| 7.4°C Dublin

Libyan defector's wife seized in gunfight

The wife of the Libyan foreign minister who defected to Britain earlier this week has been seized by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and is being interrogated by his "internal security" officials.

Moussa Koussa's wife is thought to have been captured amid eyewitness reports of a fierce gunfight at Col Gaddafi's central Tripoli compound as the regime stepped in to stop further defections.

The most fierce firefight yet seen in Tripoli erupted within hours of the regime confirming that the minister had defected.

"The blocks in that area are the homes to high-ranking official of the state who must live close to Col Gaddafi. People say that some of them were trying to flee with their families when they came under attack from the guards," said a resident. "In the morning they were still cleaning up the blood."

Gunfire is not unusual after dark in Tripoli as residents use newly issued Kalashnikov AK-47 weapons to "celebrate" victory claims. But witnesses said the prolonged battle around the Bab al-Azzizia neighbourhood was the worst fighting in the capital since the rebel uprising was crushed last month.

Potential defectors are under pressure to make public statements of loyalty to the regime and Col Gaddafi has doubled the number of guards on leading figures and their families, according to one aide.

Relatives said suspect bureaucrats were being quizzed by internal security.

Shurki Ghanem, a former prime minister who heads the state oil company and had been said to have defected after leaving for Tunisia with Mr Koussa, issued a statement in Tripoli saying that he was still in office.

And Omar Durdah, the head of the overseas intelligence agency, told state television he had not left the country. "I am in Libya and will remain here," he said. "I never thought to cross the borders or violate commitment to the people, the revolution and the leader."

The family of Mr Koussa were previously thought to have also fled to Britain. His wife's detention in Libya is likely to be part of an attempt to stop her husband from helping MI6.


The minister, who is staying in a safe house in southern England, is thought to have crucial information about the regime and is suspected of being involved in terrorist plots across Europe, including the Lockerbie bombing.

It is not clear how British authorities will react if he attempts to leave the country.

He is thought to have left Libya after telling the regime he needed medical treatment in Tunisia and the disclosure his wife was left behind may point to a more complicated story being behind his defection.

British intelligence agents are believed to be in talks with 12 people close to the regime who are considering defecting.

Even the dictator's sons are rumoured to be considering fleeing the country and Col Gaddafi has imposed a "ring of steel" around key regime figures. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent