Mussa Ibrahim was said to have been captured on Thursday outside Muammar Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte [AFP]

Libya's new rulers are investigating the whereabouts of the public voice of Muammar Gaddafi's regime, as a television channel said it would air footage of Mussa Ibrahim being detained when he was disguised as a woman.

National Transitional Council (NTC) commanders said on Thursday they had received reports from fighters that Ibrahim had been captured outside Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte, where his loyalists have been under siege for the past week.

But on Friday, the fighters' high command in Libya's third-largest city Misrata said it was unable to confirm the capture of Ibrahim, who has kept up a steady stream of pro-Gaddafi broadcasts from unknown locations while on the run.

"Misrata fighters contacted us and gave us the information that Mussa Ibrahim has been captured," said Mustafa bin Dardef of the NTC's Zintan Brigade.

Another commander, Mohammed al-Marimi, said: "Mussa Ibrahim was captured while driving outside Sirte by fighters from Misrata." 

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He said there were reports that Ibrahim was dressed as a woman, but could not immediately confirm that.

Libya's Al-Hurra Misrata television said it would broadcast footage of Ibrahim's capture, adding that the images showed him being detained in the back of a car outside Sirte, wearing a veil.

A spokesman for the Misrata military council, Adel Ibrahim, told the AFP news agency late on Thursday: "We cannot confirm he was arrested".

And a pro-Gaddafi website denied that his long-time spokesman had been captured.

"Mussa Ibrahim has not been captured," the website of the former state television channel Allibiya said.

"This is a mendacious rumour aimed at distracting attention from the rebels'... defeat at the hands of the heroic forces in Sirte."

Since NTC fighters overran Tripoli on August 23, Ibrahim has continued to issue statements through Syrian-based Arrai television from an unknown location, although not so frequently in recent days.

Late last week, he appealed for resolve against "agents and traitors", denounced what he called "genocide" by NATO and its "Libyan agents", and criticised the world community for "inaction".

Seeking extradtion

NTC efforts to secure the extradition of fugitive members of Gaddafi's family and inner circle, meanwhile, took a blow with a rebuff from neighbouring Niger to an arrest notice issued by global police agency Interpol for the toppled strongman's son Saadi.

Brigi Rafini, Niger's prime minister, said his government had no plans for the time being to hand over Saadi, 38, who has been under house arrest in the capital Niamey since fleeing across the desert border on September 11.

"Saadi Gaddafi is in safety, in security, in Niamey, in the hands of the Niger government. There's no question of him being extradited to Libya for the moment," Rafini told the AFP news agency on a visit to France.

"We need to be sure he will be allowed a fair defence," he said. "Are those conditions in place today? No."

Interpol said in a statement from its Lyon headquarters that Saadi was wanted "for allegedly misappropriating properties through force and armed intimidation when he headed the Libyan Football Federation".

"It urged member states to help locate him" with a view to returning him to Libya where his arrest warrant has been issued.

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"As the commander of military units allegedly involved in the repression of demonstrations by civilians during Libya's uprising, Saadi Gaddafi is also subject to a United Nations travel ban and assets freeze," it added. 

Niger has confirmed it has a total of 32 Gaddafi loyalists on its soil, including three generals, saying it allowed them entry for "humanitarian reasons".

Libya's western neighbour Algeria has also given refuge to Gaddafi family members, announcing on August 31 that it had admitted his daughter Aisha, her brothers Hannibal and Mohammed and their mother Safiya, again citing "strictly humanitarian reasons".

The whereabouts of the former strongman himself remain a mystery, although he has issued repeated statements vowing to die a martyr rather than flee his homeland.

Libya's new leaders suspect that two of his sons - Mutassim and Seif al-Islam - are still inside Libya, the former in Sirte and the latter in his loyalists' other significant remaining bastion, the desert city of Bani Walid.

Along with his father and former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, Seif al-Islam is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity.

On the ground in Sirte, meanwhile, anti-Gaddafi fighters returned to the fray after being forced to retreat during ferocious fighting late on Wednesday.

NTC fighters control the city's port and airport, but AFP reported intense artillery and heavy machine gun exchanges on Thursday both around the port and the Mahari Hotel.

"It is not going to be easy to capture Sirte," one field commander acknowledged.

"We thought we would be inside Sirte this Friday, but now I think it will not happen," he said, asking not to be identified.

Source: Agencies