Photo by Melissa Abrahamsen
UPDATE: Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril says Moammar Gadhafi has been killed.
"We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Moammar Gadhafi has been killed," Jibril told a news conference in the capital Tripoli.
Just before 10:30 a.m., the following obituary/story was made available from The Associated Press:
During nearly 42 years in power in Libya, Moammar Gadhafi was one of the world's most eccentric dictators, so mercurial that he was both condemned and courted by the West, while he brutally warped his country with his idiosyncratic vision of autocratic rule until he was finally toppled by his own people.
The modern Arab world's longest-ruling figure, Libya's "Brother Leader" displayed striking contrasts. He was a sponsor of terrorism whose regime was blamed for blowing up two passenger jets, who then helped the U.S. in the war on terror. He was an Arab nationalist who mocked Arab rulers. In the crowning paradox, he preached a "revolutionary" utopia of people power but ran a one-man dictatorship that fueled the revolution against him.
His death on Thursday at age 69 — confirmed by Prime Minister Mahmoud
Jibril — came as Libyan fighters defeated Gadhafi's last holdouts in his hometown of Sirte, the last major site of resistance in the country.
Their final declaration of victory came weeks after Gadhafi was swept from power by rebels who drove triumphantly into the capital of Tripoli on Aug. 21, capping a six-month civil war.
"Dance, sing and fight!" Gadhafi had exhorted his followers even as his enemies were on the capital's doorstep before fleeing into Libya's hinterlands where his die-hard backers had continued to battle the rebels-turned-rulers.
Gadhafi leaves behind an oil-rich nation of 6.5 million traumatized by a rule that drained it of institutions while the ship of state was directed by the whims of one man and his family. Notorious for his extravagant outfits — ranging from white suits and sunglasses to military uniforms with frilled epaulets to brilliantly colored robes decorated with the map of Africa — he styled himself as a combination Bedouin chief and philosopher king.
He reveled in infuriating leaders, whether in the West or the Middle East. U.S. President Ronald Reagan, after the 1986 bombing that killed U.S. servicemen in Berlin was blamed on Libya, branded him a "mad dog." Former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who fought a border war with Libya in the 1970s, wrote in his diary that Gadhafi was "mentally sick" and "needs treatment."
Behind the flamboyance and showmanship, associates say Gadhafi was meticulous in managing the levers of power. He intervened in decisions large and small and constantly met personally with tribal leaders and military officers whose support he maintained through lucrative posts.
The sole constant was his grip on the country. Numerous coup and assassination attempts against him over the years mostly ended with public executions of the plotters, hanged in city squares.
The ultimate secret of his longevity lay in the vast oil reserves under his North African desert nation and in his capacity for drastic changes of course when necessary.
The most spectacular U-turn came in late 2003. After years of denial, Libya acknowledged responsibility — though in a Gadhafi-esque twist of logic, not guilt — for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people. He agreed to pay up to $10 million to relatives of each victim.
He also announced that Libya would dismantle its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs under international supervision.
The rewards came fast. Within months, the U.S. lifted economic sanctions and resumed diplomatic ties. The European Union hosted Gadhafi in Brussels. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2008 became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the country in more than 50 years. Tony Blair, as British prime minister, visited him in Tripoli.
International oil companies rushed to invest in Libya's fields. Documents uncovered after Gadhafi's fall revealed close cooperation between his intelligence services and the CIA in pursuing terror suspects after the 9/11 attacks, even before the U.S. lifted its designation of Libya as a sponsor of terror in 2006.
Still, Gadhafi's renegade ways did not change. After Swiss police had the temerity to briefly arrest his son Hannibal for allegedly beating up two servants in a Geneva luxury hotel in 2008, Gadhafi's regime arrested two Swiss nationals and raked Switzerland over the coals, extracting an apology and compensation before finally releasing the men nearly two years later. European countries, eagerly building economic ties with Libya, did little to back up Switzerland in the dispute.
But Gadhafi became an instant pariah once more when he began a brutal crackdown on the February uprising in his country that grew out of the "Arab Spring" of popular revolts across the region. The U.N. authorized a no-fly zone for Libya in March, and NATO launched a campaign of airstrikes against his military forces.
"I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents. ... I will die as a martyr at the end," he proclaimed in one of his last televised speeches during the uprising, pounding the lectern near a sculpture of a golden fist crushing a U.S. warplane.
