BENGHAZI, Libya - Leader Muammar Qaddafi says al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is behind the uprising in Libya, claiming al Qaeda followers give young Libyans hallucinogenic pills in their coffee to get them to revolt.
Qaddafi made the comments in a phone call to Libyan state TV Thursday, expressing condolences for deaths in the city of Zawiya but chiding its residents for joining the rebellion.
He said al Qaeda militants are "exploiting" teenagers, giving them "hallucinogenic pills in their coffee with milk, like Nescafe."
While Qaddafi blamed al Qaeda, foreign mercenaries and Libyan militiamen loyal to Qaddafi tried to roll back the uprising against his rule that has advanced closer to his stronghold in Tripoli, attacking two nearby cities in battles that killed at least 17 people. But rebels made new gains, seizing a military air base.The assaults aimed to push back a rebellion that has grown larger and bolder. As much as 90 percent of the country may now be in protesters' hands, writes Middle East expert Juan Cole on his blog. The revolt has already broken away nearly all of the eastern half of Libya and unraveled many parts of Qaddafi's regime.
In response to widespread reports of attacks on civilians, the Obama administration will throw its weight behind a European effort to expel Libya from the U.N.'s top human rights body and name a special investigator to look into alleged atrocities committed by Qaddafi's regime, U.S. officials said Thursday.
Amid the turmoil, foreigners are struggling to flee the country by the thousands, while governments from Beijing to London scramble to secure their citizens. The Obama administration is playing a in fear that U.S. citizens still trapped in the country may become Qaddafi's next target.
In the latest blow to the Libyan leader, Switzerland ordered the immediate freeze late Thursday of any Swiss assets belonging to Qaddafi or his entourage, saying it wanted to prevent the possible misuse of state funds.
Switzerland recently froze the Swiss assets of Tunisia's Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak - but only after they had been deposed.
Earlier Thursday, a cousin who is one of his closest aides, Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, announced that he has defected to Egypt in protest against the regime's bloody crackdown against the uprising, denouncing what he called "grave violations to human rights and human and international laws."Libyan officials have also invoked al Qaeda's name in a warning to foreign journalists.
Senior Libyan officials said journalists who have entered Libya without proper government accreditation to cover the violent unrest sweeping the country that they will be considered al Qaeda collaborators and subject to immediate arrest, the State Department said Thursday.
In meetings with U.S. diplomats, Libyan officials said their government would not be responsible for the safety of those journalists, the department said in a statement. The officials said all journalists now in the country must be part of government approved teams and will be prosecuted on immigration charges if they are working independently, according to the department.
"Be advised, entering Libya to report on the events unfolding there is additionally hazardous with the government labeling unauthorized media as terrorist collaborators and claiming they will be arrested if caught," the department said in a notice to news organizations.
The Libyan officials told the U.S. diplomats that some journalists from CNN, BBC Arabic and Al Arabiya television would be allowed into the country to cover the situation.
The warning comes as the Libyan government appears to have lost control of much of the eastern part of the nation, where some reporters are crossing the border from Egypt.