There are unconfirmed reports deposed Libyan leader Moamar Gaddafi has died of wounds sustained when fighters captured his home town of Sirte.
If true, his death, which came swiftly after his capture is the most dramatic single development in the Arab Spring revolts that have unseated rulers in Egypt and Tunisia and threatened the grip on power of the leaders of Syria and Yemen.
“He (Gaddafi) was hit in his head,” National Transitional Council official Abdel Majid Mlegta said.
“There was a lot of firing against his group and he died.”
Mr Mlegta said earlier Gaddafi was captured and wounded in both legs at dawn on Thursday as he tried to flee in a convoy which NATO warplanes attacked.
There was no independent confirmation of his remarks and NATO said it was still checking on the reports, which could take some time to confirm.
“We are checking and assessing the situation,” a NATO official said.
“Clearly these are very significant developments, which will take time to confirm. If it is true, then this is truly a historic day for the people of Libya.”
NATO did say its aircraft attacked two military vehicles near Sirte, but stopped short of confirming reports that these had been carrying Gaddafi.
“At approximately 0830 local time (0630 GMT) today, NATO aircraft struck two pro-Gaddafi forces military vehicles which were part of a larger group moving in the vicinity of Sirte,” NATO military spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie said.
“These armed vehicles were conducting military operations and presented a clear threat to civilians.”
Other reports said Gaddafi was found hiding in a hole shouting “don’t shoot, don’t shoot”.
A photograph taken on a mobile phone and screened on Libyan TV appeared to show the veteran strongman heavily bloodied during his capture.
In the grainy image, a man bearing a strong resemblance to Gaddafi is seen with blood-soaked clothing and blood daubed across his face.
NTC official Mohamed Abdel Kafi said Gaddafi’s body was being taken to a secret location for security reasons.
“Gaddafi’s body is with our unit in a car and we are taking the body to a secret place for security reasons,” he said.
NTC head Mustafa Abdel Jalil is due to address the nation shortly.
A senior Obama administration official said the US was working to confirm the reports.
The US State Department also said it could not confirm the news.
“We’ve seen the media reports but can’t confirm them,” spokeswoman Beth Gosselin told Reuters.
In Sirte, medics said the defence minister in Gaddafi’s ousted regime, Abu Bakr Yunis, had been killed in the final battle for the strongman’s hometown.
His body was identified at the field hospital where it was brought in a pick-up truck on Thursday, Dr Abdu Rauf said.
Ahmed Ibrahim, a cousin and adviser of Gaddafi, was also said to have been captured.
In the capital Tripoli, sounds of gunshots were heard and people cheered in the street: “God is Great, God is Great, Gaddafi has been captured”.
Gaddafi’s supposed death follows months of NATO military action in Libya that began over a government crackdown against pro-democracy protesters inspired by protests in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt that ended in the overthrow of long-standing autocratic leaders.
The United States led the initial air strikes on Gaddafi’s forces but quickly handed the lead over to NATO, while taking a secondary role to Britain and France.
The NATO bombing campaign helped Libya’s rebels take power.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday became the most senior US official to visit Tripoli since Gaddafi’s four-decade rule ended in August.
Clinton hailed “Libya’s victory”, but her visit was marked by tight security in a sign of worries that the country’s new rulers have yet to establish full control over the country.
Gaddafi was wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of ordering the killing of civilians.
He was believed to be hiding deep in Libya’s Sahara desert. His wife, two sons and a daughter fled to neighbouring Algeria shortly after Tripoli fell to rebel forces in August.
His capture followed within minutes of the fall of Sirte, a development that extinguished the last significant resistance by forces loyal to the deposed leader.
NTC fighters hoisted the red, black and green national flag above a large utilities building in the centre of a newly-captured Sirte neighbourhood and celebratory gunfire broke out among their ecstatic and relieved comrades.
Source: ABC News