"The era of Gaddafi is over," declared Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the leader of the Libyan rebels, yesterday, and few disagreed with him. But the dramatic reappearance of Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, who was reportedly arrested on Sunday, suggests that the battle for Tripoli could be far more bloody and protracted than the allies expected. It remains unclear whether he escaped from rebel custody or whether he was released as part of a deal. Waheed Burshan, a member of the National Transitional Council, told al-Jazeera: "We had confirmation Saif al-Islam was arrested, but we have no idea how he escaped."
The younger Gaddafi, who drove in an armoured vehicle to the Rixos Hotel, where the foreign press corps is trapped, mimiced his father's rheotric and declared that the "Libyan people rose up yesterday and today, and broke the back of the rebels, and the rats, and the gangs." He added, sounding ever more like the regime's Comical Ali, that: "Everything is normal."
But while his reapperance offers a psychological boost to loyalist fighters, it is insignificant in military terms. There is little prospect of them halting the rebel advance and regaining control of the city. In the meantime, the manhunt for Gaddafi senior, who US officials believe is still in Libya, continues. As Jalil told reporters at the rebel headquarters in Benghazi yesterday: "The real moment of victory is when Gaddafi is captured."