Piecing Together a Timeline of Qaddafi's Final Moments

This article is from the archive of our partner .

There is no shortage of blurry cell phone videos and eyewitness accounts, but everyone is still having a hard time figuring out exactly what happened in Qaddafi's last living minutes. Libyan officials said Friday that the former dictator's burial has been delayed in order to examine the body and possibly learn more about the exact cause of death. The stall comes as the United Nations human rights office is calling for an investigation to determine if, as Libyan leaders say, Qaddafi was caught in a crossfire or, as still emerging videos suggest, was captured alive and killed more deliberately by bloodthirsty rebel fighters. From the many conflicting reports, we've done our best to build a timeline and detail the possible scenarios.

Qaddafi's Convoy Flees and a U.S. Drone Strikes

As the battle for Sirte (also spelled "Surt") raged on Thursday morning, an airstrike hit a group of vehicles fleeing the town. "NATO confirmed that it had carried out an airstrike on military vehicles near Surt, Colonel Qaddafi's hometown," The New York Times reports, though it remains unclear if the deposed Libyan leader was in that convoy." Rumors quickly emerged that a U.S. drone hit Qaddafi's convoy, and National Journal's Yochi Dreasen tweeted that the Pentagon "confirms US drone struck the convoy leaving Surt shortly before Qaddafi's killing." There's been no solid confirmation that the U.S. carried out the attack, some quickly credited American forces for halting Qaddafi's escape from Sirte. 

Recommended Reading

Qaddafi is found reportedly hiding in a drain pipe and captured

The BBC reports that "Mohammed, a young fighter in his 20s, wearing a blue T-shirt and a New York Yankees baseball cap, said he had found the colonel hiding in a hole in the ground in the city of Sirte. He told the BBC that the former Libyan leader said to him simply: 'Don't shoot'" (This is the same fighter that was photographed proudly holding up a golden gun he says he took off of Qaddafi.") Photos of the hole show it was actually a drain pipe underneath a road, and as The Atlantic's Max Fischer notes, "If the U.S. and/or NATO had fired on Qaddafi convoy, this would certainly explain why rebels might find their former leader bloodied and crawling off of a road into a concrete drain pipe."

Reuters reports a slightly different account based on conversations with several rebel fighters:

"At first we fired at them with anti-aircraft guns, but it was no use," said Salem Bakeer, while being feted by his comrades near the road. "Then we went in on foot. One of Gaddafi's men came out waving his rifle in the air and shouting surrender, but as soon as he saw my face he started shooting at me," he told Reuters. "Then I think Gaddafi must have told them to stop. 'My master is here, my master is here', he said, 'Muammar Gaddafi is here and he is wounded'," said Bakeer. "We went in and brought Gaddafi out. He was saying 'what's wrong? What's wrong? What's going on?'. Then we took him and put him in the car," Bakeer said.

At the time of his capture, Gaddafi was already wounded with gunshots to his leg and to his back, Bakeer said.

They note that the drain pipe story bears some symbolic significance for rebels. "He called us rats, but look where we found him," rebel Ahmed Al Sahati told Reuters, while standing next to the drain pipes.

Qaddafi is dragged to a truck, still alive

This is where things get really sketchy. Another disturbing video shows Qaddafi being carried to a truck again, apparently lifeless. According to CBS, the rebels are shouting "Don't' kill him! Don't kill him! We need him alive.:

It's unclear if the above video was shot before or after the widely circulated video that shows Qaddafi propped up, bloodied but alive on the hood of a pickup truck and surrounded by rebel fighters who are yelling and eventually pull him to his feet. The rebels are yelling "Allahu Akbar!" (God is the greatest) as they drag Qaddafi off to the side of the road and pushing up around--the dictator yells back. The Associated Press reports, "'We want him alive. We want him alive,' one man shouted before Gadhafi was dragged off the hood, some fighters pulling his hair, toward an ambulance." The jostling turns more violent just before the camera turns away, and as Fischer notes, "a burst of gunfire can be heard off-screen, although as the Times notes it may have been celebratory." The graphic video is disturbing to watch:

Qaddafi's body is paraded through the streets

Tony Birtley, Al Jazeera English's veteran war correspondent, was the first journalist to arrive in Sirte, and armed with good sources within the rebels, the head start yielded a huge scoop. He'd heard that Qaddafi had been killed and asked his sources for proof. "When we got to Sirte yesterday we started asking around and someone said he could get us the pictures," Birtley said in a statement. "He came back with someone else and we downloaded it onto our computer." The video shows Qaddafi's body, now shirtless and even bloodier, on the ground. It's also disturbing:

We don't yet know what happened in time between the two videos, but with other cell phone cameras visible at least in the one showing Qaddafi being dragged to the side of the road alive, more evidence might surface. So far, the interim Libyan government is pushing the idea that Qaddafi was caught in the crossfire between rebels and loyalists. NPR reports:

"Nobody can tell if the [fatal] shot was from the rebel fighters or from his own security guard," Interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril told All Things Considered host Robert Siegel. Jibril, speaking by telephone from Libya, also read from what he said is the coroner's report on Gadhafi's death.

"The [fatal] shot was in his head," Jibril read. "He was shot also in his right arm. ... When he came out [from hiding] he was safe. [But] the intensity of the fire" led to Gadhafi's death. According to Jibril, Gadhafi "did not show any resistance" at first. But as "freedom fighters" were taking him into custody, "he came under crossfire from both sides."

Libya's Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam gave a similar account to the AP. "It seems like the bullet was a stray and it could have come from the revolutionaries or the loyalists," he said. It's sort of hard to believe, in light of the videos, Fischer points out. "The above video showed dozens of rebels crowded around Qaddafi and no pro-Qaddafi troops in sight. How, exactly, do two bullets of 'crossfire' happen to wiz their way through such a dense crowd and just happen to strike Qaddafi in the head and chest?"

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.