Gaddafi was shot in the head during an exchange of gunfire between his supporters and revolutionaries as he was being whisked away from the tunnel in a truck, according to Mahmoud Jibril, the interim prime minister. But cellphone videos played on Arab-language TV stations showed an already bloodied and dazed Gaddafi being escorted to the truck, raising questions about exactly when he was hit. One of Gaddafi’s sons, Mutassim, and his army chief of staff were also killed, officials said.
The taking of Sirte and Gaddafi’s death marked the climax of a war that was backed by an unprecedented NATO air campaign aimed at protecting civilians. Thursday’s events clear the way for the appointment of a temporary government that is to steer the country toward elections.
Gaddafi, thought to be 69 when he died, ruled the country for 42 years, and he had vowed to fight to the death in Libya rather than concede defeat to a popular uprising. He was a brutal, and often unpredictable, autocrat and led this oil-rich nation virtually single-handedly, banning opposition parties and a free press and mandating study of his “Green Book,” which prescribed a supposed rule by the masses.
Gaddafi was the first leader to be killed in the Arab Spring uprisings, and photos of his blood-smeared face quickly spread across the region, sending a powerful message to both dictators and demonstrators elsewhere, much like photos of former Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak being hauled before a court.
Libya erupted in joy as word of his capture and death flashed across Arab-language channels. In Tripoli, celebratory gunfire was so heavy that airspace over the city was closed to traffic.
“This is the moment we were fighting for. Finally we got rid of the dictator!” exclaimed Sharif Hakim, 37, who wore the camouflage uniform of the revolutionaries and joined a singing, dancing crowd in downtown Tripoli.
Jibril said Gaddafi was not slain upon capture. Officials and fighters in Sirte, however, gave varying details during the day of how the killing occurred.
Fighters on the ground told Reuters that Gaddafi and a handful of his men appeared to run from their convoy after the NATO bombing and take shelter in two drainage pipes.
“At first we fired at them with antiaircraft guns, but it was no use,” Salem Bakeer said while being feted by his comrades near the road. “Then we went in on foot.”