Libya, other nations celebrate execution of Gadhafi by rebel forces
CAIRO - Moammar Gadhafi, Libya's brutal ruler of 42 years, vowed to hunt down "house by house, alley by alley" the "rats" who rebelled against him in February.
In the end, they hunted him down instead.
Dragged from a drainage pipe outside his coastal birthplace of Sirte, the ousted dictator begged for his life before a rebel shot him in the head.
"What did I ever do to you?" he reportedly asked one rebel fighter in his final minutes.
Within hours, spray-painted graffiti marked the storm drain as "the hiding place of the rat."
One report said two of his sons, Mutassim and Seif Al Islam, were killed. A corpse that officials identified as that of Mutassim was laid out in a house in Misrata. However, Acting Justice Minister Mohammad al-Alagi told the Associated Press that Seif Al Islam had been captured and taken to a hospital with a leg wound. Another report had him wounded and trying to flee Sirte.
The death of the man whom President Reagan once dismissed as "the mad dog of the Middle East" was greeted with joy across Libya and in many Arab capitals.
Yet some Libyans and one U.S. expert warned that the country faces a struggle to control the armed mayhem that has raged in its streets for eight months -- and perhaps a battle with Islamist forces, as well.
"This is the most important day in my life," said Fathi Sherif, 49, a chemical engineer who helped to hunt down Gadhafi and his followers for months. "Even if I die tomorrow, I don't care. I am so happy!"
Gadhafi, 69, largely remained in hiding when NATO warplanes began bombing military and other regime targets in the spring.
He went on the run in August as rebels swept toward Tripoli, the capital, while some of his family fled the country.
"I am speechless. ... People are tossing candy and giving out flowers in the middle of the street," said Talis Aghil, 23, a political activist in Tripoli. The streets there were "raining bullets" from celebratory gunfire, she said.
She admitted to feeling "a little bit disappointed. I really wanted him to be captured alive. I wanted those rebels and those who suffered through the years at least to have a chance to face him.
"But at the same time, it is closure ... a comfort ... it will kill any trace of hope from his followers that he will come back," she said.
Reports said the ousted dictator's capture and execution were set in motion when a U.S. drone and a French jet fighter attacked a large convoy of SUVs attempting to flee Sirte. Gadhafi, apparently riding in one of the vehicles, was wounded but escaped.
Soon after, he was found hiding in the drainage pipe.
Western and Arab television networks showed video of him, bloodied but alive, being shoved against a vehicle by jubilant rebels moments before he was killed.
"I am happy about it," said Yousef Idriss, 20, of Benghazi.
Benghazi is the eastern Libyan city that became the rebels' initial base but was nearly overrun by Gadhafi's army in the first weeks of the uprising. Gadhafi's threats to level the city and kill its inhabitants provoked an international outcry -- and prompted the NATO airstrikes that ultimately led to his demise.
"I wish that he would have been caught alive, and there are still some suspicions about how he died," Idriss said. "If somebody killed him (as a captive), then the people on the ground with guns are more powerful than the NTC" -- the ruling National Transitional Council -- "and that is not good.
"People wanted him to go on trial for all his crimes."
Gadhafi was the third leader to fall but the first to be killed in the "Arab Awakening," the public uprisings that have swept the region since January.
He seized power in 1969 by toppling King Idriss and was the region's longest-ruling leader.
In Benghazi, Abdel Hafeth Ghoga of the NTC declared, "Gadhafi's tyranny and dictatorship has finally ended ... for Libya and for the world," to cheers of "God is great!"
With the dictator's death, Libyans face uncertain prospects.
"At this point, the most important thing ... is for the NTC to set clear rules for the treatment of prisoners and to set up courts of justice for the trials of those who were supporting Gadhafi," said Mary Jane Deeb, an expert on Gadhafi and author of several acclaimed books on Libya.
Deeb, director of the Middle East and Africa division of the Library of Congress, said she spoke on her own behalf and not in her official capacity.
"That is the only way you are going to establish law and order," she said, adding that "the problem will be the militias and all the arms floating around Libya."
How to get those guns off the streets and who will organize security must be resolved before a real transition to democracy can occur, she said.
In their first day without Gadhafi in more than four decades, Libyans expressed hope mixed with concern.
Aghil, the Tripoli political activist, agreed that the "real challenge will start now, and we have to prove to ourselves ... and to the world that we can be a model of democracy."
She said she plans to hold mock elections to show young Libyans how to vote freely, to create a shadow government to teach leadership skills and to act as a government monitor.
"It was the youth that started this revolution, and the youth can be a model of how this politics will play out," she said.
The ruling council has pledged to hold elections within eight months.
Sherif, the Gadhafi hunter, said he hopes Libya will be "democratic and far away from the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida and the religious people." But those forces have "started to show themselves, and this is very bad," he said.
"They started to push us away from the political circle," he said, adding that Libyans have "paid a very high price and we won't accept it." He conceded that many Libyans are "nervous."
Idriss, the Benghazi resident, said he hopes "for a bright future, a democratic country, peace of mind, to not be afraid of getting shot."
"People want freedom in their hands," he said. "The young people, they should have a lot of options in life, not just to study and work.
"We should focus on the opportunities we were missing in the past 42 years under Gadhafi, the rat."