End of a Tyrant: As Word Of Gaddafi's Death Spread, the
Cheers Rang Out
By David Usborne, Kim Sengupta, Portia Walker, Cahal
Milmo and Richard Hall
Friday, 21 October 2011
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
After the stunning rumours yesterday 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 hole in
A senior Libyan official said DNA tests were being
carried out to confirm the body was his. The National
Transitional Council later issued a statement saying the
ex-dictator had not been executed but had perished in
crossfire. If Gaddafi died like a dog in a gutter, most
in Libya were not 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
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. 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 NTC 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 in the early morning but were hit by Nato air
strikes carried out by French warplanes at around 8.30am
local time. A US surveillance drone is also reported to
have fired a missile at the convoy. Fifteen pick-up
trucks mounted with heavy machine guns were destroyed in
the strike, leaving some 50 bodies strewn across the
grass where they were hit.
Gaddafi fled into a copse of trees and hid with
bodyguards in a concrete culvert under a nearby highway.
A group of fighters gave chase.
"At first we fired at them with anti-aircraft guns, but
it was no use," said Salem Bakeer, while being feted by
his comrades near the road. "Then we went in on foot.
One of Gaddafi's men came out waving his rifle in the
air and shouting 'surrender', but as soon as he saw my
face he started shooting at me," he told Reuters.
"Then I think Gaddafi must have told them to stop. 'My
master is here, my master is here,' he said. 'Muammar
Gaddafi is here and he is wounded'," Bakeer said.
The former Libyan leader was then dragged out and placed
on to the truck from which he would later be dragged.
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
convoy 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
Gaddafi's bodyguards, cornered and threatened with
execution, who 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 in the skies over
Libya. One official suggested that a "phasing-out" 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 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, David
Cameron said it was a day to remember all of Gaddafi's
victims, a reference to the Libyan people and to the
victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing in 1988.
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 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
country's people directly with the words: "You have won
News of Gaddafi's grisly end brought instant joy to
families of the Pan Am victims. "I hope he's in hell
with Hitler," said Kathy Tedeschi, who lost her husband,
Bill Daniels, in the bombing. "I saw it on the TV... I
just can't stop crying, I am so thrilled," said Mrs
Tedeschi, 62, who had three children with Mr 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 Gaddafi's death.
The death of Gaddafi and the end of hostilities in Sirte
mean Libya's interim government can declare the country
fully liberated and start preparations for elections.
"It's a great victory for us," 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 it
was unlikely pro-Gaddafi fighters would continue to
resist. "They were fighting for him [Gaddafi]. There's
no reason for them to fight any more," he said.
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