TRIPOLI // Muammar Qaddafi was killed yesterday as rebel forces overran his hometown of Sirte, wiping out the last pocket of resistance by forces loyal to the man once crowned Africa's "king of kings".
Two months after the deposed Libyan leader was chased from the capital as the Arab Spring swept the Middle East, celebratory gunfire and cries of "Allahu Akbar!" or "God is Great!" rang out around the country.
In Sirte, ecstatic rebels celebrated the city's fall after weeks of bloody siege by firing into the sky, pumping their guns, knives and even a meat cleaver in the air and singing the national anthem, Libya, Libya. "We did it! We did it!" victorious fighters chanted, overcome with emotion. "Hold your head high … we are Libyans." Men fell to their knees and kissed the ground. Others prayed.
"We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Muammar Qaddafi has been killed," Mahmoud Jibril, the prime minister of Libya's interim government, the National Transitional Council (NTC), told a news conference in Tripoli.
Interim government officials said one of Qaddafi's sons, Mutassim, was also killed in Sirte and another, Saif Al Islam, was captured wounded with a gunshot to the leg.
NTC fighters found Qaddafi, the fugitive tyrant who had vowed to "fight to the last bullet" and said he would die on Libyan soil, wounded and hiding in a cement drainpipe in a culvert. Conflicting reports said he had either pleaded with his captors not to shoot and died from his wounds, or was shot as he tried to resist.
Satellite TV channels showed grainy and shaky mobile-phone footage of chaotic scenes of fighters stripping what appeared to be Qaddafi's bloodied corpse as it lay on the ground. In the footage, the body is then dragged off by the fighters and loaded in the back of a pickup truck. Witnesses said the 69-year-old's body was later placed in a mosque in nearby Misurata, whose battle-hardened fighters played a key role in taking Sirte.
The fall of Sirte and the death of Qaddafi, the modern Arab world's longest ruling leader who crushed all opposition and struck a defiant role on the world stage, mark the culmination of an eight-month uprising that began with protests in Benghazi.
The Qaddafi regime responded with a violent crackdown, and the protests evolved into an armed insurrection aided by a Nato no-fly zone. But despite the capture of Tripoli in late August, Qaddafi, his sons and aides taunted the NTC with threats of a new counterinsurgency.
The battle for the country was fought finally in two cities, Bani Walid and Sirte in the middle of the country. The last days of the battle in Sirte were among the bloodiest in the uprising, with dozens of men killed daily by snipers holding out in a small section of the city.
Western leaders welcomed Qaddafi's death as the end of despotism, tyranny, dictatorship and ultimately war in the oil-rich north African country he ruled with an iron fist for more than four decades. Qaddafi was named "king of kings" at a 2008 summit of 200 African kings and traditional rulers in Libya at which he vowed to unite the continent.
The former dictator's death avoids a long and complex trial that could have divided Libya and embarrassed western governments and oil firms, but may yet prove a mixed blessing as the nation rebuilds, analysts said.
A trial at home or abroad might also have given the flamboyant, idiosyncratic colonel a podium from which to harangue Libya's new rulers and western powers, as well as to try to embarrass them on issues they would rather forget. As Libya was nudged back from international isolation in the past decade, international oil companies signed deals worth billions.
"It is hugely symbolically important," Alan Fraser, Middle East analyst for UK-based risk consultancy AKE, said.
"It helps the NTC move on. They will also avoid a long drawn-out trial that could have been very divisive and revealed awkward secrets."
Human rights groups had long said it was important Qaddafi be held to account, giving the NTC a chance to showcase its accountability.
"Colonel Qaddafi's death is a mixed event for the new Libyan authorities," said Daniel Korski, senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
"They avoid a drawn-out judicial drama à la Slobodan Milosevic, which could have rallied people in the ex-dictator's support, but his death also robs the new Libyan government of the opportunity of showing themselves better than he was. His death, in such violent circumstances, also risks creating a martyr figure out of a man whose deeds in life would never have merited such acclaim."
And with Osama bin Laden killed in a US special forces raid in Pakistan in May and Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders also increasingly targeted by drone strikes, some worry assassination or "accidental" killing of foes - rather than messy trials or imprisonment - has become an all too attractive option.
* Additional reporting by agencies