VIDEO - From hiding, Muammar Gaddafi denied rumors he fled Libya, vowed never to leave the land of his ancestors and exhorted followers to keep fighting, according to an audio message broadcast Thursday on a loyalist TV channel.
Gaddafi, who ruled Libya for nearly 42 years before opposition forces forced him to flee Tripoli late last month, hasn't been seen in public for months. A military official in Libya's new leadership had said a day earlier Gaddafi was cornered and would soon be captured or killed, but another senior defense official contended his whereabouts are unknown.
In Thursday's five-minute-long audio, aired on Syrian-based Al-Rai TV, a man who sounded like Gaddafi denounced reports that he had fled to neighboring Niger and claimed he is still in Libya. He called those who ousted him "a bunch of mercenaries, thugs and traitors."
Listen to Gaddafi's speech
"We are ready to start the fight in Tripoli and everywhere else, and rise up against them," Gaddafi said. "All of these germs, rats and scumbags, they are not Libyans, ask anyone. They have cooperated with NATO."
Niger officials have said senior members of Gaddafi's regime led by his own security chief crossed from Libya on Tuesday. Niger said the group of 13 did not include Gaddafi, and US officials have said they have no reason to believe Gaddafi is not in Libya. But reports of the apparent defection of some of his top aides - and rumors that it involved a large number of senior soldiers who left with money and gold - were believed to have undermined morale among Gaddafi loyalists.
Gaddafi tried to counteract what he portrayed as a propaganda war, telling his followers in the message broadcast Thursday: "They are trying to demoralize you."
"Gaddafi won't leave the land of his ancestors," he said, referring to himself in the third person, a rhetorical habit of Gaddafi.
The authenticity of the recording could not be independently verified but the voice and style strongly resembled Gaddafi, who has used the TV channel in the past.