a barbaric bombing,” said government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim, showing pieces of shrapnel that he said came from the missile. “This contradicts American and Western (statements) ... that it is not their target to attack this place.”
Ibrahim said no one had been hurt in the attack. He declined to say whether Gaddafi was still inside the compound.
The United States says it does not have Gaddafi on its target list as Western nations intensify military action on Libya, where the veteran leader has been battling for a month to crush an uprising against his rule.
Nearby, crowds of Gaddafi loyalists, allowed into the compound as a human shield against possible air strikes, shouted anti-Western slogans including “Obama should be slaughtered.”
Behind the compound’s thick security barriers, a soldier operating an anti-aircraft gun mounted on a pick-up truck was watching the sky intently.
Rounds of anti-aircraft gunfire boomed out late into the night over Tripoli. Flag-waving supporters jeered as tracer rounds lit up a clear, star-studded sky like fireworks.
Troops and militiamen massed along the compound’s massive green wall, some dancing and showing v-for-victory signs.
A crowd of people danced to patriotic songs blaring from loudspeakers outside a house ruined in a 1986 bombing of the compound by U.S. fighter jets -- a symbolic site of anti-Western defiance for Gaddafi supporters.
Some, including women holding babies, sat on mattresses scattered on the grass and prepared to camp out overnight. One of the children was holding a toy rifle with a flashing barrel.
Many said they were ready to die for Gaddafi.
“I love Gaddafi. He is our father. I’ll die for him,” said Muatas, a 45-year-old engineer, as he waved the green flag of Gaddafi’s Libya. “I am not afraid, even if a rocket falls from the sky right now.”
Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Kevin Liffey