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On this day: 20 October 2011, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi is killed

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Gaddafi’s legacy

By Jihâd Gillon
Posted on Wednesday, 20 October 2021 14:08

Libya's leader Gaddafi attends a celebration of the 40th anniversary of his coming to power in Tripoli
Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi attends a celebration of the 40th anniversary of his coming to power at the Green Square in Tripoli September 1, 2009. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Ten years after his death, conspiracy theories are flourishing about the former Libyan leader. A look back at the last days of the man who had proclaimed himself ‘King of the kings of Africa’.

“Kheyr, kheyr. Chnou fi?” When militiamen pull him out of a water drainage tunnel, somewhere west of Sirte, this is the only sentence that comes to Muammar Gaddafi. “It’s okay, it’s okay, what’s the matter?” It’s as if an unwelcome neighbor has come knocking on the door in the middle of a nap, but it’s 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, 20 October 2011, and the man who has ruled Libya for more than 40 years has only a few moments left to live.

Since August and his escape from Tripoli, which led him into the hands of rebels a few months after the beginning of the NATO intervention, the Guide wanders in Sirte, from neighborhood to neighborhood, from apartment to apartment. He is accompanied by a last core of loyalists, including his cousin Mansour Dou, commander of the Popular Guard, Abu Bakr Younes Jaber, his minister of defense, and Ezzedin al-Hanshiri, the head of his personal guard.

His son Motassem is on the frontline, from where he regularly returns to see him. Sirte is the stronghold of the family and the Qadhadhfa, the tribe that the Gaddafis belong to. It is there that the Guide has chosen to shelter from the rebels and the bombing of NATO planes, against the advice of his brother-in-law Abdallah Senussi, the head of military intelligence, who urged him to leave the country.

Bombed by the revolutionaries

On 20 August, after leaving the Damascus district where they had taken refuge after the fall of the Bab al-Aziziyya HQ, Gaddafi and his men first head to Beni Walid. The city, loyal to Gaddafi, is safer than the coastal road controlled by the revolutionary militias. They do not encounter much resistance, but are shot at near Tripoli’s international airport by a Zintan militia. The convoy reaches Sirte without further trouble, but the security there is hardly any better.

After we went to the other side, four or five [Gaddafi loyalists] who were [attempting to escape] surrendered and told us that the Guide was hiding inside.”

“We were first in the buildings of the city center […], we moved every three or four days. We ended up in district 2, but it began to be intensely bombed by the revolutionary groups,” says Mansour Dou, who was detained by a militia from Misrata, one day after the death of Colonel Gaddafi.

After several months of this regime, one must face the facts: Sirte has become too dangerous for his son, and the Qadhadhfa no longer seem willing to protect him, while the rebels are gaining ground day after day. The boss of the popular guard pushes him to not just leave the city, but also the country and the power, at least what is left of it. However, the Guide says: “[…] I […] already left power in 1977”, the year that the Libyan Arab Republic was renamed the ‘People’s Socialist Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’.

In the early hours of 20 October, Motassem convinces his father to attempt an exit some 20 kilometers south of Sirte, in Qasr Abou Hadi, his birthplace. The 100 or so followers in the 45-vehicle convoy manage to cross Sirte, after being hit by a failed shot from an American Predator drone. They then head west, hoping to head south again, but the road is controlled by two militias from Misrata, the fiercely revolutionary coastal town.

“I recognised him right away”

Katibat al-Nimr and Katibat al-Khirane receive the alert that the Guide is fleeing and drown the convoy under a deluge of bullets. Around 11 a.m., two bombs dropped by French jets cause carnage in the convoy, destroying about 15 vehicles and killing more than half of Gaddafi’s followers. There is panic. The Guide is hit in the head by a piece of shrapnel, but manages to escape on foot with Abou Bakr Younès and Mansour Dou. They walk 140 meters and enter the sewage pipes below the road.

Abu Bakr Younes is in one of them, Muammar Gaddafi and Mansour Dou in the other, when the militiamen of the Katibat al-Khiran, in charge of cleaning up the area, spot the hideout. They do not yet know the identity of those who have taken shelter there. Abu Bakr Younes, who is discovered first, empties his magazine on the militiamen before he is executed.

“After we went to the other side, four or five [Gaddafi loyalists] who were [attempting to escape] surrendered and told us that the Guide was hiding inside,” said Omran Ben Chaabane, a young 21-year-old militiaman who would later be killed in 2012. “When I saw him in the conduit, I immediately recognised him with his hairy head,” says the man who disarmed him, grabbing his 357 Magnum. Gaddafi’s chased gold Browning gun, which he did not use, is recovered by another young militiaman from Misrata.

Executed with two bullets

Confusion follows the capture of the Guide as he is surrounded by a dozen men who are hysterical at the idea of capturing the one who had presided over their destiny. Gaddafi is beaten, receives “bayonet blows to the buttocks, resulting in new wounds and bleeding,” according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

Some fighters wanted to take him away, that’s when I shot him twice, in the head and chest.”

In videos released by militiamen, he is seen being forced in front of a pickup truck, his face swollen in another, crumbling under the weight of overexcited militiamen. Dazed and his hair torn out in clumps, he visibly pleads for his life, trying to reason with the revolutionaries. These are the last known images of the Guide when he was alive.

According to Mohamed Lahwek, one of the few men who tried to protect him from the crowd, Gaddafi was still alive when he was put in an ambulance. However, in a video posted on YouTube a few days later, a certain Sana El Sadek claims to be the one who finished him off. “Some fighters wanted to take him away, that’s when I shot him twice, in the head and chest.” He presents the golden seal of the Guide as proof of his claims. Other versions indicate that the Guide was shot twice in the chest, even inside the ambulance.

French decision?

In any case, Gaddafi did not get out of the ambulance alive when he arrived in Misrata. His body, as well as that of his son Motassem and Abu Bakr Younes, lay exposed in a cold room in the city for three days, before being buried in the desert, at a secret location.

Today, beyond the police investigation into the individual who pulled the trigger and ended the life of Gaddafi, the question of responsibility remains unanswered. Could the Leader have been arrested or captured alive by coalition forces? Who told the Misrata militias that Gaddafi’s convoy was fleeing? Did France, which owned the planes that bombed the convoy, decide outside of any legal framework to finish off the Leader?

This is what Mediapart‘s investigations into the secret financing of Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign suggest. Halfway between theater and documentary, the French play The Man Who Killed Muammar Gaddafi, performed this year in Avignon, has a former officer of the DGSE then stationed in Tripoli, responsible for manipulating the girlfriend of one of the sons of the former leader of the Libyan Jamahiriya. For him, there is no doubt that the death of the Guide is the result of a play by the Sarkozy clan.

What can be said about the promises of contracts made by Gaddafi to Sarkozy during his visit to Paris in December 1997, and which did not materialise? From his secret tomb, the Guide has not finished haunting the former French president.

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