Qaddafi dead after Sirte battle, PM confirms
Libyan fighters captured Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown and the last bastion of loyalist resistance, earlier Thursday. Shortly after, reports of Qaddafi’s capture and subsequent death began to swirl.
Past reports of Qaddafi deaths or captures had proven incorrect, but multiple Libyan officials confirmed the news.
“Our people in Sirte saw the body,” Shammam told The Associated Press. “Revolutionaries say Qaddafi was in a convoy and that they attacked the convoy.”
Al-Jazeera TV showed footage of a man resembling Qaddafi lying dead or severely wounded, bleeding from the head and stripped to the waist as fighters rolled him over on the pavement.
Imad Moustaf, a rebel fighter who said he witnessed Qaddafi’s death, told GlobalPost’s James Foley that Qaddafi was shot in the head and near his heart on the outskirts of Sirte. Moustaf said the former leader had been hiding in a hole surrounded by bodyguards.
Another fighter told the BBC that Qaddafi yelled out “don’t shoot” after being discovered.
According to the Telegraph’s Ben Farmer, who has been to the site in Sirte where Qaddafi was allegedly found, Qaddafi and his bodyguards had taken refuge in a drain after their convoy was struck by a NATO airstrike and were discovered there by TNC fighters.
NATO did acknowledge it hit a convoy of Qaddafi’s loyalists fleeing Sirte on Thursday morning but it could not confirm whether the ousted Libyan leader was in the convoy or possibly killed or captured.
The White House, U.S. State Department and Pentagon could not initially confirm the reports, but a U.S. official said Libyan officials informed them of the news later Thursday.
In Tripoli, reporter Kitty Logan said on CBS’ “The Early Show” that Libyans are honking their horns and firing guns into the air in celebration of Qaddafi’s death.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking from Afghanistan, told CBS News correspondent Whit Johnson that the capture Qaddafi would be a significant development in Libya if it proves true, but also said she did not expect his capture would end the fighting there.
The ecstatic former rebels celebrated the fall of Sirte after weeks of bloody siege by firing endless rounds into the sky, pumping their guns, knives and even a meat cleaver in the air and singing the national anthem.
In the central quarter where Thursday’s final battle took place, the fighters looking like the same ragtag force that started the uprising eight months ago jumped up and down with joy and flashed V-for-victory signs. Some burned the green Qaddafi flag, then stepped on it with their boots.
They chanted “Allah akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic, while one fighter climbed a traffic light pole to unfurl the revolution’s flag, which he first kissed. Discarded military uniforms of Qaddafi’s fighters littered the streets. One revolutionary fighter waved a silver trophy in the air while another held up a box of firecrackers, then set them off.
“Our forces control the last neighborhood in Sirte,” Hassan Draoua, a member of Libya’s interim Transitional National Council, told The Associated Press in Tripoli. “The city has been liberated.”
Despite the fall of Tripoli on Aug. 21, Qaddafi loyalists mounted fierce resistance in several areas, including Sirte, preventing Libya’s new leaders from declaring full victory in the eight-month civil war. Earlier this week, revolutionary fighters gained control of one stronghold, Bani Walid, and by Tuesday said they had squeezed Qaddafi’s forces in Sirte into a residential area of about 700 square yards but were still coming under heavy fire from surrounding buildings.
Reporters at the scene watched as the final assault began around 8 a.m. and ended about 90 minutes later. Just before the battle, about five carloads of Qaddafi loyalists tried to flee the enclave down the coastal highway that leads out of the city. But they were met by gunfire from the revolutionaries, who killed at least 20 of them.
After the battle, revolutionaries began searching homes and buildings looking for any hiding Qaddafi fighters. At least 16 were captured, along with cases of ammunition and trucks loaded with weapons. Reporters saw revolutionaries beating captured Qaddafi men in the back of trucks and officers intervening to stop them.
Deputy Defense Minister Fawzi Abu Katif on Wednesday told the AP that authorities still believe Qaddafi’s son Muatassim is among the ex-regime figures holed up in the diminishing area in Sirte. He was not seen on the ground after the final battle on Thursday.
In an illustration of how difficult and slow the fighting for Sirte was, it took the anti-Qaddafi fighters, who also faced disorganization in their own ranks, two days to capture a single residential building.
Qaddafi loyalists who have escaped could still continue the fight and attempt to organize an insurgency using the vast amount of weapons Qaddafi was believed to have stored in hideouts in the remote southern desert.
Unlike Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi had no well-organized political party that could form the basis of an insurgent leadership. However, regional and ethnic differences have already appeared among the ranks of the revolutionaries, possibly laying the foundation for civil strife.
Qaddafi has issued several audio recordings trying to rally supporters. Libyan officials have said they believe he’s hiding somewhere in the vast southwestern desert near the borders with Niger and Algeria.