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Muammar Gaddafi Killed in Libya as Interim Government Seizes Last Regime Stronghold

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As we went to broadcast, the ousted Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi was reported dead outside his hometown of Sirte, eight months after the first protests erupted against his longtime rule. Gaddafi was reportedly shot dead after his convoy was bombed in a NATO air strike. The news came as the interim Libyan government said it had captured Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown and the last major pocket of resistance held by fighters loyal to his rule. We speak to Democracy Now! correspondent Anjali Kamat, who has been following the developments in Libya closely. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: As we went to broadcast, the ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has reportedly been captured, possibly killed, in his hometown of Sirte, eight months after the first protests erupted against his longtime rule. According to Reuters, forces with Libya’s transitional government seized Gaddafi, who suffered injuries in both legs. Al Jazeera is reporting Gaddafi is dead. Neither of the claims have been independently verified.

AMY GOODMAN: The announcements came shortly after the interim government said it had captured Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown and the last major pocket of resistance held by fighters loyal to his rule. The fall of Sirte follows weeks of fighting that has left much of Sirte in ruins, forcing thousands of civilians to flee.

For more, we go to Cairo, where we’re joined by Democracy Now!’s Anjali Kamat. She has been in Libya several times, is doing a series of reports for us there.

Anjali, what is the latest you’ve heard, and the significance of these reports?

ANJALI KAMAT: Hi, Amy and Juan.

If it is indeed true that Gaddafi has been captured or killed, it’s obviously a huge development in the Libyan struggle against their dictator. But, you know, we have to trust that none of these reports have been independently confirmed. There’s conflicting reports about the source of these reports. It was first reported on Libyan television, which is run by the NTC, quoting someone from the military council in Misurata. Some sources have this quote from NTC official [inaudible]. So I think it’s important to just be [inaudible] what we actually know. In the coming hours, I’m sure we’ll have a better sense of whether Muammar Gaddafi is indeed captured and dead or alive.

But in some ways—and, you know, building off of what I heard from people from my visit last month even to Tripoli—Gaddafi is, in some ways, irrelevant. And in the larger sense, the bigger development of today might be the capture of his birthplace, the town of Sirte, that you just mentioned in the lede. This is important because the capture of Sirte marks the end of the war in Libya and brings up a major transition to the official transitional period. The interim prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, who’s the head of the NTC, he announced earlier this month that he would resign once Sirte was captured. So I think a lot of people on the ground are curious to see if these changes are actually going to be put into effect. It also brings into question what is the role of NATO going to be in the coming period. If the war is officially over, what kind of role will NATO have in the future? There’s splits within the ruling National Transitional Council. I think a lot of these will also come to the forefront, splits between groups of people who don’t want to see former Gaddafi-era officials still in power. Mahmoud Jibril was one of those figures. I think a lot of people are going to be looking to the Transitional Council to see if they are going to actually begin the transitional period that they promised would start once Sirte fell.

AMY GOODMAN: And we are getting reports now from CNN saying that Muammar Gaddafi is dead. But, of course, we’ll continue to monitor this. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, well, Anjali, the battle for Sirte took a lot longer than anyone had expected, indicating at least that the fighters around Gaddafi were determined to fight to the end. Your sense of how that fight developed? And also, how this Transitional Council, which obviously has all kinds of ideological differences among themselves, how that—what the governance structure will look like in Libya in future months, as the different groups within Libya battle to have influence over the new government?

ANJALI KAMAT: Yes, it did take much longer than people expected. Tripoli fell almost two months ago now, late August, and I think everyone thought that Sirte and Bani Walid would follow in a matter of weeks, if not days. And then it’s been almost two months. I think a small group of soldiers loyal to Gaddafi put up a very strong fight.

The humanitarian situation in Sirte is also a cause for alarm. Many—Sirte was a town of 100,000 people, and in the intervening two months, you know, thousands of people fled the city, civilians fled. But some of them were stuck inside. And there were reports of, you know, no water, no electricity, no communication—a very difficult situation. Images that are coming out of Sirte today are demonstrating the fighting was very—I think one of the fiercest battles of this eight-month uprising took place in Sirte. So there’s certainly, you know, a lot of questions about who was fighting all this time, and why did the NTC think it would be over in a matter of days, what was the miscalculation there, and what happened in these past two months. So it remains to come out.

In terms of the divisions and splits within the NTC, certainly there is—it’s a very diverse body. I think one of the interesting things about the NTC is that it involves a range of different people. There’s some figures who were formerly associated with the reform wing of Gaddafi’s regime, people associated with Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam. Mahmoud Jibril, the interim prime minister, was a close associate of Seif al-Islam. It also involves a lot of former diplomats with the regime, who defected in the early days of the uprising. Many of them were also seen to be reformists, neoliberal, very many of them.

But there’s also sort of an increasingly influential group of figures who are heavily backed by Qatar. Let’s not forget that this is not just a NATO-backed military operation that’s been taking place. Qatar also played a very important role. So figures like Abdelhakim Belhadj, who’s one of the military leaders, is a rising star in the new Libya, and he’s someone who was actually a victim of extraordinary rendition by the Bush administration. He was rendered to Libya in 2004 and kept, detained, in the notorious Abu Salim prison for six years, where he says he was tortured. He’s now demanding an apology from the CIA and the British intelligence, MI6, for the torture he went through. And now he’s one of the leading figures in the new Libya. And him and other figures associated with him, who are Islamists, have come out very strongly calling for former Gaddafi officials within the interim government to step down, figures like Mahmoud Jibril.

