Has Moammar Qaddafi finally been found? Libyan television stations have been broadcasting the news of his capture for a little while, and celebrations have erupted in Tripoli and elsewhere:
Former Libyan minister of information Ali Errishi tells Al Jazeera that top officials in the National Transitional Council have confirmed Gadhafi’s capture.
The Reuters reports says that Gadhafi was wounded in both legs.
Al Jazeera quotes an NTC official as saying only that a “high-profile target” has been captured.
Later updates from both news services seem to have confirmed it — as well as his death:
Update at 7:55 a.m. ET: There are numerous unconfirmed reports that Gadhafi may have died of wounds inflicted when his convoy was attacked. Reuters quotes a “senior NTC military official” as saying Gadhafi had died of wounds suffered in his capture near Sirte.
Al Jazeera reports that its sources also say that Gadhafi has been killed, but again no official confirmation.
The government in Tripoli now says that Qaddafi was shot in both the legs and the head, and is confirmed dead:
Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi died of wounds suffered on Thursday as fighters battling to complete an eight-month-old uprising against his rule overran his hometown Sirte, Libya’s interim rulers said.
His killing, which came swiftly after his capture near Sirte, is the most dramatic single development in the Arab Spring revolts that have unseated rulers in Egypt and Tunisia and threatened the grip on power of the leaders of Syria and Yemen.
“He (Gaddafi) was also hit in his head,” National Transitional Council official Abdel Majid Mlegta told Reuters. “There was a lot of firing against his group and he died.”
That might conflict with an earlier report about the nature of Qaddafi’s capture:
An anti-Gaddafi fighter said Gaddafi had been found hiding in a hole in the ground and had said “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot” to the men who grabbed him.
So when did he get hit in the head? I suspect the “hole in the ground” story might have been cribbed by Libyan fighters from Saddam Hussein’s capture — or the fighters just delivered a coup de grace after grabbing him in retribution for the months of civil war that may have ended with Qaddafi’s death.
If indeed Qaddafi has been killed, it wasn’t long after his regime lost the last of its strongholds to the new Libyan government. Sirte was “liberated” today after protracted fighting:
Libyan fighters drove the last holdouts of Moammar Gadhafi out of his hometown of Sirte in a few hours of fierce gunbattles Thursday, then declared victory over the last major resistance two months after the fall of Tripoli. The ecstatic former rebels celebrated by firing endless rounds into the sky, pumping their guns, knives and even a meat cleaver in the air and singing the national anthem.
In the central quarter where the final battle took place, the fighters looking like the same ragtag force that started the uprising eight months ago jumped up and down with joy and flashed V-for-victory signs. Some burned the green Gadhafi flag, then stepped on it with their boots.
They chanted “Allah akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic, while one fighter climbed a traffic light pole to unfurl the revolution’s flag, which he first kissed. Discarded military uniforms of Gadhafi’s fighters littered the streets. One revolutionary fighter waved a silver trophy in the air while another held up a box of firecrackers, then set them off.
“Our forces control the last neighborhood in Sirte,” Hassan Draoua, a member of Libya’s interim National Transitional Council, told The Associated Press in Tripoli. “The city has been liberated.”
The death of a terrorist-supporting tyrant cannot be bad news, if indeed Qaddafi’s death is confirmed. If he has died in a military action, it might have been the best end for which either side could hope. Qaddafi will end up being remembered by his small cadre of supporters not as a Saddam Hussein, diminished in captivity and finally humiliated on the gallows by the people he oppressed, but as someone who at least fought to the end. The new government doesn’t have to worry about holding Qaddafi and putting him on trial with the world watching, with the risk of him becoming a symbol of opposition that undermines their attempts to unite the country.
But unite the country into what, exactly? It still remains to see whether Libya has indeed been “liberated” and will now pursue the path of a liberal, pluralistic democracy — or whether the Libyans will follow the path of Egypt and a military/Islamist regime. At least the Libyans have an opportunity to make that choice for themselves now that the tyrant has been defeated and removed from the equation.
Update: The Atlantic has a photo that purports to be of Qaddafi’s corpse shortly after his death. It’s pretty graphic, and it’s also unconfirmed.