Libya's acting prime minister said Wednesday that ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi is believed to be recruiting fighters from other African countries and preparing for a possible insurgency, hoping to destabilize Libya's new regime.
The comments by Mahmoud Jibril reflected fears that Gadhafi will be able to use friendly relations with neighboring countries cultivated during his more than four decades in power to help him launch a bid to return to power.
"Reports have shown that 68 vehicles with at least eight fighters each crossed the Libyan borders to Mali and Gadhafi is hiding in the southern desert," Jibril told reporters.
He said Gadhafi had made a deal with the Hamada tribe, which roams the borders between Chad, Sudan and Libya, to provide 12,000 fighters "to enter Libya and start the fight."
Suggesting that the U.S. also was concerned about the possibility, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said during a visit to Tripoli Tuesday that she hoped Gadhafi would be captured or killed.
Gadhafi loyalists already have put up fierce resistance in several areas, preventing Libya's new leaders from declaring full victory nearly two months after revolutionary forces seized Tripoli and have seized many other parts of the oil-rich North African nation.
Revolutionary fighters gained control of one stronghold, Bani Walid, this week. In the other loyalist bastion of Sirte, anti-Gadhafi commanders said they have squeezed Gadhafi's forces into a residential area of about 700 square meters but were still coming under heavy fire from surrounding buildings. Deputy defense minister Fawzi Abu Katif told The Associated Press that authorities still believe Gadhafi's son Muatassim is among the ex-regime figures holed up in the diminishing area.
It took the anti-Gadhafi fighters, who also faced disorganization in their own ranks, two days to capture a single residential building.
It is unclear whether Gadhafi loyalists who have escaped might continue the fight and attempt to organize an insurgency using the vast amount of weapons Gadhafi was believed to have stored in hideouts in the remote southern desert.
Unlike Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Gadhafi had no well-organized political party that could form the basis of an insurgent leadership. However, regional and ethnic differences have already appeared among the ranks of the revolutionaries, possibly laying the foundation for civil strife.
Gadhafi has issued several audio recordings trying to rally supporters. Jibril and other Libyan officials have said they believe he's hiding somewhere in the vast southwestern desert near the borders with Niger and Algeria.
Jibril also addressed concerns about a rise in revenge attacks and lawlessness as thousands of young men with weapons have found themselves unemployed after waging months of brutal fighting.
He said authorities were considering plans to give them the option of joining private security companies that will be given priority for securing the borders, oil fields and public institutions, or the national army.
He also reiterated that he plans to resign after liberation is declared and turn over the reins of the country to a new interim government that can guide the nation to elections. The transitional leadership has said a vote would be held within eight months of liberation.
The U.S.-educated Jibril said he will turn his attention to working with non-governmental organizations to help fight corruption.
Also Wednesday, Libya's transitional government said it has formally recognized the Syrian opposition's umbrella group as the country's legitimate representative, making it the first country to do so.
Hassan al-Sughayer, a member of Libya's National Transitional Council, announced the decision in Tripoli after meeting with members of the Syrian National Council.
The recognition is largely symbolic and unlikely to have any practical impact. Syria's government has threatened tough measures against any country that recognizes the opposition council.
Associated Press journalist Christopher Gillette in Sirte contributed to this report.