Moammar Gadhafi was killed by the Libyan fighters he once scorned as “rats,” cornered, beaten and then shot in the head after his chaotic capture by fighters who overran his last redoubt on Thursday in his hometown of Sirte.
Two months after Western-backed rebels ended 42 years of eccentric, often bloody one-man rule by capturing the capital of Tripoli, Gadhafi’s death and the fall of the final bastion ended a period of uncertainty for the new interim government, which is now set to declare formal “liberation.”
President Barack Obama, in a veiled dig at the Syrian and other leaders resisting the democrats of the Arab Spring, declared, “The rule of an iron fist inevitably comes to an end.”
But confusion over Gadhafi’s death was a reminder of the challenge for Libyans to now summon order out of the armed chaos that is the legacy of eight months of grinding conflict.
The killing or capture of senior aides, including possibly two sons, as an armored convoy braved NATO airstrikes in a desperate bid to break out of Sirte may ease fears of diehards regrouping elsewhere.
Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, reading what he said was a post-mortem report, said Gadhafi was hauled unresisting from a “sewage pipe.” He was then shot in the arm — it was not clear by whom — and put in a truck that was “caught in crossfire” as it ferried the 69-year-old to a hospital.
“He was hit by a bullet in the head,” Jibril said, adding it was unclear which side had fired the fatal shot.
A quick, secret burial was planned, officials said.
“It’s time to start a new Libya, a united Libya,” Jibril declared. “One people, one future.”
An announcement of “liberation” — the signal for the start of a transition to elections — was expected on Saturday. The new rulers face the challenge of turning Libya, whose oil wealth was monopolized by Gadhafi, into a democracy while healing the array of tribal and ethnic divisions he exploited.
The eight weeks since the fall of Tripoli has tested the nerves of the motley alliance of anti-Gadhafi forces and their Western and Arab backers, who had begun to question the ability of the NTC forces to root out diehard Gadhafi loyalists in Sirte and a couple of other towns.