Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s leader, came to power in a coup in 1969 and was deposed in 2011. While some believe that his leadership brought the country many socioeconomic advances, others accuse him of being a tyrant who controlled with an iron fist.
On October 20, 2011, he was deposed after a multinational military invasion led by France, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The revolutionary and politician was apprehended and slain by rebels at his hiding. Anti-government protests in Libya began eight months before he was assassinated, in February 2011. The demonstrations, which were sparked by the success of uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, erupted into civil war when Gaddafi’s army clashed with armed opposition groups.
Gaddafi and two of his sons escaped Tripoli, Libya’s capital, on August 28, 2011, as the city began to fall to rebels amid the battle. However, Khamis, one of the Libyan leader’s sons, was murdered by what was thought to be a NATO airstrike within a day. Saif al-Islam, another Gaddafi son, made it to Bani Walid, but the town was quickly overrun by rebels. Gaddafi went to Sirte, Libya’s coastal city, where he was born.
Gaddafi arrived in Sirte with a personal driver, a small contingent of bodyguards, and a state security official named Mansour Dhao, according to a report by Human Rights Watch cited by The Washington Post, which looked at the Libyan leader’s movement over his last days based largely on the account of loyalist fighters. Gaddafi relocated to the little downtown area, where he met with two members of his administration to discuss the escalating civil conflict. Mutassim Gaddafi, Gaddafi’s son, was one of the two officials. While commanding Sirte’s defenses, he would pay regular visits to his father.
Gaddafi decided to move to a more sparsely inhabited suburb on the western end of town as rebels reached Sirte and violence crept into the city center, according to the report.
“Bunkered down and terrified of being exposed, Gaddafi and his bodyguards went between abandoned residences, attempting to find a stable source of food.” The long-time ruler and his guards rummaged through the cupboards of abandoned residences for pasta and rice. The Washington Post said that “several of the water tanks had been destroyed in the battle, making drinking water difficult to get by.”
For weeks, Gaddafi spent the most of his time reading the Koran and praying. “There was no communication, no television, nothing,” Dhao, the security official, told Human Rights Watch later, adding that they had a satellite phone that they used to call others who had access to a television to find out what was going on.
“We didn’t have any responsibilities; all we had to do was choose between sleeping and being awake,” Dhao explained. They moved every four or five days, he added, because they were afraid their location would be found. When they moved, they only utilized one or two cars. It’s possible that those cars were all they possessed, or that they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves. As they moved further, Gaddafi changed, becoming “more and more enraged,” according to Dhao.
“He was mostly enraged because he couldn’t contact with the outside world due to a lack of energy, communications, and television.” We’d go see him and sit with him for an hour or so to talk, and he’d ask, ‘Why isn’t there electricity?’ ‘How come there’s no water?’
Mutassim informed his father of his plan on October 19. “Breaking through the line of rebels laying siege to the city,” he continued, they would depart Sirte. Gaddafi consented, and the convoy began to be organized. Some residents and the wounded were placed into a procession of roughly 50 cars, most of which were four-by-four pickup trucks, by the Libyan leader’s bodyguards. They also loaded weaponry, including machine guns, onto the cars.
The original intention was to leave at 3:30 or 4 a.m., but they took their time organizing the convoy and left at 8 a.m. According to The Washington Post, several rebel groups had returned to their positions by this time, and the “flat desert plain was brightly lighted.” The forces of the National Transition Council had likewise tightened their grip on Sirte.
As Gaddafi and his men attempted to flee Sirte, rebels descended on the caravan. A missile fell adjacent to Gaddafi’s automobile not long after. The explosion caused Dhao to be hurt. As the convoy continued its journey, it came upon Misurata-based rebel militias. The convoy began firing at the insurgents. At this juncture, NATO fighter jets unleashed two 500-pound “PAVEWAY” laser-guided bombs, killing a dozen automobiles and setting fire to the munitions-laden trucks. The convoy was split into multiple groups as a result of the strike.
Gaddafi, his personal bodyguards, his son Mutassim, and his defense minister all rushed out of their vehicles and fled on foot into an abandoned house. They were pursued by rebels.
“We discovered Moammar [Mummar] there, wearing a bullet-proof jacket and a helmet. He was carrying an automatic rifle and had a revolver in his pocket, according to the defense minister’s son. As he attempted to get his father and the team to safety, Mutassim was apprehended and slain.
The defense minister’s son remembered, “Then the villa started being shelled, so we raced out of there.” “There were a lot of cement construction blocks outside, so we hid with the families and guards among them.”
Gaddafi and a group of ten others dashed to a nearby drainage pipe that ran beneath the road. According to the Human Rights Watch report, they crawled through it but were discovered by rebels when they emerged. One of Gaddafi’s bodyguards attempted to fire grenades at the rebels, but one bounced off a concrete wall and landed near Gaddafi. According to The Washington Post, “the bodyguard reached down to recover the explosive when it burst, ripping his arm off and wounded both Gaddafi and the defense minister.”
Gaddafi began bleeding from a head wound and was quickly apprehended by revolutionaries, who began thrashing him. He was even stabbed with a bayonet in the anus. “It was a terrible incident,” a rebel commander told Human Rights Watch. “He was thrown on the front of a pickup truck that tried to drive him away, and he slid off.” “We saw that a trial was required, but we couldn’t control everyone; some actions were beyond our control.”
What transpired next is still unknown. A phone video of the situation appeared to show “Gaddafi’s completely naked and obviously lifeless body being carried into an ambulance, suggesting that he may have been dead by the time he left his location of custody,” according to Human Rights Watch. The ambulance arrived in Misurata after two hours, and gruesome photographs of Gaddafi’s body were quickly transmitted throughout the world.
Gaddafi’s assassination remains a mystery. It’s possible that he died as a result of the mob beating or as a result of his injuries, which included the grenade explosion. It’s also possible that he was killed before or shortly after being loaded into the ambulance and sent to Misurata.
According to a Human Rights Watch article published by The Washington Post, “several militia fighters from Benghazi claim to have shot Gaddafi dead after a debate with Misurata forces about where to carry him, although their assertions remain unsubstantiated.”