By Elizabeth Arrott
Celebrations are underway across Libya, where officials of the interim government say the country’s former leader Moammar Gadhafi has been killed. The prime minister of Libya’s National Transitional Council, Mahmoud Jibril, confirmed Gadhafi’s death at a news conference in Tripoli. He also said it is time for Libyans to build a new, united Libya. The United States says it received confirmation of his death from Libyan officials.
Video footage broadcast on global television networks showed Gadhafi’s bloodied corpse lying on the ground, surrounded by NTC forces who later took the body to the western city of Misrata.
The circumstances of Gadhafi’s killing were not clear. NTC fighters said Gadhafi was found hiding under ground and was shot and killed as they crushed remaining resistance by Gadhafi loyalists in Sirte. NATO said its warplanes attacked two vehicles of pro-Gadhafi forces that were maneuvering around Sirte on Thursday.
Reports from Sirte said NTC fighters also captured one of Gadhafi’s sons, Mutassim. But there were conflicting reports about whether he was alive or dead. The location of another Gadhafi son, Saif al-Islam, was not clear. Libyan officials believe he is on the run in the vast Libyan desert.
Jubilant crowds filled the streets of Tripoli to celebrate Gadhafi’s demise. NTC fighters also celebrated the fall of Sirte by firing shots into the air and hoisting Libya’s new national flag over what was the last stronghold of Gadhafi loyalists.
Jibril said the NTC will formally announce that Libya has been completely liberated from Gadhafi’s rule by Friday.
The capture of Sirte comes near two months after forces loyal to the NTC took control of the capital Tripoli, forcing Gadhafi and his family to flee.
His whereabouts since had been the source of intense speculation, with the possibilities including underground bunkers or refuge in another country.
The declaration of victory in Sirte is expected to set in motion a series of political moves leading to elections, a new government and a new constitution – a massive undertaking in a country that has had 40 years of arbitrary, one-man rule.
Listen to Marc Ginsberg, former presidential adviser and ambassador to Morocco, discuss what’s next for Libya
The capture of Sirte follows NTC success in another pro-Gadhafi bastion, Bani Walid, earlier this week. Fighting still continues in southern areas of the country, the vast desert regions bordering Niger, Algeria and Chad. But control of Gadhafi’s hometown provides a geographic as well as symbolic victory, uniting the main population corridor along the coast from east to west.
Gadhafi forces are in a struggle for survival says Libya scholar Ziad Akl from the Ahram Center in Cairo.
“The forces that are pro-Gadhafi, first of all, they are not politically organized, they are not strategically outlined, and they are not fighting actually to gain ground,” said Akl. “They are simply trying to defend the positions they have and stop the revolution from moving on and this is a time- constrained battle.”
A major portion of that battle ended Thursday.