MISRATA, Libya — Moammar Gadhafi’s blood-streaked body was on display in a commercial freezer at a shopping center Friday as Libyan authorities argued about what to do with his remains and questions deepened over official accounts of the longtime dictator’s death. New video emerged of his violent, chaotic last moments, showing fighters beating him as they drag him away.
Nearly every aspect of Thursday’s killing of Gadhafi was mired in confusion, a sign of the difficulties ahead for Libya. Its new rulers are disorganized, its people embittered and divided. But the ruling National Transitional Council said it would declare the country’s liberation on Saturday, the starting point for a timetable that calls for a new interim government within a month and elections within eight months.
The top U.N. rights chief raised concerns that Gadhafi may have been shot to death after being captured alive. The fate of his body seemed tied up in squabbles among Libya’s factions, as fighters from Misrata — a city brutally besieged by Gadhafi’s forces during the civil war — seemed to claim ownership of it, forcing the delay of a planned burial Friday.
Also muddled was the fate of Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the only Gadhafi son who stayed in Libya and reportedly survived after his father’s Aug. 21 ouster. It appeared Friday that he was still at large: some government ministers had said he was wounded and in custody in a hospital in the city of Zlitan, but a military official at the hospital, Hakim al-Kisher, denied he was there.
In Misrata, residents crowded into long lines to get a chance to view the body of Gadhafi, which was laid out on a mattress on the floor of an emptied-out vegetable and onions freezer at a local shopping center. The body had apparently been stowed in the freezer in an attempt to keep it out of the public eye, but once the location was known, that intention was swept away in the overwhelming desire of residents to see the man they so deeply despised.
Men, women and children filed in to take their picture with the body. The site’s guards had even organized separate visiting hours for families and single men.
“We want to see the dog,” some chanted.
Gadhafi’s 69-year-old body was stripped to the waist, his torso and arms streaked with dried blood. Bullet wounds in the chest, abdomen and left side of the head were visible.
The bloody siege of Misrata over the summer instilled a particularly virulent hatred of Gadhafi there — a hatred now mixed with pride because he was captured and killed by fighters from the city.
New video posted on Facebook showed revolutionary fighters dragging a confused-looking Gadhafi up the hill to their vehicles after his capture and less than an hour before he was killed. The young men scream “Moammar, you dog!” as their former leader wipes at blood covering the left side of his head, neck and left shoulder.
Gadhafi gestures to the young men to be patient, and says “What’s going on?” as he wipes fresh blood from his temple and glances at his palm. A young fighter later is shown carrying a boot and screaming, “This is Moammar’s shoe! This is Moammar’s shoe! Victory! Victory!”
In Tripoli, joy over Gadhafi’s end spilled into a second day as thousands converged on central Martyrs’ Square for Friday prayers and celebrations. Men danced and hoisted the country’s new red-green-and-black flag.
“It’s the start of a new era that everybody hopes will bring security and freedom,” said Tarek Othman, a computer specialist. “I hope democracy is the path we take so all of these Libyans who have sacrificed will really feel free.”
He stood with his wife — who wore a cap in the revolution’s colors over her all-encompassing black niqab — in the square, which was formerly known as Green Square and was used by Gadhafi to stage rallies against the uprising.
Khaled Almslaty, a clothing vendor, said he wished Gadhafi had not been killed after being captured.
“But I believe he got what he deserved because if we prosecuted him for the smallest of his crimes, he would be punished by death,” he said. “Now we hope the NTC will accelerate the formation of a new government and … won’t waste time on irrelevant conflicts and competing for authority and positions.”
It’s a tall order after nearly 42 years of rule by one man, who often acted according to whims and tolerated no dissent. Libya’s new leaders have stressed the need for reconciliation, but many factions are eager to have their say after years of repression.
The Western-backed NTC, a collection of former rebels, returned exiles, technocrats and Islamists, has always been united behind its goal of ousting Gadhafi. Now the group must overcome divisions and competing self-interests to rebuild the oil-rich North African nation, which was stripped of institutions under Gadhafi.
The NTC said interim leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil will formally declare liberation on Saturday in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the revolution began in mid-February. Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril has promised to resign, saying he will not be part of any new government and will instead turn his attention to fighting corruption.
The transitional council has asked the United Nations “to play a significant role” in helping them write a constitution, hold elections and build democratic institutions, Ian Martin, the U.N. envoy to Libya, said.
“No one should underestimate in this moment of celebration in Libya how great are the challenges that lie ahead,” he said. He also warned of “a major challenge in the future of those of the fighters who don’t wish to return to previous civilian occupations.”
Gadhafi was killed when revolutionary fighters overwhelmed him and the last of his loyalists in his coastal hometown Sirte, the last bastion of his regime to be captured after weeks of heavy fighting.
Authorities have promised to bury Gadhafi in accordance with Islamic traditions calling for quick interment, but Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam said the burial was delayed because officials were debating “what the best place is to bury him.”
Gadhafi’s family, most of whom are in Algeria or other nearby African nations, issued a statement calling for an investigation into how Gadhafi and another of his sons, Muatassim, were killed. In the statement on the pro-Gadhafi, Syria-based TV station Al-Rai, they asked for international pressure on the NTC to hand over the bodies of the two men to their tribe.
Gadhafi was captured alive and there have been contradictory accounts of how and when he received his fatal wounds. Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the images of his last moments were very disturbing.
“More details are needed to ascertain whether he was killed in some form of fighting or was executed after his capture,” Colville said.
According to most accounts from fighters on the ground and their commanders, Gadhafi and his loyalists were in a convoy trying to flee when NATO airstrikes hit two of the vehicles. Then revolutionary forces moved in and clashed with the loyalists for several hours.
Gadhafi and his bodyguards fled their cars and took refuge in a nearby drainage tunnel. Fighters pursued and clashed with them before Gadhafi emerged from the tunnel and was grabbed by fighters.
Most accounts agree that Gadhafi died from wounds 30 to 40 minutes later as an ambulance took him to Misrata. But accounts differ over how he suffered those wounds.
Most commanders and fighters at the scene with whom The Associated Press has spoken say that when he was captured, Gadhafi already was fatally wounded. In the videos of his capture, however, he has blood on his head, but none on his chest or abdomen. At one point, his shirt is pulled up to his chest, but no wound is visible.
Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam said Gadhafi was wounded after his capture. “It seems like the bullet was a stray and it could have come from the revolutionaries or the loyalists,” Shammam said.
Other fighters, commanders and witnesses have not spoken of any such crossfire or further clashes. Siraq al-Hamali, a 21-year-old fighter, told AP that he rode in the vehicle carrying Gadhafi as it left Sirte. He did not mention coming under fire and said Gadhafi died en route of wounds he already had.
Even reports of the coroner’s conclusions were confused over which wound was fatal — some said it was the shot to the head, others said it was a shot to the liver.
Muatassim, who had been his father’s feared national security adviser, was captured alive separately in Sirte, and how he died also remains unknown.
In a video aired Friday on Al-Rai, the 34-year-old Muatassim, wearing a bloodied undershirt, sits on a mattress in a room with fighters around him. He takes a swig of water and smokes a cigarette as he argues with at least one man who accused him of robbing the country and abusing its sons.
The fighter then orders Muatassim to say “Allahu Akbar” or “God is great” before the video cuts to a segment with Muatassim lying subdued on the mattress with his forearm on his forehead. He also appears to check for an injury on his collar bone. The last scene is of Muatassim lying dead, apparently in a hospital, with a huge gash in his chest.