Gruesome images of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s final moments were being screened across the globe this morning as world leaders joined rebels in hailing the dictator’s death and the end of his 42-year tyranny in Libya.
Dramatic pictures showed the blood-stained despot being dragged through the streets of his home town, Sirte, after he was reportedly found cowering in a concrete drainage pipe, begging not to be shot.
As news of his killing sparked scenes of jubilation, Col Gaddafi’s body was apparently moved to a mosque in the town of Misrata, the scene of some of the bloodiest clashes during an eight-month civil war which has devastated the North African country.
Confirmation of his death, announced by the Prime Minister of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) government, Mahmoud Jibril, raised hopes the fighting would end soon.
“We have been waiting for this moment for a long time,” Mr Jibril said in the capital Tripoli. “Muammar Gaddafi has been killed.”
NTC officials said Col Gaddafi died when he was shot in the head and legs after trying to flee Sirte in a convoy which was targeted by Nato warplanes. But Mr Jibril, citing a forensic report, said later that the former leader was shot in the head when the car transporting him was caught in the crossfire between interim government fighters and his own supporters after his capture.
Precise details remained unclear, however, and Amnesty International demanded an independent inquiry into the circumstances.
In a speech notably lacking in triumphalism, David Cameron said the death of Col Gaddafi, 69, was a moment to remember his many innocent victims, including those who died in the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, those killed by the IRA with Semtex explosives supplied by Libya, and Yvonne Fletcher, the policewoman gunned down outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984.
He said: “People in Libya today have an even greater chance, after this news, of building themselves a strong and democratic future.
“I’m proud of the role that Britain has played in helping them to bring that about and I pay tribute to the bravery of the Libyans who have helped to liberate their country. We will help them, we will work with them, and that is what I want to say today.”
Britain has played a prominent role in the Nato-led military operation in Libya, but Downing Street played down any suggestion that UK troops were involved in the dictator’s killing.
The MoD confirmed Nato jets attacked a convoy fleeing Sirte, but it was not known whether Col Gaddafi was travelling in one of the vehicles. RAF fighters took no part in the attack, although RAF reconnaissance aircraft were in the area.
Reports last night suggested one of Col Gaddafi’s sons, Mutassim, had been killed and his body would be taken to Misrata.
A second son, Saif al-Islam, whom Col Gaddafi had chosen as his heir, was understood to have been seriously wounded in an attack as he tried to escape Sirte.
Nato officials will meet today to decide whether to end the bombing campaign over Libya, which began in March under the terms of a UN resolution.
The alliance’s secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said Col Gaddafi’s death meant “that moment has now moved much closer” but any decision would be made together with the UN and the NTC. The operation could end within a day or two.
Libya’s charge d’affaires in the UK, Mahmud Nacua, said: “The Libyan freedom fighters have finally succeeded in drawing the curtain on Gaddafi crimes.
“Their brave actions have spared Libya and the world from any further suffering of his evils.
“Today Libya’s future begins. Gaddafi’s black era has come to an end forever.”