Some said they never thought it could happen, others claimed they knew it would be his fate in the end, but for all in the crowds that flocked into Libya’s squares to cheer the news of Muammar Gaddafi’s death, the ousted leader’s bloody end marked a final victory in their struggle.
“I would like to announce to our sons and daughters and to entire world the following news; the news of the end of tyranny and dictatorship in Libya that [will] never return again,” Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, the vice chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC), told reporters in Benghazi on Thursday evening.
“Our revolutionaries managed to get the head of the tyrant, who has met his fate and destiny like all dictators and tyrants.”
Ghoga’s announcement had been preceded by uncertainty. As NTC fighters in Sirte and officials in Tripoli began to tell reporters the news of Gaddafi’s capture, then of his death, memories of previous false rumours arose.
Most recently, the NTC falsely claimed that Muatassim Gaddafi, one of the leader’s sons and his former national security advisor, had been arrested in Sirte.
“My friends said, ‘Yeah, Sirte has been liberated,’ and then we heard the news about Gaddafi, we thought it was a scandal like Muatassim, so we were relaxed until lunch time,” Lutfi Ben Hamid, a computer engineer in Tripoli, told Al Jazeera. “Then we saw the pictures.”
Following second by second
At Hamid’s daughter’s school, teachers ululated in celebration. He ran back home to turn on the television and sat down to watch with his wife, an Irish woman he married while studying in the country and brought back to Libya, finally in 1992, to live.
Video of Gaddafi lying dead on the pavement, apparently shot in the head, began to spread. Crowds in Tripoli gathered in Martyrs’ Square, cargo ships in the port began to sound their horns, and NTC fighters and armed civilians began firing their weapons in the air.
“When they put the image on the TV and on the internet, I was following second by second, until that time I didn’t believe it, because it could be [done by] Photoshop, but then they showed the film,” said Younis Fenadi, a climate researcher at the Libyan National Meteorological Center. “We are celebrating it.”
After the confirmation, debate quickly began over the manner of Gaddafi’s death. Various accounts said he had been pulled from a drainage pipe, injured during a firefight involving a large convoy of cars, or hit by a NATO air strike. But video appeared to show Gaddafi being arrested by NTC fighters while alive and later lying dead, with a large wound on the side of his head.
A bloody but welcomed end
“I’m happy the way they caught him,” Hamid said. “Because I know there [are] some supporters here, and by capturing him alive, there’s even a chance for his supporters to get him.”
Fenadi, who had planned with his family to celebrate his daughter’s birthday with a picnic outdoors, found himself discussing Gaddafi’s death with her instead.
|Gaddafi’s final moments
“I was very, very happy. My daughter and wife, they preferred that they capture him and bring him to justice, but I prefer him to be killed and end this chapter of his regime in this country,” Fenadi said. “Now it will take just a few weeks and Gaddafi will be in the past.”
Fenadi said that lower-ranking members of the regime will feel more free to reveal what occurred under Gaddafi now that he is dead. He also said he wants to see Saif al-Islam, his most prominent son, and Abdullah al-Senussi, his military intelligence chief, arrested.
Still waiting for answers
In Martyrs’ Square, celebrators expressed disbelief over the fate of the man who had ruled their country for so long and whose security apparatus was ascribed nearly fearful abilities to squelch the slightest show of dissent.
“It’s better killed, if he’s captured then we will have different opinions,” one woman told Al Jazeera’s James Bays. “We don’t care about the secrets any more … as long as we get rid of him, we are free now.”
Fenadi, who was born in Tripoli in 1961, eight years before Gaddafi took power, said Libyans will in time, through recovered documents and others’ testimony, get answers to the questions over massacres and kidnapped loved ones that have plagued the country for 41 years.
“I am glad that I get a chance, I am 52 years old now, to speak freely in my country,” he said.
But some expressed concern for the future of Libya under the NTC’s main leaders, Mahmoud Jibril, the controversial NTC prime minister, and Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the NTC chairman who has promised to resign upon the declaration of liberation.
‘We need a strong government’
“I don’t like the guy, I think he’s another Gaddafi,” Hamid said, as calls from nearby mosques and the screech of celebrating cars could be heard around him. “He came out and he pretended he’s the only one smart enough to run Libya.”
Those who aspire to autocratic power in post-Gaddafi Libya would be removed just as he was, Hamid said.
Others feared continued violence in a country now heavy armed after months of conflict.
On Wednesday in the eastern Tripoli neighbourhood Tajoura, NTC fighters on pickup trucks with mounted anti-aircraft guns became involved in a chase with another man in a car who had opened fire on them, apparently fearing they were following him, according to Toshani Gabgoub, a resident who has worked for Al Jazeera.
The two sides exchanged fire, and one NTC fighter was injured.
“We need a strong government,” Gabgoub said, if there is any hope to restore calm to Libya.