POSTED: 2:39 a.m. HST, Oct 21, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 9:20 a.m. HST, Oct 21, 2011
MISRATA, Libya >> Moammar Gadhafi's blood-streaked body was stashed in a commercial freezer at a shopping center today as Libyans tried to keep it away from angry crowds as they figure out where to bury the longtime dictator.
The makeshift provisions for the corpse reflected the disorganization and confusion that has surrounded Gadhafi's death. Accounts of how he died after being captured by revolutionary fighters remained contradictory, and the top U.N. rights official raised concerns he was shot to death in custody.
His burial had been planned for today, in accordance with Islamic traditions calling for quick interment. But the interim government delayed it, saying the circumstances of his death still had to be determined. Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam also said authorities are "debating right now what the best place is to bury him."
An AP correspondent saw the body at the shopping center in the coastal city of Misrata, home of the fighters who killed the ousted leader a day earlier in his hometown of Sirte.
The body, stripped to the waist and wearing beige trousers, was laid on a bloodied mattress on the floor of an emptied-out room-sized freezer where restaurants and stores in the center normally keep perishables. A bullet hole was visible on the left side of his head — with the bullet still lodged in his head, according to the presiding doctor — and in the center of his chest and stomach. His hair was matted and dried blood streaks his arms and head.
Outside the shopping center, hundreds of civilians from Misrata jostled to get inside for a peek at the body, shouting "God is great" and "We want to see the dog."
Bashir Ali, a commander from the Misrata military operations room, said the burial would be in a secret location to avoid revenge attacks. "Gadhafi hurt a lot of people and many will want to find his body for revenge, so we need to make sure he is not found," he said.
The 69-year-old Gadhafi was captured wounded but alive, and there have been contradictory accounts of how and when he received his fatal wounds. New video emerged Friday of a bloodied Gadhafi being taunted and beaten by the fighters who pulled him out of a drainage tunnel following clashes in his hometown of Sirte on Thursday.
"More details are needed to ascertain whether he was killed in some form of fighting or was executed after his capture," said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, calling the images of Gadhafi's last moments very disturbing.
Gadhafi's capture came when revolutionary fighters overwhelmed him and his last die-hard loyalists in Sirte, seizing control of the regime's last major bastion after a heavily fought, weekslong siege. Exact details of his final hours remain unclear.
According to most accounts from fighters on the ground and their commanders, Gadhafi was in a convoy trying to flee, when NATO airstrikes hit two of the vehicles. Then revolutionary forces moved in and clashed with the loyalists with Gadhafi for several hours. Gadhafi and his bodyguards fled their cars and took refuge in a nearby drainage tunnel. Fighters pursued and clashed with them, and in the end, Gadhafi emerged from tunnel and was grabbed by fighters.
New footage posted on Facebook shows the moments when Gadhafi was dragged by revolutionary fighters up the hill to their vehicles. The young men screaming "Moammar, you dog!" beat the confused-looking Gadhafi, who wipes at blood covering the left side of his head and neck and left shoulder.
Gadhafi gestures to the young men to be patient, and says "What's going on?" as he wipes fresh blood from his temple and glances at his palm. A young fighter later is shown carrying a boot and screaming, "This is Moammar's shoe! This is Moammar's shoe! Victory! Victory!"
The next point that most accounts agree upon is that Gadhafi died about 30-40 minutes later as he was being taken in an ambulance to Misrata. A coroners report said he bled to death from a shot to the head, and he also had shots to the chest and belly. Accounts have been confused, however, over where and how those fatal shots were suffered.
Most commanders and fighters who were at the scene with whom The Associated Press has spoken say that when he was captured, Gadhafi had already suffered the wounds that would lead to his death. That would mean that in the video, Gadhafi would have a bullet imbedded in his head, another in his chest and a third near his belly button. Yet, he is seen upright, talking and has the strength to struggle back, and there is no blood on his chest or belly. At one point, his shirt is pulled up to his chest, but no belly wound is visible.
Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril gave a different account Thursday, saying the fatal wounds were suffered later, when Gadhafi had been taken to the ambulance. As it set off for Misrata, the vehicle was caught in crossfire between revolutionaries and Gadhafi loyalists.
Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam mirrored this version Friday, saying the wounds came later, after his capture. "It seems like the bullet was a stray and it could have come from the revolutionaries or the loyalists," Shammam said. "The problem is everyone around the event is giving his own story."
But other fighters, commanders and witnesses have not spoken of any such crossfire or further clashes. Siraq al-Hamali, a 21- year-old fighter, told AP that he rode in the vehicle carrying Gadhafi as it left Sirte and did not mention coming under fire. He said by the time they reached a field hospital 20 miles outside Sirte, Gadhafi had died of wounds he already had.
"I really wanted him alive and everybody did, but he was destined to die and we could do nothing to change that," he said. "He won't be missed, and that's all for the best and let's get on with our lives."
One of Gadhafi's sons, Muatassim, was also killed in Sirte, but the fate of Gadhafi's one-time heir apparent Seif al-Islam was unclear. Some Libyan officials said he had been wounded and was being held in a hospital in Zlitan. But Shammam said Friday that Seif al-Islam's whereabouts were not confirmed, leaving open the possibility he escaped.
Many Libyans awoke after a night of jubilant celebration and celebratory gunfire with hope for the future but also concern that their new rulers, the National Transitional Council, might repeat the mistakes of the past.
Khaled Almslaty, a 42-year-old clothing vendor in Tripoli, said he wished Gadhafi had been captured alive.
"But I believe he got what he deserved because if we prosecuted him for the smallest of his crimes, he would be punished by death," he said. "Now we hope the NTC will accelerate the formation of a new government and ... won't waste time on irrelevant conflicts and competing for authority and positions."
Thousands of people converged for Friday prayers on Martrys' Square, formerly known as Green Square and the site from which Gadhafi made many defiant speeches trying to rally support as the uprising against him turned into a civil war.
One group of men danced and hoisted the country's new tricolor flag, chanting slogans against Syrian President Bashar Assad, who also faces an uprising against his rule as part of the Arab Spring that has also seen the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia ousted.
"It's your turn Bashar, zenga, zenga, dar, dar," they chanted.
"Zenga, zenga, dar, dar" is Arabic for "alley by alley, house by house," a phrase used by Gadhafi in his last months in power, referring to how his forces would hunt down those who rose up against him.
Women, who wore headscarves and prayed in a separate section, hoisted a banner that said, "It's a new morning without the colonel," using Gadhafi's military designation.
The governing National Transitional Council said interim leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil will formally declare liberation on Saturday in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the revolution began in mid-February. The NTC has said it will form a new interim government within a month of liberation and will hold elections within eight months.
Gamel reported from Tripoli. Associated Press writer Hadeel al-Shalchi in Cairo contributed to this report.