Libyans wave their new national flag as they celebrate in the streets of Tripoli following news of Muammar Gaddafi’s death. (AFP)
TRIPOLI: Celebratory gunfire and cries of ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ rang out across Tripoli as the news of Gaddafi’s death spread. Gun-totting rebel fighters went around the streets firing into the sky. People hugged and kissed each other and sang the national anthem.
A “cacophony of celebration” could be heard in Tripoli as ships and cars blasted their horns and shots were fired into the air. “It’s a great moment,” said Mr Mahmoud Shammam, Information Minister for Libya’s National Transitional Council. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for decades, and I’m thanking God that I’m alive to see this moment.”
Video footage showed some cars parked on a Tripoli street as people and troops milled about the capital. Others were behind the wheel, shouting out of their windows. Passengers were hanging out of car windows and sunroofs and were gathered in the beds of pickup trucks. The sound of cheering could be heard, along with a call to prayer, as people embraced and jumped up and down joyfully and crowds ran through the streets alongside cars.
Gaddafi’s body was taken to a mosque in Misrata, a report said quoting an NTC official. The NATO and the US State Department said they cannot confirm the reports of Gaddafi’s death. “We’ve seen the media reports but can’t confirm them,” the US State Department spokeswoman, Ms Beth Gosselin said.
Gaddafi came to power in a bloodless coup against King Idris in 1969, when he was just an army captain. He claimed to be ‘King of Kings,’ a title the gathering of tribal leaders granted him in 2008. But the revolt against his rule that began in February evolved into civil war, leading to his ouster from power.
Earlier in the day, anti-Gaddafi forces said they had wrested control of the last holdout of loyalists in Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, located 400 km east of Tripoli. “Thank God they have caught this person. In one hour, Sirte was liberated,” a fighter in the town said. The NTC had been waiting for weeks for the coastal city of Sirte to fall to officially declare liberation.
Gaddafi, wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague in the Netherlands for alleged crimes against humanity, had not been seen in public in months. Anti-Gaddafi fighters in Sirte celebrated by firing in the air. In Benghazi and Mistra, crowds gathered in the streets to start celebrating the death of Gaddafi.
Interim government forces had been facing heavy resistance from snipers in the city, and used heavy artillery during the offensive. Thousands of civilians had fled Sirte. The NTC has also suffered heavy casualties in the town of Bani Walid, south-east of Tripoli, in recent weeks.