BY ELIZABETH ARROTT – Former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, 69, has been killed in an assault by provisional government forces on his coastal hometown of Sirte.
The prime minister of Libya’s National Transitional Council, Mahmoud Jibril, confirmed Gadhafi’s death on Thursday at a news conference in Tripoli. He also said it is time for Libyans to build a new, united Libya, now that Gadhafi is dead.
The United States says it received confirmation of the former leader’s death from Libyan officials.
Footage broadcast on global television networks showed a wounded and bleeding Gadhafi being carried by NTC forces who found him hiding in a sewage pipe on the outskirts of Sirte. Libyan officials said Gadhafi died of gunshot wounds shortly after NTC forces captured him, but it was not clear when he was shot or by whom.
NATO said its aircraft attacked two vehicles of pro-Gadhafi forces that were maneuvering around Sirte on Thursday. NTC fighters said Gadhafi and a group of loyalists tried to flee Sirte in the convoy that was attacked.
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.
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.