Trophies Among the more bizarre theories was that he had taken refuge under the Rixos hotel where many of the Western journalists are based and intended to use them as human shields to prevent being bombed by Nato or the rebels.
FLEE: Rebels think desperate dictator may have fled HQ through network of tunnels
The hunt for Col Muammar Gaddafi continued today as the defeated dictator made a desperate TV appeal from a hideaway.
Gaddafi sounded subdued in a speech aired by a local TV station. "Why are you letting them wreak havoc?" he said.
He called on the residents of the Libyan capital, who last night overran his compound, to "free Tripoli" from the "devils".
The broadcast came a day after hundreds of rebels stormed the Bab al-Aziziya fortress-like HQ in the capital but found no sign of the longtime leader.
The pro-Gaddafi TV channel earlier quoted the Libyan leader as saying he had left the compound in a "tactical move" after 64 Nato airstrikes turned it to rubble.
The 69-year-old dictator, who has ruled for almost 42 years, was nowhere to be found after his grip on power was broken.
Jubilant opposition troops began to search the vast compound room by room in the hope of finding their former leader cowering somewhere.
But despite Gaddafi's claims that he would fight to the end, there was mounting speculation that he had fled Tripoli via a vast warren of tunnels.
A spokesman for the National Transitional Council said he would be found, dead or alive.
Among the more bizarre theories was that he had taken refuge under the Rixos hotel where many of the Western journalists are based and intended to use them as human shields to prevent being bombed by Nato or the rebels.
Others believed he had escaped Tripoli some time ago and had taken refuge at the compound in his home city of Sirte, around 500 miles along the coast from the capital. Opponents fear the increasingly desperate dictator has stockpiled weapons at the camp and is preparing to make a bloody last stand.
Other options include fleeing to his tribal base in the south of the country where he still enjoys some support.
A Russian official who claimed to have spoken to Gaddafi yesterday insisted he remained in Tripoli and had no intention of leaving.
But rebel fighters and Nato intelligence units were understood to be monitoring the airports and ports last night.
Guma el-Gamaty, a spokesman for the rebels, said: "We don't think he has left the country. We believe he is still inside Libya. We believe that he is either in Tripoli or close to Tripoli.
"Sooner or later he will be found, either alive and arrested -- and hopefully that is the best outcome we want -- or if he resists he will be killed."
Jubilant Libyans yesterday swarmed into Gaddafi's Tripoli stronghold, bringing his long, mad dictatorship to a symbolic end. Within minutes of breaching the gates to the sprawling complex, rebel soldiers, high on victory, claimed the trophies of this attrition.
One drove the colonel's golf cart through ecstatic crowds; another seized what appeared to be the dictator's embroidered military hat along with chunky gold chains.
Still more rushed to smash shoes into the face of a bronze statue of the man they started mocking as "Frizzy Head" as soon as his regime entered its death throes.
The tricolour of the opposition movement was placed on one of Gaddafi's most famous sculptures -- a massive clenched fist crushing an American fighter jet.
The Bab al-Azizia was a menacing mystery to the people who endured the Libyan dictator's brutal, erratic regime. No longer.
"We are at last free of this dictator. Libya is free at last. No more Gaddafi," said Wael Abu Khris (35), a shipping agent turned rebel fighter from Tripoli.
The rebel force entered the compound after fighting for five hours with Gaddafi loyalists outside, using mortars, heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. They killed some of those who defended the compound and hauled off thousands of rifles, crates of weapons and trucks with guns mounted on the back in a frenzy of looting.
"We're looking for Gaddafi now. We have to find him now," said Sohaib Nefati, a rebel sitting against a wall with a Kalashnikov rifle.
Abdel-Aziz Shafiya, a 19-year-old rebel with an RPG over one shoulder and a Kalashnikov over the other, said: "Wasn't he the one who called us rats? Now he is the rat underground," he said.