Libyan rebel forces penetrate Qaddafi's compound

Updated at 6:30 p.m. ET

TRIPOLI, Libya - Hundreds of Libyan rebels blasted through the green gates of Muammar Qaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli Tuesday after five hours of intense fighting around it. They beat and killed some of those who defended it, fired celebratory shots in the air and hauled off crates of weapons and trucks with guns mounted on the back.

The storming of the sprawling compound in the capital, long the nexus of Qaddafi's power, marked the effective collapse of his 42-year-old regime, even though pockets of resistance are likely to persist around the country for some time. It was only Sunday night that the rebels surprised everyone with their lightning fast advance into Tripoli, quickly capturing large parts of the city of 2 million.

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"We're looking for Qaddafi now. We have to find him now," said Sohaib Nefati, a 29-year-old rebel sitting against a wall with a Kalashnikov rifle. Qaddafi's whereabouts were still unknown.

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CBS News correspondent Barry Petersen, reporting from inside Qaddafi's compound, said rebel soldiers didn't find anyone after breaching the stronghold through its north gate.

"There was no one from Qaddafi's army; no one was there," a rebel soldier told Petersen.

"We're seeing soldiers pouring in, soldiers pouring out, some taking souvenirs, things like ammo," Petersen told CBS Radio News from the compound. "Still heavy fire coming from one of the areas over there. We're not sure whether it's small-arms fire, heavy fire.

(At left, listen to Petersen's latest report)
Video: Listen to Petersen's earlier front-line report

"This is something that the people of Libya have never seen," Petersen continued. "This was Qaddafi's playground. Huge, empty fields with beautiful trees, what looks like a mansion or a house ... someone stealing a compact fax machine, taking what they can, stealing what they can, taking away from a man who ruled them for 40-some years."

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One fighter climbed atop the iconic statue of a huge golden fist clenching a model of an American warplane and shot his machine gun in the air in celebration. The statue stands outside a building that was once Qaddafi's home, preserved with the pockmarks of an American bombing in 1986 as a symbol of his defiance.

Qaddafi delivered many a fiery speech from the balcony of that house, railing against the West. It was there that he appeared on television at the beginning of the 6-month-old uprising, mocking his opponents.

Bab al-Aziziya has since been pummeled many times over by NATO bombings in the air campaign against the regime that began in March.

Abdel-Aziz Shafiya, a 19-year-old rebel dressed in camouflage with an RPG slung over one shoulder and a Kalashnikov over another, said the rebels believe Qaddafi is hiding underground inside the complex.

"Wasn't he the one who called us rats. Now he is the rat underground," he said. Asked how it felt to be standing inside Qaddafi's compound, the fighter who came from to Tripoli two days ago from rebel-held western city of Misrata replied:

"It's an explosion of joy inside. I lost friends and relatives and now I can walk into Qaddafi's house. Many of my friends have died and now all of that meant something."

Associated Press reporters inside the compound said parts of it appeared to still be under control of government forces who were firing toward the rebels, making for an atmosphere of joyful celebration mixed with tension. The air was thick with smoke from the battles and the sound of crackling gunfire was constant. Rebels chanted "Allahu Akbar" or "God is Great" and on loudspeakers they cried: "Hamdullah, hamdullah" or "Thank God."

As the fighters stormed in, they captured a guard at the gates and threw him to the ground, slamming rifle butts into his back. A hostile crowd gathered around, punching and kicking him until one rebel stepped in, stood over him and kept the crowd at bay. Inside the walls, a few bodies of Qaddafi fighters — one with a gaping head wound from a gunshot — were sprawled on the ground.

Fighters with long beards hugged each other and flashed the "V" for victory. Others carried injured rebels to ambulances.

There was a frenzy of looting inside, directed mainly at weapons. Thousands of rebels converged on the compound after it was breached, snatching ammunition and arms from depots inside. They found brand new rifles still in their paper wrappings. Scuffles broke out, pushing and shoving to get inside two white buildings where the rifles, machine guns and handguns are stored. They came out drenched in sweat from the struggle.

Some used a rifle bayonet to crack open a green box that contained guns and pushed each other to lay their hands on the booty.

Ali Sameer, a 45-year-old Tripoli resident, stood nearby with three brand new rifles resting on his legs.

"They are for my friends. I don't even know how to fight," he said.

Abdul-Salamah Alawah, 29, who arrived on a boat from Misrata last night, loaded a clip into his handgun.

"This one is especially for Qaddafi," he said.