Dragged from hiding in a drainage pipe, a wounded Muammar Qadhafi raised his hands and begged revolutionary fighters: “Don't kill me, my sons.” Within an hour, he was dead, but not before jubilant Libyans had vented decades of hatred by pulling his hair and parading his bloodied body on the hood of a truck.
The death, two months after he was driven from power and into hiding, decisively buries the nearly 42-year regime that had turned the oil-rich country into his own personal fiefdom.
It also thrusts Libya into a new age in which its transitional leaders must overcome deep divisions and rebuild nearly all its institutions from scratch to achieve dreams of democracy.
Though the U.S. briefly led the relentless NATO bombing campaign that sealed Qadhafi's fate, Washington later took a secondary role to its allies. Britain and France said they hoped that his death would lead to a more democratic Libya.
Other leaders have fallen in the Arab Spring uprisings, but the 69-year-old Qadhafi is the first to be killed. He was shot to death in his hometown of Sirte, where revolutionary fighters overwhelmed the last of his loyalist supporters Thursday after weeks of heavy battles. Also killed in the city was one of his feared sons, Muatassim, while another son one-time heir apparent Seif al-Islam was wounded and captured. An AP reporter saw cigarette burns on Muatassim's body.
Bloody images of Qadhafi's last moments raised questions over how exactly he died after he was captured wounded, but alive. Video on Arab television stations showed a crowd of fighters shoving and pulling Qadhafi, with blood splattered on his face and soaking his shirt.
He struggled against them, stumbling and shouting as the fighters pushed him onto the hood of a pickup truck. One fighter held him down, pressing on his thigh with a pair of shoes in a show of contempt.
Fighters propped him on the hood as they drive for several moments, apparently to parade him around in victory.
“We want him alive. We want him alive,” one man shouted before Qadhafi was dragged off the hood, some fighters pulling his hair, toward an ambulance.
Later footage showed fighters rolling Qadhafi's lifeless body over on the pavement, stripped to the waist and a pool of blood under his head. His body was then paraded on a car through Misrata, a nearby city that suffered a brutal siege by regime forces during the eight-month civil war that eventually ousted Qadhafi. Crowds in the streets cheered, “The blood of martyrs will not go in vain.”
The day began with revolutionary forces bearing down on the last of Qadhafi's heavily armed loyalists who in recent days had been squeezed into a block of buildings of about 700 square yards.
A large convoy of vehicles moved out of the buildings, and revolutionary forces moved to intercept it, said Fathi Bashagha, spokesman for the Misrata Military Council, which commanded the fighters who captured him. At 8-30 a.m., NATO warplanes struck the convoy, a hit that stopped it from escaping, according to French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet. Fighters then clashed with loyalists in the convoy for three hours, with rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft weapons and machine guns. Members of the convoy got out of the vehicles, said Mr. Bashagha said.
Qadhafi and other supporters fled on foot, with fighters in pursuit, he said. A Qadhafi bodyguard captured as they ran away gave a similar account to Arab TV stations.
Qadhafi and several bodyguards took refuge in a drainage pipe under a highway nearby. After clashes ensued, Qadhafi emerged, telling the fighters outside, “What do you want? Don't kill me, my sons,” according to Mr. Bashagha and Hassan Doua, a fighter who was among those who captured him.
Mr. Bashagha said Qadhafi died in the ambulance from wounds suffered during the clashes. Abdel-Jalil Abdel-Aziz, a doctor who accompanied the body in the ambulance during the 192-kme drive to Misrata, said Qadhafi died from two bullet wounds to the head and chest.
A government account of Qadhafi's death said he was captured unharmed and later was mortally wounded in the crossfire from both sides.