Libyan Dictator's Final Hours-Shedding Light on How Moammar Gadhafi Died
By Christoph Reuter
How did Moammar Gadhafi die? The men who witnessed his last hours and the
doctor who issued his death certificate have helped to provide insights into
the dictator's final moments.
It was a stupid idea from the start. It was his son Mutassim's plan, the son
whose political judgment he had never thought much of. But the surprising
thing was that Moammar Gadhafi paid attention to the idea. Let's go to
Sirte, Mutassim had proposed, when the family was forced to flee from
Tripoli in late August. No one would search for them in Sirte or even
suspect that they were there, Mutassim said.
It was a bizarre choice: Sirte, the last bastion of the dictator's loyal
followers and relatives, a former fishing town that Gadhafi had expanded
over the decades into a small city with an international conference center.
"No one here trusted anyone else," said a man who, at the end of last week,
was poking around for the remains of a friend on the western outskirts of
Sirte. He told us to call him Mohammed and not to take any pictures.
"Gadhafi's people had no plan. The war kept on going, because no one dared
to offer a ceasefire."
Based on intercepted radio communications, the rebels knew that there was
something important in the last remaining stronghold of Gadhafi loyalists,
District 2 in the western part of the city. But what was it?
The fighting had been going on for weeks. It was the morning of Thursday,
Oct. 20, and Mohammed Aoued had been standing guard since 5 a.m. on the roof
of the large white grain silo on the western outskirts of Sirte. The
22-year-old from Misrata was a member of the Watan, or "Home" Brigade, but
everyone called it the Pepsi Brigade, because its headquarters were in the
former bottling plant.
Rebels Attacking From All Sides
At about 8:30 a.m., Aoued sounded the alarm when he saw dozens of SUVs
approaching from District 2. A short time later, a missile fired from an
American drone struck the first vehicle in the convoy. Rebels were attacking
from all sides but were hesitant to use heavy weapons, because they feared
for the safety of their own fighters. "I really wanted to join in the
fighting right away," Aoued recalls, "but I wasn't allowed to, because I was
on duty until 9 a.m." His friend Siraj al-Himali was standing guard in a
substation located between the silo and two concrete pipes. After traveling
a few hundred meters, Gadhafi's convoy finally came to a stop at the wall of
the substation. At about 11 a.m., a French jet bombarded the convoy, which
was now in disarray. Gadhafi's Toyota Land Cruiser was slightly damaged and
he was already bleeding from the head after the attack, his security chief
Mansour Dau -- who was arrested -- later told the New York Times.
About 15 men, including Gadhafi and Dau, proceeded on foot past an empty
house to two concrete pipes which were installed to protect the road from
flooding during heavy rains. Himali's group captured three soldiers, and one
of them said that Gadhafi had been with them. The fighters, excited by now,
spread out until they heard shouts coming from the other end of the tunnel.
Himali ran toward the voices and saw that six fighters had dragged Gadhafi
out of the drainage pipe. Aoued followed behind. Umran Shaaban, a young
fighter, was the first one to recognize the dictator and took away the
weapon he was carrying. At first Gadhafi, bleeding and dressed in a khaki
outfit, stood up and began to stammer, asking what was the matter, and
whether anything was the matter at all. "He seemed completely disoriented,
as if he couldn't understand anything. But he was still standing," Aoued
recalls, adding that Gadhafi's captors had held onto him for a few seconds
before striking him. His head was bleeding. Aoued grabbed one of Gadhafi's
brown socks as a souvenir, and Himali held onto one of his black shoes.
'Gadhafi is in the Convoy'
Uthman al-Rais, also with the Watan Brigade, searched Gadhafi's bag. As he
recalls, just a few minutes earlier another one of Gadhafi's last remaining
soldiers had called out from a distance: "Let me say something, let me
speak: Gadhafi is in the convoy!" "He had strange things in his bag. Aside
from dates and nine-millimeter rounds, he had make-up, face creams, car keys
and little pieces of paper with magic formulas." Gadhafi was known for
believing in fortune-tellers. Two magicians from Sudan and Chad were
reportedly among the dead in his last contingent in Sirte, and he had
knotted an "Ihdjab" into his hair, an amulet made of paper, blood and
various other things, as both the fighters in the Watan Brigade and the
doctor who was the first to examine him in Misrata recall.
As more and more fighters came running to the scene, shooting wildly into
the air and shouting "Allahu akbar," a bullet hit Gadhafi in the stomach.
"Where did it come from? No idea, but that was when he began to bleed," says
Aoued. "We tried to form a human chain," he insists, "but the crowd of
fighters became more and more aggressive, and besides, more and more men
came running up after hearing over the radio that we had captured Gadhafi.
We should have protected him. But you have to understand: Many of the
fighters lost friends and relatives, or had been wounded, and they were
Video images taken with a cell phone show one of the rebels shoving a stick
into the dictator's anus and a dark spot spreading across Gadhafi's khaki
Whether this was more of a symbolic act or whether the man actually managed
to shove a stick into his anus remains unclear. The transitional government
in Tripoli is taking the incident seriously enough to order an
investigation. "That shouldn't have been done," says one of the fighters
with the Watan Brigade in Misrata. Another soldier nods somewhat awkwardly.
