A revolutionary fighter celebrates in the captured town of Sirte,...

A revolutionary fighter celebrates in the captured town of Sirte, Libya. (Oct. 20, 2011) Credit: AP

Former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was killed in rebel custody Thursday after being seized in a sewage tunnel in his hometown, the final triumph for pro-democracy fighters who have struggled for eight months to take control of the country.

Gadhafi's death came on a day of intense military activity in Sirte, the last loyalist holdout in Libya, where his supporters had fended off better-armed revolutionaries for weeks. Before his capture, an American drone and French fighter jets fired on a large, disorganized convoy leaving the city.

It was not clear whether the airstrikes hit Gadhafi's vehicles, NATO officials said.

Gadhafi was shot in the head during a gun battle between his supporters and revolutionaries as he was being whisked away, according to Mahmoud Jibril, the interim prime minister.

But cellphone videos played on Arab-language TV stations showed an already bloodied and dazed Gadhafi being escorted to the truck, raising questions about exactly when he was hit. One of Gadhafi's sons, Mutassim, and his army chief of staff were also slain, officials said.

The taking of Sirte and Gadhafi's death marked the climax of a war that was backed by an unprecedented NATO air campaign aimed at protecting civilians.

Thursday's events clear the way for the appointment of a temporary government that is to steer the country toward elections.

Gadhafi, thought to be 69 when he died, ruled the country for 42 years, and he had vowed to fight to the death in Libya rather than concede defeat to a popular uprising.

Gadhafi was the first leader to be killed in the Arab Spring uprisings, and photos of his blood-smeared face quickly spread across the region, sending a powerful message to both dictators and demonstrators elsewhere, much like photos of former Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak being hauled before a court.

Libya erupted in joy as word of his capture and death flashed across Arab-language channels. In Tripoli, celebratory gunfire was so heavy that airspace over the city was closed to traffic.

"This is the moment we were fighting for. Finally we got rid of the dictator!" exclaimed Sharif Hakim, 37, who wore the camouflage uniform of the revolutionaries and joined a singing, dancing crowd in downtown Tripoli.

Gadhafi's reign ended in late August, when revolutionaries flooded the capital.

Now, the question is whether forces united in their hatred of Gadhafi can come together and govern a country that has never known democracy.

"The challenge was, and still is, to regain security in the cities," which are effectively under the control of local militias and awash in arms, Jibril said.

Gadhafi's body was at a mosque in the city of Misrata, west of Sirte. He will be buried in an undisclosed location, officials said.

Latest videos


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months