So it remains to be seen how this is going to pan out. There’s also secular activist figures who are also involved. So, it’s a mixed bag. And I think, on the ground, there’s certainly a lot of apprehension about how this is going to pan out.

And I think, most importantly, what’s going to happen to all the weapons? The society is incredibly militarized after eight months of fighting. When Gaddafi’s apparatus crumbled in different parts of the country, the first thing to be left abandoned were the warehouses of weapons. Lots of heavy weapons have gone missing. This is something Human Rights Watch has documented. And just last week, the State Department announced that they’re sending several dozen former soldiers to Libya to help the Libyan teams that are trying to control the spread of weapons. So, you know, I think, the coming period, there’s going to be a lot of questions about how this is all going to be brought under control.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Anjali Kamat. She’s in Cairo, has visited Libya a number of times, doing a series of pieces there. All major news agencies are reporting Gaddafi dead or captured. But NTC officials will not confirm this. Just looking at a summary of the latest developments from Reuters, Muammar Gaddafi captured fleeing Sirte, according to unconfirmed reports. The NTC’s information minister, Mahmoud Shammam, refused to confirm the reports, but said “big fish” are on their way to Misurata. Gaddafi is reported to have been critically injured in both legs while being detained. “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” he’s reported to have said. Again, Reuters saying they cannot confirm he’s been captured, but all the major news agencies are saying he’s been killed.

A number of high-ranking Gaddafi officials are also reported to have been caught, including his spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, and his cousin, Ahmed Ibrahim. Shammam said, “We hope that we are catching some big names so we can put them in the court and let the people have the last word on their fate.”

Mahmoud Jibril, Libya’s interim leader, has hinted he may step down today. In an interview with Time magazine, he also complained about political infighting in the new Libya.

And again, from Reuters, from The Guardian, reports that Muammar Gaddafi is dead. Looking at the Times of India, Abdel Majid Mlegta, a National Transition Council official, told Reuters that Gaddafi was captured and wounded in both legs at dawn on Thursday as he tried to flee in a convoy, which NATO warplanes attacked. The official said he was also hit in his head. “There was a lot of firing against his group, and he died.” That’s the latest we have.

Anjali Kamat, if you could summarize where you think this is all headed now.

ANJALI KAMAT: Well, I think, hopefully, we’ll get some confirmation in the coming hours or days about Gaddafi, what exactly has happened to Gaddafi. He is indeed captured or dead. Let’s not forget that, until recently, all reports indicated that he was potentially in the south of the country near the border with Algeria. So it’s a bit surprising to see that he suddenly popped up in Sirte again. But it’s just a huge development. This is a man who ruled Libya for 42 years, increasingly with a greater amount of terror. People now remember Gaddafi, largely across the country, as a man who ruled them with an iron hand. One of the symbols of his regime is the prison at Abu Salim, where in 1996 over 1,200 people were executed.

A lot of people in Libya that I spoke to actually said they didn’t want him dead. They wanted to—wanted him to be captured alive, and they wanted to see him go on trial inside Libya. The International Criminal Court has a warrant out for Gaddafi, but very few people in Libya were excited about sending him to the ICC. They wanted him to have a public trial in Libya and have a public reckoning with all the crimes that he and his regime had committed over several decades.

At this point, moving on forward, I think the biggest question is what is going to happen to the new Libya. How is this going to change the governing structure of the interim authorities? Who is going to come up? Who’s going to be in charge? What’s going to happen to the former Gaddafi-era officials who had been leading the NTC? And does this mean the rise of new figures within the interim authorities? And what does this mean for a country that’s been brutalized by eight months of war and severe weaponization and militarization?

AMY GOODMAN: And his sons, Anjali?

ANJALI KAMAT: Well, the sons—there’s also conflicting reports about—there’s no reports right now about what’s happened to arguably his most famous son, Saif al-Islam. But Mo’tassim Gaddafi, there have been reports that he was captured a few days ago. And there’s reports of a high-value prisoner who’s in Misurata, which may [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: We’re having a little trouble understanding you.

ANJALI KAMAT: [inaudible]

AMY GOODMAN: Anjali, we’re going to have to leave it there, because you’re breaking up, but thank you very much for your reports. And I highly encourage people to go to our website at democracynow.org to see Anjali Kamat’s last report from Libya. Her next one, we will be broadcasting this next week. Anjali Kamat, Democracy Now! correspondent, speaking to us now from Cairo, Egypt.

Again, the latest news, all major networks are saying that Muammar Gaddafi is dead. Again, this is, though, unconfirmed. NTC officials have yet to finally confirm this. The word is he was fleeing from Sirte, was first shot, and then killed. But again, this is unconfirmed, and we’ll bring you the latest through this broadcast.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. President Bush is headed to Canada, and some people want him arrested. We’ll find out why. Stay with us.

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