Libya’s National Transitional Council has buried deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi, his son Mutassim and a former aide at a secret location in the desert, sources tell Al Jazeera.
One of the slain strongman’s nephews read a prayer at the dawn ceremony outside the city of Misurata, where the bodies had been kept in a freezer for four days of public viewing, according to the Associated Press news agency.
Al Jazeera’s Hoda Hamid, reporting from Misurata, said that Gaddafi’s tribe had asked for the bodies to be delivered to them and to be buried in Sirte, the former leader’s hometown, in accordance with his will. The NTC refused the request.
Fighters from Misurata, which endured the bloodiest urban fighting of the war while under siege by Gaddafi’s troops between February and May, took Gaddafi’s body with them after capturing and killing him in Sirte on October 20.
“The NTC did not want the grave to become a shrine, so tribe members were allowed to pray over the body before it was buried, and then NTC commanders took his body into the unknown location in the desert and buried it,” Hamid said.
The burial is said to have taken place at 5am local time.
Our correspondent said that one of the reasons for the burial was that the body had started to decompose as a result of the door constantly being opened to allow visitors to view the body.
Son at large
While many Libyan civilians and NTC fighters welcomed Gaddafi’s violent death under murky circumstances as a final moment of closure to their revolution, at least one prominent member of the former ruling family remains at large.
Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi’s most prominent son, was reportedly poised to flee into Niger along with Gaddafi’s former intelligence chief on Tuesday afternoon, according to a local Tuareg official from northern Niger’s Agadez region who spoke with the AFP news agency.
“It appears he is being escorted by former Tuareg fighters, but I am not yet able to confirm this,” the man said, on condition of anonymity. Tuareg tribesmen have previously fought as mercenaries for the Gaddafi regime.
Both Saif and Senussi are wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court for orders they gave during the regime’s crackdown against protesters beginning in February.
Ali Tarhouni, the NTC oil and finance minister, told reporters in Benghazi that Saif no longer threatened Libya.
“Saif al-Islam is not a threat. His father, his army, his mercenaries have been conquered,” Tarhouni said. “I don’t know where he is.”
Saadi Gaddafi, another prominent son, has already fled into Niger along with three generals and Mansour Dao, Gaddafi’s former chief of personal bodyguards. Niger officials say they are under surveillance.
NATO’s waning role
Even as Gaddafi, the ultimate target of the Libyan revolution, was laid to rest, the fate of the crucial NATO air campaign that enabled the success of the uprising remained uncertain.
NATO has said it would like to wind down the surveillance and bombing missions by the end of October, but on Tuesday, Tarhouni asked the alliance to continue its mission for another month.
Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, told reporters during a visit to Japan that the future US military role in Libya would hinge on NATO and the result of discussions within the alliance.
The United States’ primary concerns in the country now were providing medical relief and controlling the spread of loose weapons, he said.
Libya’s new leadership is also dogged by questions of abuse and due process.
New York-based Human Rights Watch on Tuesday warned of a “trend of killings, looting and other abuses” by those who had fought against Gaddafi.
The organisation said it had found 53 decomposing bodies, apparently Gaddafi loyalists, in Sirte, and that there were indications they may have been executed by revolutionary forces.
The announcement comes amid questions over the deaths of Gaddafi and his son Mutassim, who were filmed alive, though wounded, before they died.
Gaddafi appeared dazed and was bleeding from the head immediately after his capture, and an autopsy determined that his cause of death was a gunshot to the head. No autopsy was performed on Mutassi, who was filmed reclining with a bottle of water and smoking a cigarette.
Under international pressure, the NTC has said it will investigate the deaths, but the opposition has previously failed to investigate other apparent abuses, or the assassination of former rebel military chief Abdel Fattah Younis.
The 53 bodies were found on the lawn of the abandoned Mahari hotel, and some had their hands bound.
Peter Bouckaert, a researcher for HRW, said the hotel had been under the control of NTC fighters from Misrata before the killings took place.
The condition of the bodies suggested that the men had been killed between October 15 and 19, the group said.
The US state department termed the report “extremely disturbing”.
Gene Cretz, the US ambassador to Libya, had “raised it with the National Transitional Council today and asked them to conduct a full investigation”, according to a state department spokesperson.