As dawn broke in the coastal Libyan city of Sirte on Thursday, its most notorious inhabitant, Moammar Gadhafi must have known his chances of seeing the day out were slim at best.
NATO airstrikes and rebel ground forces combined to attack the last few buildings the country’s longtime leader still held west of the city’s central Green Square.
Gadhafi’s only way out was a risky one – to pile into a convoy of vehicles and try to make a break for it.
They didn’t get very far. Less than three miles out, the five vehicles carrying the man who had terrorized his country since the second year of Richard Nixon’s presidency, came under sustained fire, initially from a Hellfire missile and then from French fighter jets.
Gadhafi and his bodyguards desperately tried to turn back into the besieged city in which he was born in 1942, but it was a forlorn bid.
As the convoy became crippled the Mad Dog of the Desert made one final bid to save his life. He leaped from his car and into a 2ft. storm drain in Sirte’s District Two, on the far west of the city.
But he was soon spotted and dragged from his hiding place. Rebel soldiers say he begged for his life, urging them “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” but his pleas for mercy went unheeded.
The rebels killed him on the spot, shooting him once in the temple and in both legs. One of the soldiers tore off Gadhafi’s shoe and started beating his body across the head with it – a high insult in Arabic culture.
“There was a lot of firing against his group and he died,” said Abdel Majid Mlegta, an official with the National Transitional Council.
NTC defense spokesman Ahmed Bani confirmed it was rebels on the ground that dealt the final blow. “It was our courageous revolutionaries who have killed the tyrant and not NATO,” he said. NATO confirmed its planes had hit two military vehicles that were part of a larger group near Sirte.
Gadhafi’s death was captured on cellphones by his killers and a picture and later a video of the shirtless body being dragged along the ground were soon flying round the world.
Within minutes Arabic-language graffiti was spray in blue paint on the concrete drain, saying “This is the place where the rat Gadhafi was hiding," and "Contemptible Gadhafi."
Reports of his death soon started flying, but it took the U.S. State Department several hours finally to confirm that Gadhafi’s end had finally come. If the reports were true it would "add legitimacy and relief to the formation of a new government," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said shortly after landing in Pakistan.
As conflicting claims were confirmed, Libya’s ambassador to Washington, Ali Aujali could hardly contain his satisfaction “It’s not important how Gadhafi died; it is better that he was killed than captured alive,” he said on CNN.
Gadhafi’s body was driven west to the rebel stronghold of Misrata.
“According to Islamic instruction, a dead body must be buried,” said Aujali. “Gadhafi’s body will be buried, as well as any members of his family who may have been killed,” the ambassador added.
Gadhafi’s fifth son Mutassim and former defense minister, Abu Bakr Yunis were also killed according to the NTC. Former government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, Gadhafi’s cousin and adviser Ahmed Ibrahim, and aide Mansour Daw were all captured.
Al Arabiya also reported that Saif Gadhafi, the son closest to the dictator and once seen as his likely successor, had also been killed, although that was unconfirmed.
Ambassador Aujli praised the part the United States played in the overthrow of the dictator. “Americans have to be proud. They took the lead,” he said. “The chapter of Gadhafi is over.”
Others praised the back seat role the Obama administration had taken in the overthrow of Gadhafi after 42 years in power. “This is a victory for the president, the Obama administration, but most importantly the Libyan people’s chance for freedom,” said Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.
Fred Fleitz, managing editor of LIGNET.com,
a new Washington,
DC-based intelligence analysis and forecasting service, told Newsmax.TV:
“The United States and the Obama administration contributed to the victory by the Libyan rebels and the capture of Gadhafi. We did use our drones, we used air strikes, we led intelligence and certainly the Obama administration deserves credit for that.
“However I would say this is a victory for France, the U.K. and Qatar because they are the three countries that really stuck their necks out at the early stage of this to bring this about.”
Former United Nations spokesman John Bolton said
it took way too long to end Gadhafi's reign of terror.
“It’s entirely appropriate that Gadhafi was killed this way but as symbolically important as it is, many of the big issues facing Libya remain.” Bolton warned though that some in Libya may now regard the tyrant as a martyr.
“This is certainly not the end of the struggle, it’s the end of Gadhafi – and that’s a good thing,” Bolton added.
But both Bolton and radio host Rush Limbaugh said the media should not “heroize” President Obama’s part in Gadhafi’s downfall.
“They can’t wait to give Obama credit for it,” Limbaugh said. “We’ve got ecstasy.”
Bolton, a strident critic of the Obama administration, said the dictator should have been taken out much earlier.
“If we had acted swiftly and decisively at the beginning of this thing instead of having it drag out for six months with a much higher toll in civilian deaths, we might have shattered Gadhafi’s government near the beginning of the conflict and brought it to a resolution sooner,” he told Fox News.
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