Moammar Gadhafi may be on the run, but he's still talking — and his outlet is a curious one: clandestine, late-night phone calls to a private Syrian satellite TV station run by an Iraqi exile with a shady past.
Gadhafi, who once had multiple state-run Libyan stations at his beck and call, has made three calls from hiding to Al-Rai TV, trying to rally his dwindling supporters and insisting he will never give up. The messages add to the bizarre spectacle surrounding Gadhafi's downfall and his attempts to stay a step ahead of the former rebels hunting for him.
Al-Rai's owner, Mishan al-Jabouri, refuses to divulge much about why Gadhafi chose his station to call into and whether he knows where Gadhafi and his sons are hiding.
"It's my own secret that I won't reveal," al-Jabouri told The Associated Press by telephone this week when pressed for details. "You shouldn't ask such questions because I am contacting a person in the war field, how can I say how I contact him? It's impossible to tell you."
"We have our own means and methods to keep in contact with them," he said.
Al-Jabouri, formerly a lawmaker from Iraq's Sunni heartland, has long touted himself as an Arab nationalist opposed to U.S. interventions in the Middle East and a supporter of Iraqi Sunni insurgents against American troops. He said he has good relations with Gadhafi and his family, and he made his support clear for the man who ruled Libya for more than 42 years.
"We deal with them as strugglers who defend their homeland," he said.
Al-Jabouri knows what it's like to be on the run. He fled to Syria in 2006, a year before an Iraqi court convicted him of embezzling millions of dollars. He and his son Yazan were accused of embezzling some $7 million a month intended for units of a special force created to protect oil pipelines from attacks by insurgents. Al-Jabouri has denied the charges, but he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
A private TV station he once ran in Iraq — Al-Zawraa — was raided by Iraqi troops in 2006 trying to shut it down for "inciting hatred" by airing videos of Iraqi insurgents hitting U.S. tanks and troops. The station managed to keep airing from Sunni parts of Iraq, but under U.S. pressure the Egyptian-owned satellite provider that was airing the channel dropped it.
Al-Jabouri said his Al-Rai still follows a broad anti-American movement. "We also keep contact with the Iraqi resistance and take photos of U.S. tanks when they explode."
His affection for Gadhafi ensures the ousted leader a friendly venue to deliver his voice to his homeland and the world.
Gadhafi's most recent call came at 3 a.m. Thursday, when he denied rumors he had fled Libya, vowed never to leave the land of his ancestors and exhorted followers to keep fighting.
"We are ready to start the fight in Tripoli and everywhere else, and rise up against them," Gadhafi said in the recording.
"All of these germs, rats and scum ... they are not Libyans, ask anyone. They have cooperated with NATO," he said, referring to the former rebels who swept into the capital Tripoli on Aug. 21, toppling him.
Gadhafi disappeared underground and so far has eluded the country's new rulers' manhunt. Rumors have put him everywhere from deep in a bunker under Tripoli to any of three final strongholds of his supporters around the country.
Interpol said Friday it has issued red notices — its top most-wanted alert — for the arrest of Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and the former head of military intelligence, Abdullah al-Senoussi. Gadhafi went underground after anti-regime fighters swept into Tripoli on Aug. 21.