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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Qaddafi Is Dead, Libyan Officials Say

On : 11:24 AM
In :
Al Jazeera television showed gruesome footage of what it said was Colonel Qaddafi, alive but wounded and bloody, being dragged around by armed men in Surt. The television also broadcast a separate clip of his half-naked corpse, with lifeless open eyes and an apparent gunshot wound to the side of the head, as jubilant fighters fired automatic weapons in the air.

The images punctuated an emphatic and violent 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."

Libyans rejoiced as news of his death spread. Car horns blared and residents poured into the streets in Tripoli and in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the rebellion against Colonel Qaddafi began in February and escalated into the most violent of the Arab Spring uprisings.

Fighters from Misurata, the port city that suffered enormously at the hands of Colonel Qaddafi’s forces during the uprising, were in possession of Colonel Qaddafi’s body and had taken it to a morgue in their hometown, foreign press photographers in Surt said. There were unconfirmed reports that they intended to display it in Misurata’s central square.

Within an hour of the news of Colonel Qaddafi’s death, the Arab twittersphere lit up with gleeful comments, many of them hinting at a similar fate awaiting other Arab dictators — most notably President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. One of them read: “Ben Ali escaped, Mubarak is in jail, Qaddafi was killed. Which fate do you prefer, Ali Abdullah Saleh? You can consult with Bashar.” Another was more direct: “Bashar al-Assad, how do you feel today?”

A popular link showed a cartoon with portraits of the five dictators — the first three with big red X’s painted over them — while below them walks an angry-looking man toting a large brush covered with red paint. Written on the man’s clothing is the word “the people,” in Arabic.

Mr. Jibril said he had no details on how Colonel Qaddafi had been killed, saying those would be provided when the government had a clearer picture of the chaotic events. But Mr. Jibril said he was confident that he had not been killed by NATO warplanes — one of several rumors flying as news of Colonel Qaddafi’s death was first reported.

In a statement from NATO’s Libya operations headquarters in Naples, Italy, Col. Roland Lavoie, a NATO spokesman, confirmed that its aircraft had struck two armed Libyan military vehicles near Surt but that NATO officers had no idea who may have been in them. “It is not NATO policy to target specific individuals,” he said.

Mohamed Benrasali, a member of the national council’s Tripoli Stabilization Committee, gave a differing account of Colonel Qaddafi’s end, saying that fighters from Misurata who were deployed in Surt told him that Colonel Qaddafi was captured alive in a car leaving Surt. He was badly injured, with wounds in his head and both legs, Mr. Benrasali said, and died soon after.

Al Jazeera quoted an unidentified official of the Transitional National Council as saying Mussa Ibrahim, the former spokesman of Colonel Qaddafi, had been captured near Surt.

Colonel Qaddafi had defied repeated attempts to corner and capture him, taunting his enemies with audio broadcasts denouncing the rebel forces that felled him as stooges of NATO, which has conducted a bombing campaign against his military during the uprising under the auspices of a Security Council mandate to protect Libyan civilians.

Colonel Qaddafi’s ability to have remained at large for so long had clearly vexed the Transitional National Council, and even with his death on Thursday it was unclear whether he had been deliberately targeted or simply found by accident. Since the fall of Tripoli, American military and intelligence officials have sought to help the post-Qaddafi leaders find him but had little hard information on his possible whereabouts.

Libya’s new leaders themselves had said they believed that some Qaddafi family members, including the colonel and some of his sons, had been hiding in Surt or in Bani Walid, another loyalist bastion that the anti-Qaddafi forces captured earlier this week.

The Obama administration, a major supporter of the rebel forces that ousted Colonel Qaddafi, was cautious in its reaction, apparently awaiting irrefutable proof of his death. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, asked about it during a trip to Pakistan, said: "If the reports are true, I think it offers a new opportunity for Libya to move forward to the future.”

At the European Union headquarters in Brussels, President Herman Van Rompuy said Colonel Qaddafi’s death “marks the end of an era of despotism,” Agence France-Presse reported.

Officials of the post-Qaddafi government had said that the death or capture of Colonel Qaddafi would allow them to declare the country liberated and in control of its borders, and to start a process that would lead to a general election for a national council within eight months.

Libyan fighters said earlier on Thursday that they had routed the last remaining forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi from Surt, ending weeks of fierce fighting in that Mediterranean enclave east of Tripoli.

A military spokesman for the interim government, Abdel Rahman Busin, said, “Surt is fully liberated.”

The battle for Surt was supposed to have been a postscript to the Libyan conflict, but for weeks soldiers loyal to Colonel Qaddafi fiercely defended the city, first weathering NATO airstrikes and then repeated assaults by anti-Qaddafi fighters. Former rebel leaders were caught off guard by the depth of the divisions in western Libya, where the colonel’s policy of playing favorites and stoking rivalries has resulted in a series of violent confrontations.

Surt emerged as the stage for one of the war’s bloodiest fights, killing and injuring scores on both sides, decimating the city and leading to fears that the weak transitional leaders would not be able to unify the country.

The battle turned nearly two weeks ago, when the anti-Qaddafi fighters laid siege to an enormous convention center that the pro-Qaddafi troops had used as a base.

The interim leaders had claimed that the ongoing fighting had prevented them from focusing on other pressing concerns, including the proliferation of armed militias that answered to no central authority.


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