Dragged from hiding in a drainage pipe, a wounded Moammar Gadhafi raised his hands and begged revolutionary fighters: "Don't kill me, my sons." Within an hour, he was dead, but not before jubilant Libyans had vented decades of hatred by pulling the eccentric dictator's hair and parading his bloodied body on the hood of a truck.
The death Thursday of Gadhafi, two months after he was driven from power and into hiding, decisively buries the nearly 42-year regime that had turned the oil-rich country into an international pariah and his own personal fiefdom.
It also thrusts Libya into a new age in which its transitional leaders must overcome deep divisions and rebuild nearly all its institutions from scratch to achieve dreams of democracy.
"We have been waiting for this historic moment for a long time. Moammar Gadhafi has been killed," Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril said in the capital of Tripoli. "I would like to call on Libyans to put aside the grudges and only say one word, which is Libya, Libya, Libya."
Other leaders have fallen in the Arab Spring uprisings, but the 69-year-old Gadhafi is the first to be killed. Also killed in Sirte was one of his sons, Muatassim, who was shot in the chest. Another son — one-time heir apparent Seif al-Islam — was wounded in the leg and was being held in a hospital in the city of Zlitan, northwest of Sirte, said Justice Minister Mohammed al-Alagi.
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The day began with revolutionary forces in Sirte bearing down on the last of Gadhafi's heavily armed loyalists who in recent days had been squeezed into a block of buildings of about 700 square yards.
The New York Times reported that a senior Western official in Europe, who is knowledgeable about NATO's operations in Sirte, said there had been strong suspicions for days that Gadhafi and his sons were hiding in those buildings. According to the newspaper, the official said both NATO and anti-Gadhafi fighters believed that the Gadhafis might attempt to flee at any time. U.S.-supplied surveillance drones alerted NATO to an 80-vehicle convoy leaving that area of Sirte at dawn, the Times reported.
At 8:30 a.m., French Mirage jets blasted two of the convoy's armed vehicles, forcing the others to disperse. Revolutionary forces moved in to intercept the convoy, said Fathi Bashagha, spokesman for the Misrata Military Council, which commanded the fighters.
The rebels clashed with loyalists in the convoy for three hours, with rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft weapons and machine guns. Members of the convoy got out of the vehicles, Bashagha said.
Gadhafi and other supporters ran away, with fighters in pursuit, he said. Gadhafi and several bodyguards took refuge in a drainage pipe under a highway nearby. After clashes ensued, Gadhafi — armed with a pistol and wearing pants and a long-underwear shirt — emerged. He told the fighters outside, "What do you want? Don't kill me, my sons," according to Bashagha and Hassan Doua, a fighter who was among those who captured him.
Prime Minister Jibril, in an interview Thursday, said as Gadhafi was being walked to a truck, he was shot in the right arm in an exchange of gunfire between his supporters and revolutionaries.
The truck then got caught in crossfire as it headed toward a hospital, and Gadhafi was shot in the head, Jibril said.
"That was the deadly shot," he said in the interview. The former leader died shortly thereafter, he said.
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Bloody images of Gadhafi's last moments, however, suggest Gadhafi was wounded before boarding the truck. Video on Arab television stations showed a crowd of fighters shoving and pulling Gadhafi, with blood splattered on his face and soaking his shirt.
Gadhafi struggled against them, stumbling and shouting as the fighters pushed him onto the hood of a pickup truck. One fighter held him down, pressing on his thigh with a pair of shoes in a show of contempt. Fighters propped him on the hood as they drove for several moments.
"We want him alive. We want him alive," one man shouted before Gadhafi was dragged off the hood toward an ambulance.
Bashagha said Gadhafi died in the ambulance from wounds suffered during the clashes.
Abdel-Jalil Abdel-Aziz, a doctor who accompanied the body in the ambulance during the 120-mile drive to Misrata, said Gadhafi died from two bullet wounds — to the head and chest.
Later footage showed fighters rolling Gadhafi's lifeless body over on the pavement, stripped to the waist and a pool of blood under his head.
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In Misrata, the former dictator's body was placed in a private house. Local authorities had it moved to another house after a few hours as hundreds of jubilant residents converged outside.
"The blood of martyrs will not go in vain," the crowds cheered.
Reporters saw Gadhafi out on a mattress in a reception room, shirtless, with bullet wounds in the chest and temple and with blood on the arms and hair. Three medical officials arrived, presumably to conduct an autopsy.
A doctor took samples of Gadhafi's DNA, blood and saliva to confirm his identity, Jibril said.
Gadhafi will be buried in an undisclosed location, the Washington Post cited unnamed officials as saying.
Amnesty International urged the revolutionary fighters to give a complete report "to establish the circumstances of Col. Gadhafi's death."
The interim government is expected to officially declare the country liberated on Saturday, triggering the appointment of a new temporary government and a timetable for elections, expected in about eight months.
Information from the Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers, New York Times and Washington Post was used in this report.