Moammar Gadhafi, who ruled Libya with a dictatorial grip for 42 years until he was ousted by his own people in an uprising that turned into a bloody civil war, was killed Thursday when revolutionary forces overwhelmed his hometown, Sirte, the last major bastion of resistance two months after his regime fell.
A senior NTC official told Reuters that Gadhafi was shot in both the legs and the head and that he died from his wounds. “He was also hit in his head,” the official said. “There was a lot of firing against his group and he died.”
The 69-year-old Gadhafi is the first leader to be killed in the Arab Spring wave of popular uprisings that swept the Midde East, demanding the end of autocratic rulers and greater democracy. Gadhafi had been one of the world’s most mercurial leaders, dominating Libya with a regime that often seemed run by his whims and bringing international condemnation and isolation on his country for years.
“We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Moammar Gadhafi has been killed,” Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril told a news conference in the capital Tripoli.
Earlier this morning, Reuters reported the following:
Deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was captured and wounded in both legs near his hometown of Sirte at dawn on Thursday, National Transitional Council official Abdel Majid said.
Majid reported the capture after Libyan interim government fighters took the town on Thursday, extinguishing the last significant resistance by forces loyal to the former leader and ending a two-month siege.
“He’s captured. He’s wounded in both legs … He’s been taken away by ambulance,” the senior NTC military official told Reuters by telephone.
Gaddafi was trying to flee in a convoy which NATO warplanes attacked, Majid said. The head of Gaddafi’s armed forces Abu Bakr Younus Jabr had been killed during the capture of the Libyan ex-leader, he added.
Majid said NATO warplanes struck the convoy and hit four cars as it headed west. Ahmed Ibrahim, a cousin and adviser of Gaddafi, was also captured.
In the capital Tripoli, sounds of gun shots were heard and people cheered in the street: “God is Great, God is Great, Gaddafi has been captured.”
Sen. John McCain released a statement acknowledging the death:
“The death of Muammar Qaddafi marks an end to the first phase of the Libyan revolution. While some final fighting continues, the Libyan people have liberated their country. Now the Libyan people can focus all of their immense talents on strengthening their national unity, rebuilding their country and economy, proceeding with their democratic transition, and safeguarding the dignity and human rights of all Libyans. The United States, along with our European allies and Arab partners, must now deepen our support for the Libyan people, as they work to make the next phase of their democratic revolution as successful as the fight to free their country.”
The news comes hours after reports that Libyan fighters captured the former dictator’s hometown of Sirte on Thursday, which contained the last holdouts of pro-Gadhafi forces.
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.
Initial 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.
This is a breaking news story. Updates will be added as they come in.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.