TRIPOLI, Libya — Since the rebel takeover of Tripoli, evidence has been growing that Moammar Gadhafi may have lied about the death of his daughter Hana in a 1986 U.S. airstrike.
The strike hit Gadhafi's home in his Tripoli compound, Bab al-Aziziya, in retaliation for the Libyan-sponsored bombing of a Berlin nightclub earlier that year that killed two U.S. servicemen. At the time, Gadhafi showed American journalists a picture of a dead baby and said it was his adopted daughter Hana — the first public mention that she even existed.
Diplomats almost immediately questioned the claim. But Gadhafi has kept the story alive.
Then, when investigations into the 1988 Pan Am airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, pointed to a Libyan hand in the attack, some theorized that Gadhafi had ordered it to avenge Hana's death in the U.S. airstrike.
But when Libyan rebels took over Tripoli and Bab al-Aziziya last week, they found a room in Gadhafi's home with Hana's birth certificate and pictures of a young woman with the name "Hana" written on the back, possible indications that she lived well beyond infancy. A Tripoli hospital official surfaced, saying Hana worked for him as a surgeon up until the rebels came to town.
And on Tuesday, Swiss officials confirmed that Hana's name had briefly appeared earlier this year on a Swiss government document listing the names of senior Libyan figures targeted for sanctions.
Many Libyans believe Hana was never killed and talked about her existence openly.
Adel Shaltut, a Libyan diplomat at the U.N. in Geneva, said it was common knowledge that Hana Gadhafi wasn't killed in the airstrike.
"All Libyans knew from the very beginning that it's a lie," he told the Associated Press, saying that Hana was married and had children.
However, some in Libya believed that after Hana's death, Gadhafi adopted another daughter and gave her the same name in a memorial tribute.
Adding to the mystery, two AP photographs from the 1990s show an adolescent girl identified in captions as Gadhafi's daughter Hana. In one of them from 1999, she is standing next to South African President Nelson Mandela during a family visit to Cape Town. Gadhafi's only biological daughter, Aisha, stands on Mandela's other side. Gadhafi's wife, Safiya, is also in the picture.
In another AP photo from 1996, Gadhafi is seen wiping the face of a girl identified in the caption as his daughter Hana Gadhafi.
Despite these sightings of Hana, in 2006 Gadhafi organized an event called the "Hana Festival for Freedom and Peace" to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her death. Performers reportedly included Lionel Richie and Spanish tenor Jose Carreras.
Last week, after rebels stormed the Bab al-Aziziya compound where Gadhafi and family members lived, journalists saw a room in his home filled with stuffed animals, photos of a young woman with the name "Hana" written on the back in Arabic and a birth certificate of "Hana Gadhafi."
Hana's current whereabouts are unknown.
Gassem Baruni, head of the Tripoli Medical Center, said Hana worked for him as a surgeon before she disappeared Friday.
"She was very tense and nervous as soon as the revolution started," Baruni told the Assocated Press. "She told me not to treat the rebels, but I told her: 'If we don't treat everyone, it would be a crime.' "