TRIPOLI, Libya — Fugitive Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi died today from wounds sustained during capture near his hometown of Sirte, according to reports that were confirmed by Libyan transitional authorities and independent journalists.
Amateur video broadcast on TV channels showed Gadhafi’s purported corpse: a man who appears to be the deposed leader lying in the street, stripped half-naked and splattered with blood. Bystanders, who are chanting, “God is great!” kicked him.
The 20 seconds of footage became instantly iconic for the Arab Spring protests: a despotic Middle Eastern ruler forced out of power after a popular uprising that turned into an armed rebellion. The image of Gadhafi’s bloody face is sure to send chills among other besieged Middle Eastern rulers such as Syria’s Bashar Assad and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Another video broadcast by Arab satellite news stations seemed to show Gadhafi captured alive. The chaotic video shows Gadhafi, bloody and in a military uniform, being pulled from the hood of a truck and pushed into a standing position. At one point he seems to be talking to his captors and gesturing.
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Members of the National Transitional Council, the interim authority, confirmed the death to journalists in Tripoli. An al Jazeera reporter with revolutionary forces in Sirte said on air that fighters had shown him Gadhafi’s body and belongings such as a shoe and a watch.
Many Libyans were shocked — as well as elated — at this ignominious ending for a larger-than-life figure who ruled them for 42 years. Tripoli, the capital, erupted in volleys of gunfire and nonstop horn honking as residents took to the streets in celebration.
“He became very, very detached from the Libyan reality,” Youcef Bouandel, a Qatar-based international affairs professor, told al Jazeera English. “He saw himself as bigger than he was. He was Libya.”
The circumstances of Gadhafi’s death were still unclear Thursday afternoon. Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, chairman of the transitional council, was expected to offer details at a news conference later in the day.
One account is that Gadhafi was wounded during a NATO strike as his convoy tried to escape Sirte, which fell to the former rebels on Thursday. Another is that he was discovered in a sewage hole, armed with two gold-plated guns. Neither of those reports could be independently verified.
Gadhafi spent the past two months in hiding after NATO-backed revolutionary forces toppled his regime in Tripoli. Speculation, at various times, had put him in Sirte, loyalist stronghold Bani Walid, the vast desert south or across the border in neighboring Niger or Algeria.
“This will mean that everyone in Libya can exhale,” said Lisa Anderson, president of the American University in Cairo and a noted Libya expert. She predicted a period of relaxed tensions that would give the NTC space to tackle “the challenges of constructing genuine public debate about the future of the country and deciding how to deal with the stalwarts of the old regime.”
Special correspondent Albuaishi reported from Libya; Allam reported from Cairo.