Toppled Libyan strongman Moamer Gaddafi was reportedly killed Thursday in a final assault by new regime forces on the last pocket of resistance in his hometown Sirte, sparking wild joy and celebratory gunfire across the North African Arab country.
Though claims of his death were quite convincing and video emerged purporting to show Colonel Gaddafi being captured alive and bundled on to a truck, the circumstances of his death remained unclear till filling of this report. Fighters loyal to the National Transitional Council (NTC) claimed they found him hiding in a hole, and shot him when he tried to escape. But if Gaddafi’s death is confirmed, it will also confirm that he kept his pledge made with his supporters that he “will die fighting and will never flee his land”.“We announce to the world that Gaddafi has died in the custody of the revolution,” NTC spokesman Abdel Hafez Ghoga said in the eastern city of Benghazi. “It is an historic moment. It is the end of tyranny and dictatorship. Gaddafi has met his fate,” he added. He said that the fugitive former Libyan leader’s death has been “confirmed by our commanders on the ground in Sirte, those who captured him after he had been wounded in the battle for Sirte.” The colonel, who was toppled in August after 42 years in power, was fighting in Sirte alongside his two sons, Mutassim and Saif al-Islam, according to reports. NTC officials said Mutassim was also killed in battle on Thursday. The man, who was hated at home for his alleged brutality and disdained in the West for his moral and material support to anti-imperialist forces, enjoyed great influence in Arab World as well as in many parts of Africa, before his regime was effectively toppled by rebels with the armed and financial support of the West.
He was also revered among many Muslims for his unflinching support to Palestinians and commanded great respect among the Anti-American Latin circles as one of the last iconic figures of resistance to the capitalists.
Gaddafi also won the hearts of Pakistanis with his exemplary support to the country, especially after the fall of Dhaka. He was a personal friend of the larger-than-life men like Bhutto, Yasir Arafat, King Faisal, Nelson Mendela and President Ortega of Nicaragua.
As anti-Gaddafi Libyans on the streets of Tripoli and Sirte fired automatic weapons into the air and danced for joy, most of the world leaders welcomed Gaddafi’s demise as the end of despotism, tyranny, dictatorship and ultimately war in the north African country.
NTC fighters who had fought in the bloody seven-month conflict that toppled the veteran leader at a cost of more than 25,000 lives, erupted in jubilation at the news, which followed earlier reports that Gaddafi had been captured alive.
A photograph taken on a mobile phone appeared to show the 69-year-old Gaddafi, toppled by NTC fighters in August, heavily bloodied. In the blurry image, Gaddafi is seen with blood-soaked clothing and blood daubed across his face.
A video circulating among NTC fighters in Sirte showed mobile phone footage of what appeared to be Gaddafi’s bloodied corpse.
In the grainy images, a large number of NTC fighters are seen yelling in chaotic scenes around a khaki-clad body which has blood oozing from the face and neck. The body is then dragged off by the fighters and loaded in the back of a pick-up truck.
Libyan television said Gaddafi had suffered bullet wounds to the head and stomach.
Another NTC commander, said one of Gaddafi’s sons, Mutassim, was also killed in Sirte. “We found him dead. We put his body and that of (former defence minister) Abu Bakr Yunis Jabar in an ambulance to take them to Misrata,” said Mohamed Leith.
“Saif al-Islam is trying to flee Sirte in a small convoy. Our fighters are encircling them,” another NTC official Abdel Majid Mlegta told Reuters.
News of Gaddafi’s death came as new regime troops overran the last redoubt of his loyalists in Sirte, bringing to an end a two-month siege. Fighters moving in from east and west overcame the last resistance in the city’s Number Two residential neighbourhood where his diehard supporters had been holed up.
“Sirte has been liberated, and with the confirmation that Gaddafi is dead,” Libya has been completely liberated, a top NTC military official, Khalifa Haftar, told AFP in Tripoli. “Those who were fighting with Gaddafi have either been killed or captured,” he added.
Pick-up trucks blaring out patriotic music criss-crossed the streets of Sirte Thursday afternoon, as fighters flashed V for victory signs and chanted Allahu Akbar (God is greatest).
“We did it! We did it!” chanted the fighters overcome with emotion, exchanging well-wishes, hugs and handshakes against a backdrop of intense celebratory gunfire.
Gaddafi was wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity but Libyan leaders had said they wanted him captured alive so he could be put on trial in his home country.
NTC official Mlegta told Reuters that Gaddafi had been wounded in both legs early in the morning as he tried to flee in the convoy which Nato warplanes attacked. “He was also hit in his head,” he said. “There was a lot of firing against his group and he died.”
In Brussels, a Nato spokesman said two alliance aircraft on Thursday morning struck two pro-Gaddafi military vehicles near Sirte.
“At approximately 0830 local time (GMT+2) today, Nato aircraft struck two pro-Gaddafi forces military vehicles which were part of a larger group manoeuvring in the vicinity of Sirte,” Nato spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie said in a statement.
A Nato diplomat said checks were underway to verify reports by the NTC that the convoy in which Gaddafi was travelling was stopped by Nato strikes.
However, the US government said that it was unable to substantiate reports that deposed Libyan leader Gaddafi has been captured or killed.
“The State Department cannot at this time confirm media reports on the capture or killing of Moamer Gaddafi,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in a statement. Senior administration and Pentagon officials said they were working to verify the reports.
Medics said that at least three NTC fighters were killed and 30 wounded in Sirte on Thursday after 18 were killed and around 180 wounded over the previous two days.
The fall of Sirte marks a milestone. Libya’s new rulers had said that only once the city had fallen would they declare the country’s liberation and begin the transition to an elected government.
In the end loyalist forces were limited to a tiny enclave of less than a square kilometre which had been completely cut-off by the besieging NTC forces who controlled the entire seafront of the Mediterranean coastal city as well as all of its landward sides.
Sirte once had 100,000 inhabitants, almost all of whom have fled. Fierce artillery battles and heavy gunfire over the past month have not left a single building intact, while looting has become commonplace as NTC fighters take their revenge on the Gaddafi bastion.