What's next for Moammar Gadhafi?

Nobody seems to know where the embattled Libyan leader is hiding, or where he's headed. Here, 5 predictions

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2009: The embattled despot could be tried as a war criminal, provided he doesn't find refuge in a neighboring country first.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Max Rossi/Files)

As Libya's rebel army fights for control of Tripoli, the hunt is on for the country's longtime leader, Moammar Gadhafi. The Libyan strongman said in an audio message Monday that he is still in Tripoli. And heir apparent Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, who the rebels said they had captured, shocked reporters by showing up and offering them a tour of loyalist-held areas of the city, all the while claiming that his father is "safe." Still, nobody seems sure exactly where Libya's beleaguered leader is, or what will happen to him next. Here, five theories:

1. Gadhafi will face trial in The Hague

After dominating and terrorizing Libya for four decades, Gadhafi's regime is thankfully collapsing, and it's only a matter of time until the despot himself is captured, says The New York Times in an editorial. When he is, "he should be sent to the International Criminal Court to face justice." The ICC warrant for his arrest means that signatory nations "are duty bound to hand him over," says Aislinn Laing in Britain's Telegraph, so "Gadhafi's options for exile are certainly limited."

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2. He won't make it out of Tripoli alive

"Gadhafi will fight and not surrender," says Fareed Zakaria at CNN. Gadhafi is the founder of his nation, "not a bureaucrat who will lay down the sword and go quietly into the night." It would be "absurd to expect him to step gracefully aside," says Andrew Solomon at The New Yorker. Gadhafi "saw his friend Saddam Hussein's demise, and he is surely watching the trial of Hosni Mubarak; he knows that deposed autocrats do not have a pleasant life."

3. Gadhafi will make a last stand in Sirte

Libya is criss-crossed with thousands of miles of hidden tunnels, so Gadhafi could be almost anywhere in the country, says The Telegraph's Laing. And if he's already left Tripoli, "one of the most likely places for him to head would be to the western city of Sirte, where he was born and where he still enjoys widespread support." Rebels and Western intelligence officials fear Gadhafi has stockpiled missiles and other heavy weapons there, making Sirte "a potential site for a last stand if Tripoli falls."

4. The despot will find a new home in Africa

Gadhafi reportedly has two airplanes fueled up and ready to fly him to points unknown, says Eliza Griswold at The Daily Beast. South Africa is "emerging as a contender," and there's always the "horrifying possibility" that he could go to Zimbabwe, joining fellow "maniacal killers" Robert Mugabe and Ethiopia's exiled Mengistu Haile Mariam. Neighboring Tunisia was Gadhafi's first choice, says Chris Heller at National Journal, and if he found exile there, he might still exert "worrisome influence" on Libya. Or he might prefer Equatorial Guinea" — which "is not a member of the International Criminal Court," allowing Gadhafi to "remain outside the reach of prosecution."

5. Gadhafi will seek luxurious exile in Venezuela

According to one source, "Hugo Chavez's Venezuela was looking the most likely destination if Gadhafi were able to, and chose to, flee Libya," says Laing. He and Chavez are friendly, and a Venezuelan envoy was in Tunisia meeting with Gadhafi representatives last week. The only problem? Venezuela is a signatory to the ICC, and though "Chavez is thought to be unlikely to surrender his old friend Gadhafi for prosecution readily," the Libyan leader might be safer in non-ICC nations Cuba or Russia.

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