Moammar Gadhafi, who ruled Libya with a dictatorial grip for 42 years until he was ousted by rebels in a bloody civil war, was killed Thursday when revolutionary forces overwhelmed his hometown, Sirte, the last major bastion of resistance two months after the regime fell.
Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril confirmed Gadhafi had been killed. “We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Moammar Gadhafi has been killed,” Jibril told a news conference in the capital Tripoli.
Initial reports from fighters said Gadhafi had been holed up with the last of his fighters in the furious battle with revolutionary fighters assaulting the last few buildings they held in his Mediterranean coastal hometown of Sirte. At one point, a convoy tried to flee the area and was blasted by NATO airstrikes, though it was not clear if Gadhafi was in the vehicle.
Al-Jazeera TV showed footage of a man resembling the 69-year-old Gadhafi lying dead or severely wounded, bleeding from the head and stripped to the waist as fighters rolled him over on the pavement. Witnesses said his body was put on display in the nearby city of Misrata.
Celebratory gunfire and cries of “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great” rang out across the capital Tripoli as the reports spread. Cars honked their horns and people hugged each other. In Sirte, the ecstatic former rebels celebrated the city’s fall 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.
Libya’s new leaders had said they would declare the country’s “liberation” after the fall of Sirte. The death or capture of Gadhafi adds greater solidity to that declaration.
It rules out a scenario that some had feared — that he might flee deeper into Libya’s southern deserts and lead a resistance campaign against Libya’s rulers. The fate of two of his sons, Seif al-Islam and Muatassim, as well as some top figures of his regime remains unknown, but their ability to rally loyalists would be deeply undermined with Gadhafi’s loss.
Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam said he was told that Gadhafi was dead from fighters who said they saw the body.
“Our people in Sirte saw the body,” Shammam told The Associated Press. “Revolutionaries say Gadhafi was in a convoy and that they attacked the convoy.” He said the government head, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, would officially confirm the death, but it was not clear when. Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, the number two in the administration, called a press conference for 4 p.m. local time (10 a.m EDT)
Sirte’s fall caps weeks of heavy, street-by-street fighting as revolutionary fighters besieged the Mediterranean coastal city. Despite the fall of Tripoli on Aug. 21, Gadhafi 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.
By Tuesday, fighters said they had squeezed Gadhafi’s forces in Sirte into a residential area of about 700 square yards but were still coming under heavy fire from surrounding buildings.
In an illustration of how heavy the fighting has been, it took the anti-Gadhafi fighters two days to capture a single residential building.
Reporters at the scene watched as the final assault began around 8 a.m. Thursday and ended about 90 minutes later. Just before the battle, about five carloads of Gadhafi 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.