Gadhafi was born in 1942 in the central Libyan desert near Sirte, the son of a Bedouin father who was once jailed for opposing Libya's Italian colonialists. The young Gadhafi seemed to inherit that rebellious nature, being expelled from high school for leading a demonstration, and disciplined while in the army for organizing revolutionary cells.
In 1969, as a mere 27-year-old captain, he emerged as leader of a group of officers who overthrew the monarchy of King Idris. A handsome, dashing figure in uniform and sunglasses, Gadhafi took undisputed power and became a symbol of anti-Western defiance in a Third World recently liberated from its European colonial rulers.
During the 1970s, Gadhafi proceeded to transform the nation.
A U.S. air base was closed. Some 20,000 Italians were expelled in retaliation for the 1911-41 occupation. Businesses were nationalized.
In 1975 he published the "Green Book," his political manifesto that laid out what he called the "Third International Theory" of government and society. He declared Libya to be a "Jamahiriya" — an Arabic neologism he created meaning roughly "republic of the masses."
Everyone rules, it declared, calling representative democracy a form of tyranny, and Libyans were organized into "people's committees" that went all the way up to a "People's Congress," a sort of parliament.
In the end, rule by all meant rule by none except Gadhafi, who elevated himself to colonel and declared himself "Brother Leader."
"He aspired to create an ideal state," said North African analyst Saad Djebbar of Cambridge University. "He ended up without any components of a normal state. The 'people's power' was the most useless system in the world."
In the 1970s and 1980s, Gadhafi supported groups deemed by the West to be terrorists — from the Irish Republican Army through various radical Palestinian units to militant groups in the Philippines. He embarked on a series of military adventures in Africa, invading Chad in 1980-89, and supplying arms, training and finance to rebels in Liberia, Uganda and Burkina Faso.
A 1984 incident at the Libyan Embassy in London entrenched his regime's image as a lawless one. A gunman inside the embassy opened fire on a demonstration by Gadhafi opponents outside, killing a British policewoman.
The heat was rising, meanwhile, between the Reagan administration and Gadhafi over terrorism. In 1986, Libya was found responsible for a bombing at a Berlin discotheque frequented by U.S. troops in which three people died. America struck back by sending warplanes to bomb Libya. About 40 Libyans died.
The Lockerbie bombing followed in 1988, followed a year later by a bombing that downed a French airliner over the West African nation of Niger. The West was outraged, and years of sanctions followed.
Libya's road back from pariah status began in 1999, when Gadhafi's government handed over two Libyans for trial in the Lockerbie bombing. In 2001, a Scottish court convicted one, an intelligence agent, and sentenced him to life imprisonment. The other was acquitted.
In 2002, Gadhafi looked back on his actions and told a crowd of Libyans in the southern city of Sabha: "In the old days, they called us a rogue state. They were right in accusing us of that. In the old days, we had a revolutionary behavior."
Throughout his rule, he was a showman who would stop at nothing to make his point.
His appearances at Arab League summits were an annual cause of cringing among fellow Arab rulers. At one, he argued vehemently with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, winning the monarch's eternal hatred. At another, Gadhafi smoked cigars on the conference hall floor during speeches to show his contempt.
In a 2009 address at the United Nations, he rambled on about jet lag, then tore up a copy of the U.N. charter, saying the Security Council "should be called the terrorism council."
On state trips, he would insist on setting up a tent to stay in. He sported a personal escort of female guards — which he once explained by saying: "There are no men in the Arab world."
A 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable released by the website WikiLeaks spoke of Gadhafi's intense dislike of staying on upper floors of buildings, aversion to flying over water, and taste for horse racing and flamenco dancing.
"At night, Moammar dreams; by day, he implements," Libyans would say, referring to the bizarre rules Gadhafi would randomly impose on the country, like demanding all storefront doors be painted green, the signature color of his regime. Or like complaining that Libyans were going abroad for medical treatment and deciding it was because of a lack of Libyan doctors — so he ordered Tripoli's main medical school to take 2,000 new students regardless of qualifications, well beyond its 150-student capacity.
He even renamed the months, calling the cold month of January "Ayn al-Nar," Arabic for "Where is the Fire."
In the past decade, power was increasingly concentrated with his eight biological children, who snapped up elite military posts or lucrative business positions. His British-educated son Seif al-Islam was widely seen as being groomed as a successor. There was no immediate word on his fate Thursday.
