SIRTE, Oct 20 – News that Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi was killed in his hometown Sirte on Thursday sparked scenes of wild joy among the ranks of new regime fighters who had crushed his final bastion of support.
“We did it! We did it!” chanted the fighters overcome with emotion, exchanging well-wishes, hugs and handshakes against a backdrop of intense celebratory gunfire.
“We finished Kadhafi and his people,” said fighter Ali Urfulli.
A phone video message purporting to show Kadhafi’s dead body spread like wild fire among National Transitional Council fighters in the Mediterranean city before the strongman’s death was officially announced.
The blurry video, which was viewed by an AFP correspondent, showed what appeared to be Kadhafi’s corpse, dressed in khaki, with blood oozing from his face and neck before fighters drag and load it onto a pick up truck.
“We have taken revenge. Let him go to hell,” said Urfulli.
“We announce to the world that Kadhafi has been killed at the hands of the revolution,” NTC Abdel Hafez Ghoga said, the first high ranking official of the new regime to confirm the news.
“It is an historic moment. It is the end of tyranny and dictatorship. Kadhafi has met his fate,” he said after earlier reports that Kadhafi was hurt and captured fuelled speculation the veteran leader died fighting as he once promised.
Fighters flashed the V for victory sign, yelled “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) and chanted revolutionary slogans at the news of the strongman’s demise moments after city came under their full control.
“Hold your head high… We are Libyans,” they chanted waving the red, black and green flag adopted in February as symbol of the revolution against Kadhafi, who ruled Libya with an iron fist for almost 42 years.
Former rebels unleashed a deafening salvo of machinegun and rocket fire after overruning the final pockets of resistance in Sirte, where diehard loyalists fought and former regime officials hid.
“I am happy we have got revenge for our people who suffered for all these years and for those who were killed in the revolution,” fighter Talar al-Kashmi told AFP.
“Kadhafi is finished,” he said as black smoke billowed from the city centre.
Men fell to their knees and kissed the ground at the news of the Kadhafi’s death while others came together in prayer at the main intersections celebrating the end of an almost two-month offensive on Sirte.
“Sirte is free. The whole of Libya is free” said field commander Khaled Ballam of the February 17 brigade, a leading fighting unit of the east, which fought alongside the west’s hardened fighters of Misrata, in the final assault.
“The country is now under the control of Mustafa Abdel Jalil,” he said in reference to NTC leader, who was an early defector of Kadhafi’s regime.
Ballam said his troops, alongside Misrata fighters, stormed the final pockets of resistance in a dawn assault that encountered minimal resistance as the majority of Kadhafi’s fighters decided to flee rather than fight.
“They had no other option: The game is over,” he said of the final hour.
The roar of gunfire — once a sign of fierce combats — continued unabated after the fall of Sirte was officially declared while car speakers blared the new regime’s national anthem and revolutionary songs.
Loudspeaker calls for a halt to the out of hand shooting fell on deaf ears.
“Every inch of the city is liberated,” said fighter Abdul Matlub Saleh. “The gunfire that you are hearing is all celebration.”