SIRTE, Libya — Moammar Gadhafi, who ruled Libya with a dictatorial grip for 42 years until he was ousted by rebels in a bloody civil war, was killed Thursday when revolutionary forces overwhelmed his hometown, Sirte, the last major bastion of resistance two months after the regime fell.
Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril confirmed Gadhafi had been killed. "We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Moammar Gadhafi has been killed," Jibril told a news conference in the capital Tripoli.
Initial reports from fighters said Gadhafi had been holed up with the last of his fighters in the furious battle with revolutionary fighters assaulting the last few buildings they held in his Mediterranean coastal hometown of Sirte. At one point, a convoy tried to flee the area and was blasted by NATO airstrikes, though it was not clear if Gadhafi was in the vehicle.
Al-Jazeera TV showed footage of a man resembling the 69-year-old Gadhafi lying dead or severely wounded, bleeding from the head and stripped to the waist as fighters rolled him over on the pavement. Witnesses said his body was put on display in the nearby city of Misrata.
Celebratory gunfire and cries of "Allahu akbar" or "God is great" rang out across Tripoli as the reports spread. Cars honked their horns, and people hugged each other. In Sirte, the ecstatic former rebels celebrated the city's fall after weeks of bloody siege by firing endless rounds into the sky, pumping their guns, knives and even a meat cleaver in the air and singing the national anthem.
Despite the fall of Tripoli on Aug. 21, Gadhafi loyalists mounted fierce resistance in several areas, including Sirte, preventing Libya's new leaders from declaring full victory in the eight-month civil war. Earlier this week, revolutionary fighters gained control of one stronghold, Bani Walid, and by Tuesday said they had squeezed Gadhafi's forces in Sirte into a residential area of about 700 square yards but were still coming under heavy fire from surrounding buildings.
Reporters at the scene watched as the final assault began around 8 a.m. and ended about 90 minutes later. Just before the battle, about five carloads of Gadhafi loyalists tried to flee the enclave down the coastal highway that leads out of the city. But they were met by gunfire from the revolutionaries, who killed at least 20 of them.
Col. Roland Lavoie, spokesman for NATO's operational headquarters in Naples, Italy, said the alliance's aircraft Thursday morning struck two vehicles of pro-Gadhafi forces "which were part of a larger group maneuvering in the vicinity of Sirte."
After the battle, revolutionaries began searching homes and buildings looking for any hiding Gadhafi fighters. At least 16 were captured, along with cases of ammunition and trucks loaded with weapons. Reporters saw revolutionaries beating captured Gadhafi men in the back of trucks and officers intervening to stop them.
In an illustration of how difficult and slow the fighting for Sirte was, it took the anti-Gadhafi fighters two days to capture a single residential building.
In the central quarter where Thursday's final battle took place, the fighters looking like the same ragtag force that started the uprising eight months ago jumped up and down with joy and flashed V-for-victory signs. Some burned the green Gadhafi flag, then stepped on it with their boots.
One fighter climbed a traffic light pole to unfurl the revolution's flag, which he first kissed. Discarded military uniforms of Gadhafi's fighters littered the streets.Another revolutionary fighter waved a silver trophy in the air while another held up a box of firecrackers, then set them off.
"Our forces control the last neighborhood in Sirte," Hassan Draoua, a member of Libya's interim National Transitional Council, said in Tripoli. "The city has been liberated."
The Misrata Military Council, one of the command groups, said its fighters captured Gadhafi. Another commander, Abdel-Basit Haroun, said Gadhafi was killed when the airstrike hit the fleeing convoy.
In a sign of the conflicting versions, military spokesman Col. Ahmed Bani in Tripoli told Al-Jazeera TV, "I can assure everyone in Libya that Gadhafi has been killed for sure and I'm definitely sure and I reassure everyone that this story has ended and this book has closed."
The caution in making a definitive announcement came because past reports of Gadhafi family deaths or captures have later proven incorrect, even after they were announced by officials, because of the confusion among the revolutionary forces' ranks and the multiple bodies involved in commanding their fighters.
Gadhafi loyalists who have escaped could still continue the fight and attempt to organize an insurgency using the vast amount of weapons Gadhafi was believed to have stored in hideouts in the remote southern desert.
Unlike Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Gadhafi had no well-organized political party that could form the basis of an insurgent leadership. However, regional and ethnic differences have already appeared among the ranks of the revolutionaries, possibly laying the foundation for civil strife.