Libya's Moammar Gadhafi briefly plunged into crowds of his countrymen near Tripoli's Green Square on Friday, riding atop a truck surrounded by supporters. It was likely an attempt to portray the hoards taking to the streets as his own backers, rather than anti-government demonstrators, as is now overwhelmingly the case. He didn't speak publicly and hasn't been seen since then.
But amid all this turmoil, Gadhafi -- the self-described "Brother Leader" and "King of Kings" -- is nowhere to be found. He could be walled up in central Tripoli's Bab al-Aziziya barracks -- target of an American bombing raid in 1986. Or he could have left the Libyan capital or even the whole country already.
"Nobody really knows, and that's the way he operates," Charles Gurdon, a Libya expert who runs Menas Associates, a political risk consultancy in London, told AOL News.
Instead, one of Gadhafi's six sons, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, went on state TV around 1 this morning to proclaim that his father is still in charge and will "fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet." He repeatedly insisted that Libya "is not Tunisia or Egypt" -- neighbors to the east and west where popular demonstrations in recent weeks have overthrown dictatorships that had been entrenched for decades.
But opposition to Gadhafi mounted from within his own government, albeit from a distance. Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, declared today that Gadhafi was committing genocide, CNN reported, while The Associated Press said three employees of the Libyan Embassy in Stockholm quit in protest, saying in a letter to the news media that they were "condemning the genocide of civilians in Libya."
Judging from the scant videos and reports emerging from Libya, scenes from across the country look increasingly like those from Cairo or Tunis in recent weeks.
Early today, witnesses reported seeing smoke rising from two sites where a police station and security forces are based in Tripoli. After live bullets flew in the streets, the Libyan capital is shut down, with schools and government offices closed. Internet and phone service abroad have been cut off amid a huge, violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
Gadhafi's decision to let his son Seif speak to the country early Monday could be a bit of a PR stunt, because of the younger Gadhafi's reputation as a moderate reformer. At age 38, he has a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics, is rumored to have had an Israeli girlfriend at one point and wrote an op-ed for The New York Times last year. He's considered more palatable to both pro-democracy demonstrators and the West.
"It's not surprising that his son spoke last night, because Seif al-Islam is generally seen as one of the principal reformers, and therefore if anybody was going to say something that could be acceptable to the protesters, it was likely to be Seif al-Islam rather than his father," Gurdon said.
Since taking power in a military coup nearly 42 years ago, Gadhafi -- Africa's longest-serving leader -- has long thrived on being unpredictable, and the past week's events have been no exception. He's an eccentric infamous for his all-female bodyguard team, reportedly composed of 40 virgins handpicked by Gadhafi and trained in martial arts. He's also believed to never travel without a trusted Ukrainian nurse dubbed a "voluptuous blonde" in U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks last year.
In 2008, Gadhafi awarded himself the title "King of Kings of Africa" and orchestrated a coronation ceremony a year later in Ethiopia. Despite his vast investments of Libyan oil wealth in projects across Africa, such eccentric behavior has earned him few friends. That could also leave him with few invitations if anti-government protests continue and he begins to search for a safe place to go into exile.
"At the same time, there was talk last night that [Gadhafi] had already left to go to Venezuela. It's very difficult to know," Gurdon said. "He's caused such antagonism in the Middle East that it's unlikely he could get safe refuge in another country. ... I think he will probably end up fighting till the last man."