Libyan government fighters celebrated after routing the last remaining forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from the coastal town of Surt on Thursday. More Photos »
TRIPOLI, Libya — Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the former Libyan strongman who fled into hiding after rebels toppled his regime two months ago in the Arab Spring’s most tumultuous uprising, was killed Thursday as fighters battling the vestiges of his loyalist forces wrested control of his hometown of Surt, the interim government announced.
Al Jazeera television showed what it said was Colonel Qaddafi’s half-naked corpse lying on the ground in Surt, with a bloodied face, 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 in Tripoli and in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the rebellion against Colonel Qaddafi began in February, as residents poured into the streets to celebrate.
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.
Mr. Jibril said he had no details on how Colonel Qaddafi had been killed, asserting that “we’ll give you the final details when they are ready.” But Mr. Jibril said he was confident that the cause of death was not from an airstrike by warplanes of NATO — 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 did not know who may have been in them, leaving open the possibility that the occupants may have included Colonel Qaddafi. “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.
There were unconfirmed reports that one of Colonel Qaddafi’s feared sons, Muatassim, had been captured or killed with his father. The whereabouts of another son, Seif al-Islam, who has also been on the run since the fall of Tripoli, remained unclear.
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.
Kareem Fahim reported from Tripoli and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Steven Lee Myers from Kabul, Afghanistan, Mauricio Lima from Surt, Libya, J. David Goodman from New York, and Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti from Washington.