LIBYA – Libyan state television carried brief audio remarks it said were by leader Muammar Gaddafi on Friday in which he taunted NATO as a cowardly crusader and said he was in a place they could not reach.
The comments came after Italy’s foreign minister said Gaddafi had very likely left the Libyan capital and probably been wounded by NATO air strikes, a report that Tripoli immediately dismissed as nonsense.
“I tell the cowardly crusader (NATO) that I live in a place they cannot reach and where you cannot kill me …. I live in the hearts of the millions,” said the voice, which sounded like Gaddafi’s. There was no accompanying video.
He also said he was making the statement after receiving a “massive” number of calls asking about his condition following a NATO air strike on his compound on Thursday.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini had said earlier he heard the report on Gaddafi from the bishop of Tripoli, Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli.
“I tend to give credence to the comment of the bishop of Tripoli, Monsignor Martinelli, who has been in close contact over recent weeks, when he told us that Gaddafi is very probably outside Tripoli and is probably also wounded. We don’t know where or how,” Frattini told reporters in Italy.
NATO allies including the United States, Britain and France are bombing Libya as part of a U.N. mandate to protect civilians and they say they will not stop until the Libyan leader’s 41-year rule ends.
Gaddafi faces a three-month-old uprising by rebels who control Benghazi and the oil-producing east of the country.
The government accuses the insurgents of being armed criminals and supporters of al Qaeda and says NATO air strikes are an act of colonial aggression.