London, Aug 26: Fallen Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi had virtually built an underground city under the capital Tripoli, with a vast maze of well hidden reinforced tunnels fanning out for miles in different directions. “There is a Tripoli above ground and a Tripoli underground”, a rebel commander exclaimed as his men stumbled upon what had long been rumoured: A elaborate secret underground network.
Outsiders who had never seen the tunnels were shocked at the sight of these long tubes running in all directions beneath the Bab al-Aziziya command centre of Gaddafi, assuming that these virtually connected all of Tripoli underground. The rebel commanders said that the maze of tunnels probably explained Gaddafi's ability to appear anywhere in the city without being seen. The commanders guess that Gaddafi who could have the blueprint fled the city through these, ‘The Telegraph' reported.
The tunnels have outlets to two of the houses in Abu Salim district of Tripoli where rebels laid a siege last night after intelligence reports that Gaddafi was hiding there. But the hunt proved fruitless.
The tunnels are wide enough to accommodate small vehicles and rebel troops found abandoned golf buggies, which appeared to have been used by Gaddafi, his family and aides to move around quickly and comfortably under the city. The tunnels which have become an attraction for curious rebels are high enough for two people to walk comfortably abreast, their walls are of thick concrete and doors are of heavy metal.
Most of the entrances to the tunnels lead from Gaddafi's sprawling house, but some of the entry points are from places like next to the famous statue of a bronze fist crushing an American fighter outside the so-called “House of Resistance”. Some of the corridors led to well equipped bomb proof bunkers, crammed with communication equipment including hundreds of phones, probably used as command and control centres.
Other bunkers contained shelves stacked with boxes, files and documents. Some rooms had enough food and water supplies to sustain occupants for weeks. Apprehensive that the toppled dictator and his die hard loyalists may still be lurking about somewhere in the maze, the rebels picked their way slowly looking if Gaddafi or his family members were hiding in many countless bunkers. The rebels also stumbled upon stores of weapons and gas masks, suggesting that the tunnels had been prepared to provide sanctuary in the event of a nuclear or a chemical attack.
But the rebels soldiers could not venture far as some of the tunnels were full of smoke and falling debris, apparently caused by heavy NATO air raids.
And ‘Telegraph' said it is still unclear how far the tunnels stretch. But some are rumoured to led to the coast and even to the airport.
It is also thought one of the tunnels leads directly from the compound to the Rixos hotel, close to the scene of stubborn resistance from pro-Gaddafi forces. Construction on the tunnel network began in 1980s and Gaddafi's increasing isolation from the West made him a target for attack. In 1986, his Bab al-Aziziya compound was the scene of a bombing raid by the US in response for Libya's alleged involvement in a terrorist attack on a nightclub in West Berlin.
After that attack it is thought Gaddafi ordered the building of a major underground network of shelters that could offer him and his family protection from future raids.
The tunnels may have served the purpose of their builder Muammar Gaddafi. But in times to come, they have the potential to become tourist attractions like Vietnam's Cu Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh city. PTI