October 20, 2011
Unconfirmed reports of fugitive dictator Muammar Qaddafi's capture and death surfaced Thursday shortly after his hometown of Sirte fell to Libyan fighters.
The Misrata Military Council, one of multiple command groups for revolutionary forces, says its fighters captured Qaddafi in Sirte. Another commander, Abdel-Basit Haroun, says Qaddafi was killed when an airstrike hit a convoy trying to flee.
The White House, U.S. State Department and Pentagon could not confirm the reports.
The spokesman for Libya's transitional government, Jalal al-Gallal, and its military spokesman Abdul-Rahman Busin say the reports have not been confirmed.
NATO could not independently confirm the Qaddafi reports, but alliance spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie said NATO aircraft Thursday morning struck two vehicles of pro-Qaddafi forces "which were part of a larger group maneuvering in the vicinity of Sirte."
Libya's former rebels have previously claimed the capture of key figures, including Qaddafi and his sons, only for those reports to turn out untrue.
In Tripoli, reporter Kitty Logan said on CBS' "The Early Show" that Libyans are honking their horns and firing guns into the air in celebration of Qaddafi's possible death.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking from Afghanistan, told CBS News correspondent Whit Johnson that the capture Qaddafi would be a significant development in Libya if it proves true, but also said she did not expect his capture would end the fighting there.
The ecstatic former rebels celebrated the fall of Sirte 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.
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 Qaddafi 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 Qaddafi'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 Transitional National Council, told The Associated Press in Tripoli. "The city has been liberated."
Despite the fall of Tripoli on Aug. 21, Qaddafi 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 Qaddafi'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 Qaddafi 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.
After the battle, revolutionaries began searching homes and buildings looking for any hiding Qaddafi fighters. At least 16 were captured, along with cases of ammunition and trucks loaded with weapons. Reporters saw revolutionaries beating captured Qaddafi men in the back of trucks and officers intervening to stop them.
Deputy Defense Minister Fawzi Abu Katif on Wednesday told the AP that authorities still believe Qaddafi's son Muatassim is among the ex-regime figures holed up in the diminishing area in Sirte. He was not seen on the ground after the final battle on Thursday.
In an illustration of how difficult and slow the fighting for Sirte was, it took the anti-Qaddafi fighters, who also faced disorganization in their own ranks, two days to capture a single residential building.
Qaddafi loyalists who have escaped could still continue the fight and attempt to organize an insurgency using the vast amount of weapons Qaddafi was believed to have stored in hideouts in the remote southern desert.
Unlike Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi 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.
Qaddafi 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.