SIRTE, Libya — Former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi asked his captors twice, "What do you want from me?" as they swarmed around him Thursday, according to video footage shot at the scene by a Libyan journalist. By early afternoon, he was dead, but how he died remained in dispute.
In one version, recounted by a reporter for the Arabic-language satellite channel al Arabiya, the former dictator was shot moments after his capture by an 18-year-old revolutionary fighter who was hailed as a hero by his comrades in arms.
In the other, told by officials of Libya's interim government in Tripoli, Gadhafi died en route to a hospital for treatment of wounds he suffered when the convoy he was riding in was hit by a NATO airstrike that preceded his detention.
Either way, Gadhafi's death after revolutionary fighters found him hiding in a drainage pipe in his hometown of Sirte was an ignominious end for an over-the-top ruler who gained worldwide notoriety with his flamboyant personal tastes and calculating geopolitical games.
Tripoli, the capital, and other Libyan cities erupted in volleys of gunfire and nonstop horn-honking as Libyans celebrated the demise of the eccentric despot who'd ruled them for 42 years, turning the oil-rich nation into a pariah state through his ill-fated military adventures and documented support for terrorist groups.
"I feel now that my children will rest in peace because the cause of their death is gone," said Ahmed Essa, 56, a tearful businessman whose two sons were killed in the NATO-backed war against Gadhafi's forces. "The country's priority should be collecting the weapons from all the young people and starting the process of building a new and better future for Libya."
Even with Gadhafi's dominating presence gone, Libya's interim authorities face serious obstacles to their goal of assembling a formal caretaker government and staging elections within eight months. But the deeply rooted regional and ideological divisions were shelved for a moment, at least, as Libyans rallied around the news that not only Gadhafi, but several members of his inner circle, had been killed or captured in a single day.
The bloodied corpse of Gadhafi's son and national security adviser, Moatassim, was paraded before TV cameras, though grainy video footage appeared to show that he, too, had been alive upon capture.
Saif al Islam, another son and onetime presumed successor, was reported wounded and in custody of revolutionary forces, though conflicting reports said he'd been killed as well.
Gadhafi's defense minister, Abu Bakr Younis Jabr, also was said to have been alive at capture but was later identified as among the dead, according to news reports. The information couldn't be independently verified.
"Today we can definitively say that the Gadhafi regime has come to an end," President Barack Obama said in the Rose Garden of the White House. "The last major regime strongholds have fallen. A new government is consolidating control over the country. One of the world's longest-serving dictators is no more."
A plethora of amateur videos surfaced to chronicle Gadhafi's last moments. Warning: Graphic content
In one, a khaki-clad man identified as Gadhafi appears wounded, splayed out on the hood of a truck. He's wounded, his shirt bloody. Revolutionary fighters haul him to a standing position, then surround him, pushing him away from the camera before he turns and seems to gesture.