Exuberant Libyans waving flags and assault rifles poured into the streets of Tripoli and other cities to celebrate the death of Muammar Qaddafi, who ruled by force of arms and personality for 42 years.
His attempt to escape the holdout coastal city of Sirte, the scene of heavy fighting in recent weeks, was foiled by French warplanes, which spotted and blocked his convoy of SUVs until Libyan fighters reached the scene, according to French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet.
In the celebrations, men held their children while fighters flashed victory signs and fired weapons into the air, as people danced to the new national anthem. In the evening, fireworks lit up the capital’s sky.
“Years of tyranny and dictatorship have now been closed,” Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, National Transitional Council vice chairman, told reporters in Benghazi.
Qaddafi’s son Mutassim died after being shot in the neck, according to an e-mail from the Misrata Military Council, whose fighters led the assault on Sirte and act independently of the NTC. Anti-Qaddafi forces were reported to be chasing two convoys, one of which was said to carry another Qaddafi son, his once heir-apparent Saif al-Islam, according to Ahmed Bani, an NTC defense spokesman.
Mutassim led loyalists fighting in Sirte, Mansour Do, a personal guard to Muammar Qaddafi, who was arrested yesterday and is now being held in Misrata, told Al Arabiya today.
Muammar Qaddafi was mostly hiding out in houses and apartments during the battle for Sirte, Do said, adding that he didn’t see what happened to Qaddafi during the air raid because he was knocked unconscious.
Western leaders cheered the conclusion of the hunt for Qaddafi, which will allow NATO to end its operations, even as analysts cautioned that Libya’s political divisions may jeopardize its democratic ambitions.
U.S. President Barack Obama, in remarks at the White House, called it a “momentous day” in Libyan history and said the oil-producing North African nation now must follow the “long and winding road to full democracy.”
“A new page opens for the Libyan people, that of reconciliation in unity and liberty,” said French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was at the forefront of Western efforts to aid the Libyan uprising.
The circumstances of Qaddafi’s death were unclear. Broadcasters carried images purporting to show Qaddafi, alive and standing after his capture, and later his corpse. Mahmoud Jibril, the acting prime minister, was cited by CNN as saying that Qaddafi was captured alive and was killed in crossfire as he was driven away in a vehicle.
Amnesty International, a human rights group, called on the NTC to make public “the full facts” on how Qaddafi died. “It is essential to conduct a full, independent and impartial inquiry to establish” whether Qaddafi was killed during combat or after he was captured, the organization said on its website.
The uprising was part of the region’s so-called Arab Spring, which also unseated the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. While Africa’s largest oil reserves may enable Libya to rebuild its economy faster than Egypt and Tunisia, the challenge facing the interim government is political as it struggles to unite the factions that challenged Qaddafi’s rule since February.
The NTC has said that winning control of Sirte will begin an eight-month countdown to elections for a national council, a first step toward a promised democratic system.
“The transition will probably be even more difficult compared to Egypt or Tunisia, because there’s no clear leadership, the power is very fragmented, there are big interests at stake and there’s no institution strong enough to handle all this,” Nicolo Sartori, an energy and defense analyst at Rome’s Institute for International Affairs, said in a phone interview.
Nuri Berruien, the chairman of Libya’s state-run National Oil Corp., said Qaddafi’s death will expedite the nation’s efforts to return to normal crude-output levels.
“A lot of things will return quickly after this good news,” he said yesterday by mobile telephone from Libya.
Oil prices dipped at around noon London time on news of Qaddafi’s capture and injuries, before advancing later. Crude oil for November delivery fell 66 cents to settle at $85.45 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Libyan oil output, which fell from 1.6 million barrels a day to zero during the uprising, may reach 600,000 barrels a day by the end of the year, according to the International Energy Agency in Paris.
After Tripoli’s fall, Qaddafi had issued statements that he preferred to die a martyr. His loyalists massed in Sirte, strategically important because of its airport and harbor, and in Bani Walid.
A French Dassault Aviation SA Mirage 2000 jet fired its cannon ahead of the suspect convoy to make it stop as the vehicles sought to leave Sirte, Longuet said at a briefing in Paris. It did not fire directly on the convoy, he said.
“It was a suspect convoy and the goal was to stop it so it could be inspected,” he said. Libyan forces then attacked the convoy, he said.
“It was our courageous revolutionaries who have killed the tyrant and not NATO,” Bani said on Al Arabiya television.
On a visit to Libya Oct. 18, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in response to a question from a young Libyan, said that the U.S. hoped Qaddafi could “be captured or killed soon so that you don’t have to fear him any longer.”
Clinton also urged the transitional leadership and Libyans who supported the anti-Qaddafi cause to refrain from vigilantism and to use the justice system, not the streets, to deal with those accused of atrocities during the eight-month rebellion.
The Misrata forces said they had defeated the last of Qaddafi’s loyalists in Sirte, ending weeks of battles that erupted last month after talks on the town’s surrender broke down.
The interim government attributed the tenacity of loyalists in Sirte to the presence of senior Qaddafi aides, including Mutassim. About 17 of Qaddafi’s closest aides were captured in Sirte during the final battle, said a top Libyan envoy to the U.K., Mahmud Nacua.
“Today Libya’s future begins,” he told reporters in London. “The people are looking forward to a very promising future.”
Pope Benedict XVI said the death of Qaddafi after a “bloody fight” marks the end of an “oppressive” regime that must pave the way for a transition without retaliation. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasumussen in a statement urged the NTC “to prevent reprisals against civilians and show restraint in dealing with defeated pro-Qaddafi forces.”
Obama said the demise of Qaddafi’s regime vindicates his strategy of bringing together allies to act, meeting its objectives without putting U.S. troops on the ground.
“We’ve demonstrated what collective action can achieve in the 21st century,” Obama said. The NATO mission in Libya “will soon come to an end.”
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the death of Qaddafi, urging people to think of the victims of his deposed Libyan regime.
“Today is a day to remember all Colonel Qaddafi’s victims,” Cameron told reporters outside his London residence, listing those killed in the Lockerbie bombing, British policewoman Yvonne Fletcher and people killed by the Irish Republican Army, which Qaddafi supplied with Semtex explosive, as well as those killed in Libya.