Military Wiki
Death of Muammar Gaddafi
Part of the Libyan Civil War
2011 Battle of Sirte.svg
Situation in Sirte just prior to Gaddafi's death.
Date20 October 2011
LocationSirte, Libya
31°11′44″N 16°31′17″E / 31.19556°N 16.52139°E / 31.19556; 16.52139[1]Coordinates: 31°11′44″N 16°31′17″E / 31.19556°N 16.52139°E / 31.19556; 16.52139[1]
Result Muammar Gaddafi killed

Libya National Transitional Council

NATO NATO command

Libya Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

Commanders and leaders
Libya Mustafa Abdul Jalil
Libya Mahmoud Jibril
Libya Suleiman Mahmoud
Libya Hamid Hassy
Libya Muammar Gaddafi
Libya Mutassim Gaddafi
Libya Abu-Bakr Yunis Jabr

Muammar Gaddafi, the deposed leader of Libya, died on 20 October 2011 during the Battle of Sirte. Gaddafi was found hiding in a culvert west of Sirte and captured by National Transitional Council forces. He was killed shortly afterwards. The NTC initially claimed he died from injuries sustained in a firefight when loyalist forces attempted to free him, although videos of his last moments show rebel fighters beating him before he was shot in the head.[2]


After the fall of Tripoli to forces of the opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) in August 2011, Gaddafi and his family fled the Libyan capital. He was widely rumoured to have taken refuge in the south of the country and in fact Gaddafi had fled in a small convoy to Sirte on the day Tripoli fell. His son Mutassim Gaddafi followed in a second convoy.[3]

On 19 October, Libya's acting prime minister Mahmoud Jibril said that the former leader was believed to be in the southern desert, organising an insurgency among pro-Gaddafi tribes in the region. By that point the NTC had just taken control of the pro-Gaddafi town of Bani Walid and were close to taking control of Gaddafi's home town, the tribal heartland of Sirte east of Tripoli.[4] According to most accounts, Gaddafi had been with heavily armed regime loyalists in several buildings in Sirte for several months as NTC forces took the city.[5] Mansour Dhao, a member of Gaddafi's inner circle and leader of the regime's People's Guard, said that Gaddafi was very delusional and complained about the lack of electricity and water. Any attempts to persuade him to flee the country and give up power were ignored.[3] As the last loyalist district of Sirte fell, Gaddafi and other members of the government attempted to flee.[6]

At around 08:30 local time (06:30 UTC) on 20 October, Gaddafi, his army chief Abu-Bakr Yunis Jabr, his security chief Mansour Dhao, and a group of loyalists attempted to escape in a convoy of 75 vehicles.[7][8] A Royal Air Force reconnaissance aircraft spotted the convoy moving at high speed, after NATO forces intercepted a satellite phone call made by Gaddafi.[9]

NATO aircraft then fired on 11 of the vehicles, destroying one. A U.S. Predator drone operated from a base near Las Vegas[8] fired the first missiles at the convoy, hitting its target about 3 kilometres (2 mi) west of Sirte. Moments later, French Air Force's Rafale fighter jets continued the bombing.[10] The NATO bombing immobilized much of the convoy and killed dozens of loyalist fighters. Following the first strike, some 20 vehicles broke away from the main group and continued moving south. A second NATO airstrike damaged or destroyed 10 of these vehicles. According to the Financial Times, Free Libya units on the ground also struck the convoy.[11]

According to their statement, NATO was not aware at the time of the strike that Gaddafi was in the convoy. NATO stated that in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1973, it does not target individuals but only military assets that pose a threat. NATO later learned, "from open sources and Allied intelligence," that Gaddafi was in the convoy and that the strike likely contributed to his capture.[11]

After the airstrike, which destroyed the vehicle in front of Muammar Gaddafi's car, he and his son Mutassim, and former defense minister Abu-Bakr Yunis Jabr took shelter in a nearby house, which was then shelled by NTC forces.

Mutassim then took some 20 fighters and went to look for undamaged cars, having persuaded his father to come too. "The group belly-crawled to a sand berm," a UN report released in March 2012 said, and then through two drainage pipes and set up a defensive position.

One of Gaddafi's guards threw a grenade at advancing rebels on the road above but it hit a cement wall above the pipes and fell in front of Gaddafi. The guard tried to pick it up, but it exploded, killing both the guard and Yunis Jabr.[12]

Capture and death

Gaddafi survived the strikes and took refuge in a large drainage pipe with several bodyguards. A nearby group of NTC fighters opened fire, wounding Gaddafi with gunshots to his leg and back. According to one NTC fighter, one of Gaddafi's own men also shot him in order to spare him from being arrested.[13][14] It is unclear if NATO aircraft were involved in helping secure Gaddafi's capture by Libyan forces on the ground.[11] A group of rebels approached the pipe where Gaddafi was hiding and ordered him to come out, which he did, albeit slowly. He was then dragged up to his feet as rebels shouted "Muammar, Muammar!"[15]

