Muammar Gaddafi has been killed after National Transitional Council fighters overran loyalist defences in the toppled Libyan leader’s hometown and final stronghold of Sirte.
But questions remained on Thursday over the circumstances of Gaddafi’s death as footage appeared to show he had been captured alive, following an apparent attempt to flee the besieged coastal city in a convoy which came under fire from French warplanes and a US drone aircraft.
Other footage showed Gaddafi’s lifeless and bloodied body being dragged along a road.
“We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Muammar Gaddafi has been killed,” Mahmoud Jibril, the de facto Libyan prime minister, told reporters on Thursday in Tripoli, the capital.
Asked what would be done with Gaddafi’s body, he said: “It doesn’t make any difference, as long as he disappears”.
Jibril said Gaddafi had been shot in the head “in crossfire” between his supporters and NTC fighters after his capture.
“He was alive up to last moment, until he arrived at hospital” in the city of Misrata, Jibril said.
After his death, Gaddafi’s body was reportedly transferred to a mosque in the city.
Crowds took to the streets of Sirte, Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi, the eastern city that spearheaded the uprising against Gaddafi’s 42-year rule in February, to celebrate the news, with some firing guns and waving Libya’s new flag.
“I’m so proud now,” a Tripoli resident told Al Jazeera.”It’s a new era. Look to our eyes and you’ll see happiness, finally”.
One of Gaddafi’s sons, Mutassim, was also killed on Thursday, having been hiding with his father, Mahmoud Shammam, Libya’s information minister said. Earlier reports had suggested that he had been captured alive but injured.
News of Gaddafi’s death, weeks after NTC fighters effectively ended his four-decades rule by capturing Tripoli, came shortly after the NTC captured Sirte after weeks of fierce fighting.
|Mutassim Gaddafi at the White House in 2009 [Getty]|
Fighters flashing V for victory took to the streets in pick-ups blaring out patriotic music.
“Thank God they have caught this person. In one hour, Sirte was liberated,” a fighter said.
Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley, reporting from Sirte, said Libyans there were celebrating the beginning of a “new Libya”.
“This is bringing a form of closure,” he said. “Gaddafi stayed true to his words, that he would stay in Libya till the end.
“It was surprising to many that he did actually stay here in Sirte – it’s taken such a bombardment in the last 13 days. Nothing could survive in here for very long. I think they were starved of food, starved of ammunition, and finally there was nothing to do but to run”.
French ‘warning shot’
Gerard Longuet, France’s defence minister, said French warplanes had fired a warning shot to stop a convoy of vehicles carrying Gaddafi before he was killed.
The convoy of several dozen vehicles “was stopped from progressing as it sought to flee Sirte but was not destroyed by the French intervention,” Longuet told reporters.
Libyan fighters then intervened, destroying the vehicles, from which “they took out Colonel Gaddafi,” he said.
The NTC’s Mahmoud Jibril on Gaddafi’s death
A US defence official told AFP news agency that a US drone along with a French fighter jet had attacked a convoy of vehicles in Libya that the French believed was carrying Gaddafi.
In Tripoli, Jibril said he had received unconfirmed reports that Gaddafi’s most prominent son, Saif al-Islam, was trying to flee from Sirte but had been tracked down by NTC fighters who were attacking his convoy. Later reports suggested that Saif had been injured and arrested.
Footage had emerged earlier in the day of the body of Abu Bakr Younus, Gaddafi’s defence minister, who also died in what would become the last stand of the regime he served.
Abdul Hakim Al Jalil, commander of the NTC’s 11th brigade, said that Moussa Ibrahim, the former spokesman for Gaddafi’s fallen government, had been captured near Sirte. Ahmed Ibrahim, a cousin of Gaddafi, was also reportedly captured.
Reaction from world leaders was swift, US President Barack Obama saying that the Libyan people had won their revolution.
“Across the Arab world, citizens have stood up to claim their rights,” he said. “Youth are delivering a powerful rebuke to dictatorship. And those leaders who try to deny their dignity will not succeed.
“For the region, today’s events prove once more that the rule of an iron fist inevitably comes to an end.”
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said Gaddafi’s death marked “a historic transition for Libya”.
“In the coming days, we will witness scenes of celebration as well as grief for those who lost so much,” Ban said in New York. “Now is the time for all Libyans to come together. Libyans can only realise the promise of the future for national unity and reconciliation.”
NATO officials said the alliance’s governing body would meet on Friday to decide to end the seven-month bombing campaign over Libya.
“NATO and our partners have successfully implemented the historic mandate of the United Nations to protect the people of Libya,” Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement.
“We will terminate our mission in co-ordination with the United Nations and the National Transitional Council. With the reported fall of Bani Walid and Sirte, that moment has now moved much closer”.