Part 2: The 'Small and Delicate' Dictator
Gadhafi was hoisted onto the hood of a pickup truck, but slid down again and
was shoved onto the truck bed. He was bleeding more and more heavily, but he
was still trying to speak. Aoued estimates that an ambulance arrived after
"about a quarter of an hour." A friend of his helped lift Gadhafi into the
ambulance and then rode along. "His breathing was getting increasingly
faint, and he completely lost consciousness twice. The doctor in the
ambulance said that he was going to die." When the ambulance became involved
in an accident a short time later, the dying dictator was loaded into a
second ambulance, which had a flat tire soon afterwards. But by then Gadhafi
was dead. A third vehicle finally brought him to Misrata -- to Dr. Abu Bakr
Things had come full circle between him and the dictator, Traina, head of
the city's medical committee, said on his encounters with the
once-omnipotent leader. "I met Gadhafi three times. The first time was on
Oct. 19, 1970. I was in high school, and he explained to us that he was
going to liberate Libya. The second time was 20 years ago, when our
physicians' committee visited him. But all he did was gaze intensely into
the air, as if to show us how unimportant we were. Yes, and the third time,"
he says with a delicate smile, as he leads up to his punch line, "was when I
issued his death certificate." Traina examined Gadhafi together with his
colleague, a Dr. Hassan, and even days later he was still surprised by how
taken aback he was. "Somehow I had imagined him being much bigger, given how
powerful he had seemed to us throughout our lives. But he was small and
The Body of a 40-Year-Old
Traina describes the details of the post-mortem with the sober-mindedness of
a scientist. "The body was interesting. What surprised me at first was that
the man wasn't wearing underwear and that his khaki trousers just had an
elastic waistband. Gadhafi had the weathered face of a 69-year-old, but the
upper body of a 40-year-old, with a flat stomach and hardly any wrinkles.
And there was almost no body hair. We took samples from his head and of his
pubic hairs for DNA testing."
Externally, says Traina, Gadhafi's corpse was in better condition than
expected. "I thought he would be in terrible shape, with severe hematomas,
fractures and wounds. I thought he had been beaten to death. But after we
had cleaned off the blood, I saw almost no bruises, and I couldn't feel and
broken ribs, either. Even the abdominal cavity wasn't filled with blood
after the gunshot."
According to Traina, Gadhafi died of his head wound, "but we don't know if
it was a bullet or shrapnel, because the entry wound in the forehead is
quite small. The exit wound at the temple is somewhat larger, and the bullet
itself is gone." Based on what he has seen, says Traina, Gadhafi died of an
acute subdural hematoma. "The pressure caused by the leaking blood in the
skull kept growing, leading to a so-called herniation, or the impaction of
parts of the brain with subsequent paralysis of the respiratory center." He
says that he understands that people would want to know where the fatal shot
came from, but he remains highly skeptical. "The official autopsy report
from the doctors in Tripoli will be released soon, but without the fragment
they can't come up with anything else, either."
Many of the rebels wouldn't have had any objection to killing Gadhafi. They
shot at him and they beat him, but whether they are responsible for his
death remains questionable. In the ensuing days, more and more fighters
proudly displayed what they claimed were pieces of Gadhafi's clothing, and
soon at least two fur caps, uniform caps and jackets were making the rounds.
If the dictator had had all of these things with him, he would have had to
crawl into the tunnel with a suitcase. And the claim, by rebel fighter Sanad
al-Sadigh al-Aribi, that he shot Gadhafi while he was running, enrages those
who were actually there. "Aribi didn't arrive until Gadhafi was in the
ambulance. He stole his gold ring, but otherwise he had nothing to do with
the arrest," says Uthman al-Rais, the man who had searched Gadhafi's bag.
'Thank God He's Dead!'
What unfolded in the days after Gadhafi's death is the misconception of two
worlds. Feeling that it owed the world an explanation, the Libyan
transitional council explained again and again that it would have been much
better to put Gadhafi on trial. But most Libyans were less concerned about
the rule of law than the question of whether the omnipotent dictator was
even dead. This was one of the reasons for putting the body on public view
in a refrigerated room until it began to visibly disintegrate. Even senior
politicians, all of whom repeatedly insist that it would have been better to
put him on trial, say: "Thank God he's dead!" They just don't want to be
The bodies of Gadhafi, his son Mutassim and his defense minister of many
years, Abu-Bakr Yunis Jabr, were on display in Misrata for four days. At
first Gadhafi's body was half-naked, but after the autopsy it was covered up
to the neck so that onlookers could not see that it had been cut open from
the ear to the navel and then sewed back up again.
In Islamic culture, even the bodies of one's enemies are turned over to
their families. This is precisely what Gadhafi's relatives allegedly
demanded, but the transitional council decided last Monday that the three
men would be buried in a secret location in the desert south of Misrata.
In his native village of Wadi Jaraf, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of
Sirte, the men glance suspiciously at every unknown car that stops in front
of their mosque. They are afraid. Instead of enjoying a special status, they
have now become the hunted. The rebels have confiscated cars, NATO bombed
the local substation, and an old petroleum engineer, who also wants to be
known only as Mohammed, says scornfully: "So that's how NATO wanted to
protect civilians." The telephone network is dead, and for months there was
no gas or electricity. "So if we're criminals because we supported Gadhafi,
how much better are these rebels if they destroy everything here?"
Gadhafi's birthplace, a bare room in the middle of a courtyard, looks like a
construction site. Three freshly bricked borders along the edge of a
four-meter-long (13-foot-long), freshly excavated pit are empty. They are
simple, gray and half a meter tall, and there is still a lot of space next
to them. "They were expecting more bodies," Mohammed explains, "but now they
didn't get any." Moammar was to be buried on the far left, followed by his
sons and other family members.
But these aren't the only empty graves. Gadhafi's mother, grandmother and
two cousins, who died years and decades ago, were buried a few kilometers
farther to the north, in a marble-paneled mosque. But the graves were dug up
and the remains taken away. To leave no doubt as to who was there, the
rebels scrawled "Committee for the Destruction of Unworthy Graves," on the
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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Received on Wed Nov 02 2011 - 16:36:47 EDT