Abdel Hakim Bilhaji, head of the National Council military arm in Tripoli, has announced, live on Al-Jazeera Arabic, that deposed leader Moammar Qaddafi has died of injuries during a NATO/NTC campaign, known as Operation Unified Protector, into the dictator’s hometown of Sirte.
The killing of Qaddafi, which came swiftly after his capture near Sirta, is the most dramatic development in the “Arab Spring” revolts that have unseated rulers in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as threatening the authoritative regimes in Syria and Yemen. The capture of Sirte, the last loyalist stronghold, and the death of Qaddafi means that Libya’s ruling NTC shoud not be able to begin the long task of forging a new democratic system which it said would get under way after Sirte, built as a showpiece for Qaddafi’s rule, had fallen. Although reports were unconfirmed by NATO and many Western media agencies, photographic proof (above) was leaked of the graphic injuries and death of Qaddafi, marking the end of the “King of Kings”, a title that Qaddafi had a gathering of tribal leaders in Libya grant him in 2008.
Along with the death of Qaddafi, Libyan forces were able to capture Mansur Daw, Mu-tasim and Ahmad Ibrahim Abdallah al-Sanusi, all of whom are Qaddafi’s sons. The capture of the sons and death of Qaddafi came as NATO forces bombed Sirte and a convoy fleeing from Sirte. The convoy was set upon by Libyan forces, resulting in Qaddafi being shot in both legs and presumably in the head as well. The siege and resulting death of Qaddafi was possible through the bilateral campaign by NATO and NTC forces under Operation Unified Protector.
“We are checking and assessing the situation. Clearly these are very significant developments, which will take time to confirm. If it is true, then this is truly a day for the people of Libya.” – NATO official
Initially coming in as an unconfirmed report that a “big fish” had been capture, Libyan officials could not say with certainty that capture or death of the former Libyan leader. So saying, the news was confirmed by Abdul Hakim Belhaj, commander of the 11th brigade, who witnessed the death and saw the body of Colonel Qaddafi. The announcement sparked widespread celebration in Tripoli and a lengthy statement read out on Libyan State Television repeating the claim of the former leader’s capture and announcing the full liberation of the country. Qaddafi has been wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of ordering the killing of unarmed civilians during long years of brutal security force repression. So saying, justice finally seems to have come after 42 years on one-man rule over the oil-producing North African state, vindicating long years of struggle, resistance, sacrifice and prayer by the former rebel forces. National Transitional Council fighters hoisted the red, black, and green national flag above large utilities building in the center of the newly-capture Sirte neighborhood, marking the end of the struggle with celebratory gunfire among their relieved comrades and mirroring the nation-wide sentiment of victory.
A Libyan fighter told the Associated Press that he was there when Qaddafi was shot with a 9mm gun in the lower body. Standing in front of a truck with a crowd of congratulatory fighters, the soldier said he struck the dictator with his shoe, a grave insult in the Arab world. Evidently, the last strike, the last kick has illustrated the conclusion of battle for the fighters who has laid siege to Sirte for months, battled loyalist troops to seize control of the country from Qaddafi’s grasp and finally chant, “the war, it’s finished.”
Nevertheless, the tasks ahead of the NTC will be as challenging, maybe even more challenging, as the battle for Libya, as they attempt to rest control of Libya under a democratic regime. Not to belittle the occasion and celebrations, the current Egyptian crises underscores the potential for riots and chaos even after a successful usurpation of a dictator. With a military power in control of Egypt and yet to give up power, the Libyans must heed the Egyptian warning and prepare.