21 Oct 2011

Circumstances surrounding Gaddafi death unclear

11:11 pm on 21 October 2011

World leaders have hailed the death of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi near his home town of Sirte as the end of an era of despotism and tyranny - but exactly how he died is in dispute.

Video pictures show the Colonel alive at the moment of his capture on Thursday - bloodied and badly injured. He is dragged to the ground by his captors and then goes out of view and gunshots ring out.

But a senior source in the National Transitional Council (NTC) says his captors beat and then killed him and that he might have been resisting.

The official version from the NTC is that Gaddafi was killed when caught in a gunfight that broke out between his supporters and government fighters. It says no order had been given to kill him.

Interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril confirmed that Colonel Gaddafi was taken alive, but died of a bullet wound to his head before reaching hospital.

But the United Nations human rights office has called for a full investigation into the death.

Spokesperson Rupert Colville says it is unclear how the former leader died. Mr Colville described separate cell phone images showing a wounded Gaddafi first alive and then later dead amidst a jumble of anti-Gaddafi fighters as very disturbing.

Colonel Gaddafi, 69, was toppled in August this year after 42 years in power. The uprising began in February in Benghazi.

The fate of two of Gaddafi's sons, Saif al Islam and Mutassim, remains unclear. Reports from Sirte say Saif al Islam tried to flee the city in a convoy of vehicles and NTC fighters have encircled him.

Meanwhile, huge numbers of people are celebrating news of his death in the streets in the capital Tripoli, Benghazi and Sirte. Residents swarmed the streets of Tripoli waving flags and cheering from the windows of their cars.

Gaddafi timeline

  • Born in Sirte, Libya 7 June 1942
  • Attended military academy in Libya, Greece and Britain
  • Seized power on 1 September 1969
  • Married twice, with seven sons and one daughter
  • Killed on 20 October 2011 in Sirte after two months in hiding

Under Muammar Gaddafi, Libya was branded a state sponsor of terrorism for incidents including the fatal shooting of a British policewoman outside the Libyan embassy in London.

The bombing of a Berlin nightclub two years later prompted United States airstrikes on Tripoli.

On 21 December 1988, Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing 270 people. Libyan agents were blamed.

Twenty years of international sanctions eased only when Colonel Gaddafi agreed to hand over the suspects for trial.

International weapons inspectors were allowed into Libya and western nations began a process of rapprochement.

In 2008, the only man convicted for the Lockerbie bombing, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, was sent home from prison in Scotland on compassionate grounds.