MISURATA, Libya — Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the former Libyan strongman who fled into hiding after an armed uprising toppled his regime two months ago, met a violent death Thursday in the hands of rebel fighters who stormed his final stronghold in Surt, his Mediterranean home town. At least one of his sons was also killed.
Al Jazeera television showed footage of Colonel Qaddafi, bloodied but still alive, as he was dragged around by armed men in Surt. The network also broadcast a separate clip of his upper body, partly stripped, with eyes staring vacantly and an apparent gunshot wound to the head, as jubilant fighters fired automatic weapons in the air. A third video, posted on Youtube, showed excited fighters hovering around his lifeless-looking body, posing for photographs and yanking his limp head up and down by the hair.
Colonel Qaddafi’s body was seized by a brigade of Misurata-based fighters who had been fighting in Surt. They brought it to this port city in an ambulance and placed it in a private house. The local authorities had it moved to another house after a few hours, as hundreds of jubilant residents converged outside.
A reporter accompanying Ali Tarhouni, a deputy chairman of the Transitional National Council who went to view the body, saw Colonel Qaddafi splayed out on a mattress in a reception room, shirtless, with bullet wounds in the chest and temple and with blood on the arms and hair. Three medical officials arrived, presumably to conduct an autopsy.
Conflicting accounts quickly emerged about whether Colonel Qaddafi was executed by his captors or died from gunshot wounds sustained in a firefight. But the images broadcast by Al Jazeera punctuated an emphatic and gruesome ending to his four decades as a ruthless and bombastic autocrat who had basked in his reputation as the self-styled king of kings of Africa.
“We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Muammar Qaddafi has been killed,” Mahmoud Jibril, the prime minister of the Transitional National Council, the interim government, told a news conference in Tripoli. Mahmoud Shammam, the council’s chief spokesman, called it “the day of real liberation. We were serious about giving him a fair trial. It seems God has some other wish.”
Libyan television also reported that one of Colonel Qaddafi’s feared sons, Muatassim, was killed in Surt on Thursday, and broadcast images of what it said was Muatassim’s bloodstained corpse on a hospital gurney. There were also unconfirmed accounts that another son, Seif al-Islam, had been captured and possibly wounded.
Officials of the Transitional National Council told reporters late on Thursday that Colonel Qaddafi had been killed in a crossfire, when a gunfight erupted between his captors and his supporters in Surt — making the argument that he was not killed intentionally. Forensics experts outside Libya who viewed photographs of the body said the wounds appeared to have been caused by handgun fire at close range, and not higher-velocity assault-rifle fire from a distance.
In Washington, President Obama said in a televised statement that the death of Colonel Qaddafi signaled the start of a new chapter for Libya. “We can definitely say that the Qaddafi regime has come to an end,” he said. “The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted and with this enormous promise the Libyan people now have a great responsibility to build an inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya that stands as the ultimate rebuke to Qaddafi’s dictatorship.”
Libyans rejoiced throughout the day as news of Colonel Qaddafi’s death spread. Car horns blared and residents poured into the streets in giddy disbelief in Tripoli, Misurata and in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the rebellion against Colonel Qaddafi began in February and where it escalated into the most violent of the Arab Spring uprisings.
“I can’t believe it’s over,” said Tahir Busrewil, a 26 year-old tourist-industry worker in Tripoli who was imprisoned and tortured earlier this year, and who spent the past few weeks working with a militia to detain pro-Qaddafi loyalists. “Oh the relief! I never felt that happy about somebody being dead.”
Walid Fakany, an anti-Qaddafi fighter from the Western mountain town of Rujban who joined in the celebrations in Tripoli, said: “We can breathe, we can finally rest. Then we can move forward.”
Holly Pickett, a freelance photojournalist working in Surt, reported in a Twitter feed that she had seen Colonel Qaddafi’s body in an ambulance headed for Misurata, and that 10 fighters were in the vehicle with the body. It was unclear from her posting whether he was dead at that point. “From the side door, I could see a bare chest with bullet wound and a bloody hand. He was wearing gold-colored pants,” she tweeted.
Reupublished from: http://www.nytimes.com