TRIPOLI // The final minutes of Muammar Qaddafi's life were unlike anything he had become accustomed to during the tyrannical, often bizarre, pageant that typified his nearly 42 years in power.
He was pushed, jabbed and jostled, and perhaps finally shot, not by elite commandos of a foreign power but by Libyans themselves - mechanics, farmers and students who picked up guns to join the rebellion to overthrow him.
This self-styled philosopher and "guide" who transformed his country into a monument to himself and his deranged ideas was finally found not in one of his grandiose tents or surrounded by his famous female bodyguards, but in a garbage-strewn drainpipe.
"Qaddafi was here", rebels painted on the concrete near the body of one of his loyalists.
As much of his hometown of Sirte was reduced to rubble in nearly two weeks of urban warfare between anti-Qaddafi forces and diehard loyalists, few could explain the ferocity with which his outnumbered and outgunned supporters held on in what all but the most deluded and servile of followers knew was a losing cause.
Officials from the interim government and battlefield commanders said repeatedly that Qaddafi was skulking in the deserts of southern Libya or near the border of Algeria - anywhere but Sirte.
The reported presence of his son, Mutassim, seemed the most likely explanation for the dogged resistance. Yet that, too, seemed to fall short in explaining the suicidal tenacity of the loyalists. Now we know why - Qaddafi was there.
The willingness to defend him was summed up by one of his acolytes who ran towards the rebels as they swarmed around the two drainage pipes to which Qaddafi and his entourage had fled.
"My master is here! My master is here!", one of the rebel fighters, Salem Bakeer, quoted the man as saying.
As he was dragged by his captors aboard a pickup lorry, Qaddafi, 69, asked: "What did I do to you?"
It was perhaps the perfect question for a man known for his delusions.
Qaddafi pervaded the lives of his compatriots, creating around himself a strange, semidivine cult that instilled fear, demanded absolute loyalty and was swift in meting out punishment.
Millions of Libyans have a long list of answers to the question, from the prisoners who were tortured by the security services in Tripoli to the families of students hung in Benghazi for opposing the regime.
Despite the handful of mobile phone videos and public statements about Qaddafi's death, exactly what happened in those final moments remained unclear last night.
Mahmoud Jibril, the interim prime minister, said on Thursday night that Qaddafi had been captured with minor injuries but was killed in crossfire between NTC fighters and loyalists inside of an ambulance.
It was unclear, Mr Jibril added, if the bullet that hit him in the head was from the NTC or his own men.
Across Tripoli yesterday, that account of his death was disputed by many men walking to mosque and gathering in cafes.
The videos showed Qaddafi alive and his face half-covered with blood, surrounded by ecstatic young men with guns. The likely story, people said, is that he was executed on the edge of the battlefield. But the exact cause of death may never be found out. Qaddafi's burial was delayed yesterday to examine his body and the location of a secret burial site was being debated.
Qaddafi eluded his countrymen for the final two months of the revolution, disappearing from Tripoli just as thousands of fighters arrived on pickup lorries mounted with machine guns and rocket launchers.
Even in hiding, he and his closest confidantes taunted the National Transitional Council with threats that there would be a massive counter-revolution as early as next week, and that an army of 20,000 men would die defending Sirte from the "dogs" and "rats" of the revolutionary army.
The inability of the NTC to find him gave rise to fears of a long insurgency, waged by loyalists and mercenaries.
The similarities to the capture of Saddam Hussein were eerie. Just as Hussein fled to Tikrit, Qaddafi fled to his familiar landscape of his hometown and, presumably, a thick, insulating buffer of loyal supporters.
Like Saddam, he was captured in ignominious circumstances hardly befitting the cultish mantle they had draped themselves in in life - in Saddam's case, a hole in the ground, and in Qaddafi's, a cement culvert.
As he emerged, Qaddafi was said to have an AK-47 in one hand and a pistol in the other. "What's happening?" he asked, according to reports.
Qaddafi's ability to hide and issue threats despite being outnumbered and outgunned had magnified his image in the eyes of Libyans as a dictator that would torture them until the day he died.
On Thursday, the victory was not just in his death but in the final deflation of his powerful personality. His exit was bloodied and dazed.
There has been no hint of the troubled reaction Arabs had to Saddam's capture by American troops and his eventual trip to the gallows.
In fact, after the Arab Spring, the news seemed to galvanise the revolutionary spirit of the region.
A popular cartoon emailed and shared on the internet showed images of five leaders, with red Xs on the portraits of Tunisia's Zine El Abdine Ben Ali, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Qaddafi. Below their faces, a painter is shown dragging a brush towards the caricatures of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, and Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.