Libyan rebels say a close Moammar Gadhafi associate who was once the No. 2 top regime official has defected in another blow to the increasingly isolated Libyan leader.
Abdel Salam Jalloud helped Gadhafi stage the 1969 coup that propelled him to power and transformed Libya from a monarchy to a republic. He was Gadhafi's most trusted deputy for two decades but began to clash with the leader starting in the 1990s.
Rebel spokesman Mahmoud Shammam said Friday that Jalloud had fled to a rebel-held area in the western mountains and was on his way to Europe. Pictures showing Jalloud in the western town of Zintan appeared on rebel Facebook pages.
Jalloud did not issue anystatements, but Shammam said he had confirmed the defection on the telephone.
Another rebel official, Abdel-Hafiz Ghoga, says that Jalloud's defection "gives us assurance that Gadhafi is weakening."
Moammar Gadhafi's forces launched a fierce counterattack in the strategic western city of Zawiya Friday, firing rockets and anti-aircraft guns in a bid to keep the rebels from gaining complete control and advancing toward Tripoli, only 30 miles away.