IN THE end the death of Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator who had seemed to slip from the grasp of the rebels who forced him out of power, was as undignified and brutal as those of so many of his enemies over the years.
After the stunning rumours yesterday that he had been captured spiralled into the news that he had been killed, video footage surfaced that showed him being dragged, bloodied but alive, from a truck and into a murderous throng. He did not emerge.
Later footage showed his lifeless body in a pool of blood on the pavement, apparently with a bullet wound to the temple. A senior Libyan official said DNA tests were being carried out to confirm the body was his.
If Gaddafi was killed like a dog in a gutter, few in Libya were grieving. "We confirm that all the evils, plus Gaddafi, have vanished from this beloved country," the Prime Minister, Mahmoud Jibril, declared in Tripoli, attempting to put a lid on the uncertainty surrounding the news that had already been rumoured so many times before.
"It's time to start a new Libya, a united Libya," Mr Jibril added. "One people, one future."
The sense of a transformative day was augmented by the news that Gaddafi's Defence Minister, Abu Bakr Yunis, had also been killed, and claims of the death of the dictator's son Mo'tassim Gaddafi. Another son, Saif al-Islam - once the regime's most visible face of defiance and his father's heir - was also rumoured to be dead, though there were other claims he had been captured or cornered. Although many competing narratives emerged, it was at least possible to say last night that the chain of events leading to his death began when Western intelligence intercepted communications that suggested he was in Sirte. Defence sources yesterday told The Independent that TNC fighters had focused all their energies on penetrating the stronghold after they were informed of the communications between commanders of the remnants of the regime forces.
Most versions of events agreed that Gaddafi and his supporters attempted to flee the city in an 80-vehicle convoy but were hit by Nato airstrikes carried out by French warplanes. Then revolutionary fighters moved in on Gaddafiis vehicle, reportedly finding him wounded, by early accounts in both legs. As they approached, Misrata military council spokesman Fathi Bashaga told the Associated Press agency that the deposed dictator asked: 'What do you want?'
Western officials insist that the Nato missions, which included RAF reconnaissance aircraft, were not directly responsible for the death of the former dictator. But the decision to carry out the air strikes on the fleeing loyalist forces was the result of a change in policy by Nato in response to the intercepted communications.
Previously the Western forces had avoided such attacks because such targets were seen as posing no immediate threat. According to some NTC sources, it was some of Gaddafiis bodyguards, cornered and threatened with execution, who had revealed his whereabouts.
In Brussels, Nato hinted that the death of Gaddafi could signal the beginning of a winding down of the international military operation over the skies of Libya. One official suggested that a iphasing outi of operations could begin in the coming weeks. The official said: "Today's events will prompt the military chain of command to make a new assessment... If the decision is to end operations, it will be done through a gradual phasing out. Military operations are very rarely terminated. One takes the time to be absolutely sure that the fire is out."
When questioned on the role British forces will play in Libya now that Gaddafi has been killed, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "We have to let the dust settle and see what happens with any remaining Gaddafi loyalists. Our part in Nato operations will continue until they are no longer required."
The final spasms of the violence in Sirte were relayed to a stunned nation and to rapt television viewers around the world. Mobile phone video footage was played on news channels globally, apparently taken by a rebel fighter, showing the bloodied and stripped corpse of Gaddafi being tumbled in a sheet. He was 69 years old and had ruled for 42 years.
While euphoria exploded on the streets of Tripoli and other Libyan cities, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said it was a day to remember all of Gaddafiis victims, a reference to the Libyan people and to the victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing.
He added: "People in Libya today have an even greater chance after this news of building themselves a strong and democratic future."
The elimination of Gaddafi from Libyais future also meant a pre-election boost for President Barack Obama after a long summer with scant sign that the rebels would prevail. Speaking at the White House last night, he said that a dark shadow had been lifted. "This is a momentous day in the history of Libya," he said, before addressing the countryis people directly with the words: "You have won your revolution."
News of Gaddafiis grizzly end bought instant joy to families of the Pan Am victims. "I hope heis in hell with Hitler," said Kathy Tedeschi, who lost her husband, Bill Daniels, in the bombing.
"I saw it on the TVO I just can't stop crying, I am so thrilled," said Mrs Tedeschi, 62, who had three children with Daniels. "I am sure [Gaddafi] was the one who pushed to have this done, the bombing."
Amnesty International, on the other hand, called for an inquiry into the manner of Gaddafiis death.
A former fishing village that Gaddafi had made a showpiece, Sirte was home to some of the former leaderis most ardent supporters who had continued to hold out against revolutionary forces. Yet many in Libya were surprised that it became his last hiding place and had long suspected he had either fled the country or was hiding out in the remote desert regions in the south, near the borders with Algeria and Niger.
The death of Gaddafi and the end of hostilities in Sirte mean that Libyais interim government can announce the country fully liberated and start preparations for elections. iItis a great victory for usi, said NTC military spokesman, Abdul Rahman Busin. "Sirte has officially fallen, which means the liberation of Libya can be announced in the next 24 to 48 hours."
Mr Busin said that it was unlikely that pro-Gaddafi fighters would continue to resist without their former leader.
"They were fighting for him [Gaddafi]. Thereis no reason for them to fight any more", he said.
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