SIRTE, Libya – Ousted despot Moamer Kadhafi was killed Thursday in a final assault by new regime forces on his hometown Sirte, ending the last vestiges of his 42-year autocratic rule and sparking joy across Libya.
“We announce to the world that Kadhafi has died in the custody of the revolution,” National Transitional Council spokesman Abdel Hafez Ghoga said in the eastern city of Benghazi.
“It is an historic moment. It is the end of tyranny and dictatorship. Kadhafi has met his fate,” he added.
He said the toppled dictator’s death had been “confirmed by our commanders on the ground in Sirte, those who captured him after he had been wounded in the battle for Sirte.”
In Tripoli, interim premier Mahmud Jibril told reporters that interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil was to declare by Friday that the country has been liberated and also give details on Kadhafi’s killing.
As Libyans poured out on to the streets, firing automatic weapons into the air and dancing for joy, world leaders welcomed Kadhafi’s demise as the end of despotism, tyranny, dictatorship and ultimately war in the north African state.
NTC fighters who had fought in the bloody eight-month conflict that in August toppled the veteran despot at a cost of more than 25,000 lives, erupted in jubilation at the news of his death, which followed reports that Kadhafi had been captured alive.
A photograph taken on a mobile phone appeared to show the 69-year-old Kadhafi heavily bloodied.
In the blurry image, Kadhafi is seen with blood-soaked clothing and blood daubed across his face.
A video that later circulated among the NATO-backed NTC fighters in Sirte showed mobile phone footage of what appeared to be Kadhafi’s bloodied corpse.
In the grainy images, a large number of NTC fighters are seen yelling in chaotic scenes around a khaki-clad body which has blood oozing from the face and neck.
The body is then dragged off by the fighters and loaded in the back of a pick-up truck.
Another NTC commander said one of Kadhafi’s sons, Mutassim, was also killed in Sirte.
“We found him dead. We put his body and that of (former defence minister) Abu Bakr Yunis Jabar in an ambulance to take them to Misrata,” said Mohamed Leith.
News of Kadhafi’s death came as new regime troops overran the last redoubt of his loyalists in Sirte, bringing to an end a two-month siege.
Fighters moving in from east and west overcame the last resistance in the city’s Number Two residential neighbourhood where his diehard supporters had been holed up.
“Sirte has been liberated, and with the confirmation that Kadhafi is dead,” Libya has been completely liberated, a top NTC military official, Khalifa Haftar, told AFP in Tripoli.
“Those who were fighting with Kadhafi have either been killed or captured,” he added.
Pick-up trucks blaring out patriotic music criss-crossed the streets of Sirte as fighters flashed V for victory signs and chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).
“We did it! We did it!” chanted the fighters overcome with emotion, exchanging well-wishes, hugs and handshakes against a backdrop of intense celebratory gunfire.
“We finished Kadhafi and his people,” said fighter Ali Urfulli. “We have taken revenge. Let him go to hell.”
Kadhafi was wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity but Libyan leaders had said they wanted him captured alive so he could be put on trial in his home country.
In Brussels, a NATO spokesman said two alliance aircraft on Thursday morning struck two pro-Kadhafi military vehicles near Sirte, amid speculation the fugitive leader was fatally wounded in the air strike and died soon afterwards.
The Pentagon, however, said there was no indication Kadhafi was in the convoy.
“We know there was an air strike on a small convoy of vehicles that were deemed to be and in the act of threatening Libyan civilians” outside of Sirte, spokesman Captain John Kirby told reporters in Washington.
“But there’s no indication or identification of the people that were in that convoy,” said Kirby.
World leaders began to weigh in on the death of the man who had ruled the oil-rich nation.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Kadhafi’s death was an occasion to remember his victims, while hailing it as a chance for a “democratic future” for Libya.
“I think today is a day to remember all of Colonel Kadhafi’s victims” including those who died in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, Cameron said in a statement outside his office.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe hailed the “end of 42 years of tyranny” in Libya and said France was “proud” to have helped bring freedom to the country, referring to the role of French forces in NATO actions during the conflict.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Kadhafi’s death ushered in a “historic transition” for Libya.
“The road ahead for Libya and its people will be difficult and full of challenges. Now is the time for all Libyans to come together,” he said at the UN headquarters.
In Rome, Libya’s former colonial ruler, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was the first to declare after the death of his onetime ally: “Now the war is over.”
Medics said that at least three NTC fighters were killed and 30 wounded in Sirte on Thursday after 18 were killed and around 180 wounded over the previous two days.
Loyalist forces were at the end limited to a tiny enclave of less than a square kilometre (0.4 square miles), cut off by the besieging NTC forces.
Sirte once had 100,000 inhabitants, almost all of whom have fled.
Fierce artillery battles and heavy gunfire over the past month have not left a single building intact, while looting has become commonplace as NTC fighters take their revenge on what was a Kadhafi bastion.