His only daughter, Aisha, became a lawyer and helped in the defense of Saddam Hussein, Iraq's toppled dictator, in the trial that led to his hanging.
Gadhafi did spend oil revenue on building schools, hospitals, irrigation and housing on a scale his Mediterranean nation had never seen.
"He did really bring Libya from being one of the most backward and poorest countries in Africa to becoming an oil-rich state with an elaborate infrastructure and with reasonable access by the Libyan population to the essential services they required," said George Joffe of Cambridge University.
Still, about a third of Libya's people remain in poverty. Gadhafi showered benefits on parts of the country, such as Tripoli. Meanwhile, eastern Libya, ultimately the source of February's rebellion, was allowed to atrophy.
At least one of his sons, Saif al-Arab, was killed during the 2011 uprising, and another, Khamis, was believed killed. Others, along with his wife Safiya, fled to neighboring Algeria or Niger. Seif al-Islam and Muatassim, who commanded one the military units involved in the crackdown on protesters, fled into hiding when Tripoli fell.
AP timeline: Gadhafi fall
The hometown of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi fell today as the last vestige of control for the man once hailed as the "king of kings of Africa" came to an end. And officials in the transitional government say Gadhafi, who has been in hiding since rebels seized control of Tripoli, was captured or killed.
Here's a running account of the day's developments. All times are local in Libya, which is two hours ahead of GMT and six hours ahead of EDT.
A Libyan fighter told The Associated Press he was there when Gadhafi was shot with a 9 mm gun in the lower body. Standing in front of a truck with a crowd of congratulatory comrades, he says he struck the former dictator with his shoe — a grave insult in the Arab world — waving the footwear in question for emphasis.
In Sirte, fighters who have battled for months to seize control of the country from Gadhafi's forces embraced in the streets and chanted. "The war, it's finished," one fighter said.
A spokesman for Libya's transitional government says Gadhafi has been captured and possibly killed in the fall of his hometown. Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam says he expects the prime minister to make an announcement in an hour or so. Past reports of Gadhafi's death or capture have been wrong.
NATO confirms they've hit a convoy of Gadhafi loyalists fleeing Sirte, and Libyan fighters say they captured the ousted leader.
White House officials are monitoring the reports of Gadhafi's capture and death but say they can't confirm anything. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was just in Libya yesterday and said then she hoped for his demise. She also offered U.S. aid to the interim government.
Libyan officials and NATO say they can't confirm reports that Gadhafi was captured or killed today when his hometown fell.
Discarded military uniforms of Gadhafi's forces are in the streets. One fighter climbed a traffic light, kissed the revolution's flag then unfurled it.
"The city has been liberated," says Hassan Draoua, a member of Libya's interim government. The Libyan fighters were seen beating captured Gadhafi men in the back of trucks, with officers trying to stop them.
Gadhafi's hometown, Sirte, has fallen to the rebels. Our reporter in the city says Libyan fighters are searching homes and buildings looking for any Gadhafi loyalists who might be hiding.
UPDATE: 9:55 a.m.
WASHINGTON (AP) — White House officials were working to confirm reports Thursday that Moammar Gadhafi has been killed in Libya, but were unable to confirm the fate of the former Libyan leader.
The White House was saying little Thursday morning about developments as it waited for official confirmation from Libya. Past reports of Gadhafi family deaths or captures have proven incorrect.
Officials in Libya's transitional government said Thursday that Gadhafi was captured and possibly killed in the fall of his hometown Sirte. There was no immediate confirmation from the country's most senior leaders.
Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam said he has confirmed that Gadhafi was dead from fighters who said they saw the body.
Even before official U.S. confirmation of Gadhafi's fate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., reacting to reports that Gadhafi was dead, hailed "an end to the first phase of the Libyan revolution." The U.S. and Europe "must now deepen our support of the Libyan people," McCain, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday morning the State Department has been unable to confirm the reports about Gadhafi. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Libya, where she said that she hoped the former leader would be captured or killed.
NATO forces have been engaged in a bombing campaign in Libya since March, under the cover a United Nations resolution authorizing the use of military force to protect civilians from violence perpetrated upon them by their own government. While the U.S. took the lead in the early days of the campaign, it has since played a secondary role to other NATO allies.
Libyan fighters captured Sirte Thursday, two months after the fall of the capital city ofTripoli.
