Libyan rebels stepped up the hunt for Moammar Gadhafi by offering a $2 million bounty on the former dictator's head, and a NATO official said the alliance was playing an active role in the search.
British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said Thursday that NATO was "providing intelligence and reconnaissance assets to help in the hunt" for Gadhafi, but refused to say whether British special forces were involved.
"We never comment about special forces, not least because if we were to use them under those circumstances it would compromise their security," Fox told BBC Radio 4.
In Brussels, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said the alliance does not discuss intelligence matters, but added: "NATO does not target specific individuals."
The United States is the largest contributor to NATO, but there was no immediate word from Washington on whether U.S. military resources were being directly used in the hunt for Gadhafi.
U.S. drone aircraft have been helping the Libyan rebels with intelligence-gathering for months, however, and the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies have been gathering information from contacts they developed in Libya last spring, before the uprising began against Gadhafi's regime.
Rebels found no sign of Gadhafi after storming his Tripoli compound Tuesday, but rumors churned of his possible whereabouts.
Opposition leaders say Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, which is 250 miles east of Tripoli on the Mediterranean Sea, is now a key target. Mahmoud Jibril, deputy chairman of the Transitional National Council, said Wednesday during talks in Paris that Gadhafi could be "in Sirte or any other place."
Gadhafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years, vowed in a recent audio message that he would fight to the death.
Meanwhile, opposition fighters in the capital faced stiff resistance from loyalist forces Thursday even though most of Tripoli was in rebel hands.
The rebels have been trying to methodically clear Gadhafi's sprawling Bab al-Aziziya compound but have met with repeated gunfire from snipers.
Inside the compound, where the rebels were searching through the debris, a broken TV, its screen shattered, lay on the ground in the courtyard. A dozen young fighters posed for pictures next to a gold-colored statue of a clenched fist squeezing a plane — a memorial to the 1986 U.S. airstrikes on the compound in retaliation for a bombing at a German disco frequented by U.S. servicemen.
"There are several bunkers underground that have rabbit-like tunnels, some of them have rooms, and they've discovered gas masks and food provisions — clearly a place where Gadhafi loyalists and soldiers were hunkering down during some of the fighting," NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro said, reporting from Tripoli.
The rebels also targeted other symbols of the regime, including the homes of some of Gadhafi's children.
About 200 people ransacked the beachfront villa of Gadhafi's son Saadi, driving off with four of his cars — a Lamborghini, a BMW, an Audi and a Toyota station wagon, said Seif Allah, a rebel fighter who joined in the looting, taking a bottle of gin and a pair of Diesel jeans.
After a five-hour gunbattle with guards, rebels also ransacked the mansion of Gadhafi's daughter Aisha.
Clothes and DVDs were strewn on the floor of the master bedroom, including a DVD about getting in shape after childbirth. In a sitting area, a gold-colored statue — of a mermaid with Aisha's face — framed a sofa.
With suspicion that Gadhafi may be holed up in Sirte, the city has become a key rebel target. But opposition leaders said they were trying to negotiate a peaceful surrender of the city, which lies about 250 miles from Tripoli, because Gadhafi's fellow tribesmen were expected to put up a fierce fight and capturing it could prove difficult.
Gadhafi loyalists ambushed rebels advancing toward the town of Bin Jawad, some 350 miles southeast of Tripoli, killing at least 20 of them on Wednesday.
The attack was carried out by pro-Gadhafi forces who had hastily retreated from the oil city of Ras Lanouf after rebels captured that city earlier this week, said Ahmed Zeleity, a rebel commander.
Some of the toughest battles fought in Libya have been around oil terminals on the Mediterranean coast, such as Ras Lanouf and Brega, east of Tripoli. Earlier this week, rebels re-took Brega, which had repeatedly changed hands between government forces and rebels during the six-month civil war.
Rebels also have seized several parts of Sebha, another Gadhafi stronghold still holding out, including the main commercial Gamal Abdel-Nasser street, according to the NTC's Adel al-Zintani, who is in daily telephone contact with rebel commanders in the desert city, 400 miles south of Tripoli.
In search of funds, the head of Libya's rebel Cabinet was meeting Thursday with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, his second stop on a European tour aimed at securing the release of billions of dollars in frozen Libyan assets.
Libyan opposition leaders say they urgently need at least $5 billion in frozen assets to pay state salaries, maintain vital services and repair critical oil facilities.
The U.N. Security Council, meanwhile, is preparing to vote this week on a resolution that would release $1.5 billion in Libyan assets in U.S. banks that the world body froze to thwart Gadhafi.
With reporting from NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Tripoli and Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Brega. Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.