CHRISTOPHER GILLETTE,Associated Press
RAMI AL-SHAHEIBI,Associated Press
SIRTE, Libya (AP) — Libyan transitional government officials said Moammar Gadhafi was captured and possibly killed when revolutionary forces overwhelmed the ousted leader's hometown, Sirte, the last major bastion of resistance two months after his regime fell. Amid the fighting, NATO blasted a fleeing convoy that fighters said was carrying Gadhafi.
There was no immediate confirmation of Gadhafi's capture or death from Libya's senior leadership.
Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam said he was told that Gadhafi was dead from fighters who said they saw the body. He said he expects the prime minister to confirm the death soon, noting that past reports emerged "before making 100 percent confirmation." Several revolutionary groups fighting in Sirte also reported Gadhafi was either killed or captured.
"Our people in Sirte saw the body ... Mustafa Abdul-Jalil will confirm it soon," Shammam told The Associated Press. "Revolutionaries say Gadhafi was in a convoy and that they attacked the convoy."
Celebratory gunfire and cries of "Allahu Akbar" or "God is Great" rang out across Tripoli as the reports spread. Cars honked their horns and people hugged each other. In Sirte, the ecstatic former rebels celebrated the city's fall after weeks of bloody siege by firing endless rounds into the sky, pumping their guns, knives and even a meat cleaver in the air and singing the national anthem.
Despite the fall of Tripoli on Aug. 21, Gadhafi loyalists mounted fierce resistance in several areas, including Sirte, preventing Libya's new leaders from declaring full victory in the eight-month civil war. Earlier this week, revolutionary fighters gained control of one stronghold, Bani Walid, and by Tuesday said they had squeezed Gadhafi's forces in Sirte into a residential area of about 700 square yards but were still coming under heavy fire from surrounding buildings.
Reporters at the scene watched as the final assault began around 8 a.m. and ended about 90 minutes later. Just before the battle, about five carloads of Gadhafi loyalists tried to flee the enclave down the coastal highway that leads out of the city. But they were met by gunfire from the revolutionaries, who killed at least 20 of them.
Col. Roland Lavoie, spokesman for NATO's operational headquarters in Naples, Italy, said the alliance's aircraft Thursday morning struck two vehicles of pro-Gadhafi forces "which were part of a larger group maneuvering in the vicinity of Sirte."
But NATO officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance to alliance rules, said the alliance also could not independently confirm whether Gadhafi was killed or captured.
After the battle, revolutionaries began searching homes and buildings looking for any hiding Gadhafi fighters. At least 16 were captured, along with cases of ammunition and trucks loaded with weapons. Reporters saw revolutionaries beating captured Gadhafi men in the back of trucks and officers intervening to stop them.
In an illustration of how difficult and slow the fighting for Sirte was, it took the anti-Gadhafi fighters two days to capture a single residential building.
In the central quarter where Thursday's 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 Misrata Military Council, one of the command groups, said its fighters captured Gadhafi. Another commander, Abdel-Basit Haroun, says Gadhafi was killed when the airstrike hit the fleeing convoy.
In a sign of the conflicting versions, military spokesman Col. Ahmed Bani in Tripoli told Al-Jazeera TV, "I can assure everyone in Libya that Gadhafi has been killed for sure and I'm definitely sure and I reassure everyone that this story has ended and this book has closed."
But rather than a strike on the convoy, he said a wounded Gadhafi "tried to resist (revolutionary forces) so they took him down."
The spokesman for Libya's transitional government, Jalal al-Gallal, and another military spokesman Abdul-Rahman Busin said the reports have not been confirmed.
The caution in making a definitive announcement came because past reports of Gadhafi family deaths or captures have later proven incorrect, even after they were announced by officials, because of the confusion among the revolutionary forces' ranks and the multiple bodies involved in commanding their fighters.
Gadhafi loyalists who have escaped could still continue the fight and attempt to organize an insurgency using the vast amount of weapons Gadhafi was believed to have stored in hideouts in the remote southern desert.
Unlike Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Gadhafi had no well-organized political party that could form the basis of an insurgent leadership. However, regional and ethnic differences have already appeared among the ranks of the revolutionaries, possibly laying the foundation for civil strife.
Gadhafi has issued several audio recordings trying to rally supporters. Libyan officials have said they believe he's hiding somewhere in the vast southwestern desert near the borders with Niger and Algeria.
Associated Press Writer Kim Gamel in Tripoli contributed to this report.