However, a UN report released in March 2012 revealed a different account of Gaddafi's capture. Gaddafi was wounded by grenade fragmentation, from a grenade thrown by one of his own men, that bounced off a wall and fell in front of Gaddafi, that shredded his flak jacket. He sat on the floor dazed and in shock, bleeding from a wound in the left temple. Then one of his group waved a white turban in surrender.[12]

Gaddafi was killed shortly afterwards. There are conflicting reports; according to one report, Gaddafi said "Please don't shoot!" prior to being shot,[16] and when questioned by Misratan rebel fighters about the damage done to Misrata by his forces, denied any involvement, and begged his captors not to hit him or kill him. One fighter demanded Gaddafi stand up, but he struggled to do so.[17] Gaddafi can be heard in one video saying "God forbids this." and "Do you know right from wrong?" when being shouted at by his captors.[18][19] In a video of his arrest he can be seen draped on the hood of a car, held by rebel fighters.[20][21] A senior NTC official said that no order was given to execute Gaddafi.[21] According to another NTC source, "they captured him alive and while he was being taken away, they beat him and then they killed him".[21] Mahmoud Jibril gave an alternative account, stating that "when the car was moving it was caught in crossfire between the revolutionaries and Gaddafi forces in which he was hit by a bullet in the head."[22]

Several videos related to the death were broadcast by news channels and circulated via the internet. The first shows footage of Gaddafi alive, his face and shirt bloodied, stumbling and being dragged toward an ambulance by armed men chanting "God is great" in Arabic.[5][6] The video appears to picture Gaddafi being poked or stabbed in the rear "with some kind of stick or knife"[23] or possibly a bayonet.[24] Another shows Gaddafi, stripped to the waist, suffering from an apparent gunshot wound to the head, and in a pool of blood, together with jubilant fighters firing automatic weapons in the air.[5][6] A third video, posted on YouTube, shows fighters "hovering around his lifeless-looking body, posing for photographs and yanking his limp head up and down by the hair."[5][6][25] Another video taken, most likely after his death, shows him being stripped naked and jeered at by his captors.[26]

In late September 2012, reports erupted about the involvement of French secret services in the tracking and killing of Muammar Gaddafi. According to some sources, Gaddafi was in fact killed by a French spy who infiltrated the mob of rebels that captured Gaddafi, and shot him in the head after his capture. The motive was alleged to be to prevent Gaddafi from being interrogated and revealing links with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.[27] Former interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril, told an Egyptian television that “it was a foreign agent who mixed with the revolutionary brigades to kill Qaddafi.”[28] Former NTC head of foreign intelligence Rami al-Obeidi confirmed Jibrils assertion, stating that "French intelligence played a direct role in the death of Gaddafi, including his killing" and claiming that Bashar al-Assad sold Gaddafi's satellite telephone number to French spies operating in Sirte in exchange for a "grace period" and less political pressure on the Syrian government by France.[29] Diplomatic sources in Tripoli stated that if a foreign agent was responsible for Gaddafi's death, it was certainly a French agent.[30] It was stated in a new report in October 2012 that Gaddafi had not been killed in crossfire during his capture. He may have been executed along with 66 others, including one of his sons.[31]

Move to Misrata

Gaddafi's body was subsequently taken to Misrata to the west of Sirte, where a doctor's examination disclosed that the deposed leader had been shot in the head and abdomen.[32]

Public display

The interim Libyan authorities decided to keep his body "for a few days", NTC oil minister Ali Tarhouni said, "to make sure that everybody knows he is dead."[33] To that end, the body was moved to an industrial freezer where members of the public were permitted to view it as confirmation.[34] Gaddafi's body was publicly displayed in a freezer in Misrata until the afternoon of 24 October.[35] Video shows Gaddafi’s body on display in the center of an emptied public freezer in Misrata.[36] Some people drove hundreds of kilometres across Libya to see proof that he had died. One viewer of the body said about the public display of his corpse, "God made the pharaoh as an example to the others. If he had been a good man, we would have buried him. But he chose this destiny for himself."[37] A Reuters reporter who saw the body said that there was gunshot residue on the wounds, consistent with wounds of people when they are shot at close range.[18]

Gaddafi's body was displayed alongside that of his son, Mutassim Gaddafi, who also died in the custody of Misratan fighters after his capture in Sirte on 20 October. The younger Gaddafi's body was removed from the refrigerator for burial at the same time as his father's on 24 October.[38]

Demands for the body

Although an NTC spokesman said Gaddafi's body would be returned to members of his family with a directive to keep the late strongman's burial site a secret after Libyan coroners conducted an autopsy to determine his cause of death,[7] the semi-autonomous military council in Misrata said it would be buried quickly instead, vetoing the idea of an autopsy.[39][40] Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called for an independent autopsy and an investigation into how Gaddafi died in captivity,[41] but Jibril said neither step was necessary.[42]


On 25 October, NTC representatives announced that Gaddafi's body had been buried in an undisclosed location in the desert early that morning, together with those of his son Mutassim Gaddafi and the regime's defense minister Abu-Bakr Yunis Jabr.[43][44][45] A Dubai based satellite TV channel Al Aan TV showed amateur footage of the funeral taking place at an undisclosed location where Islamic prayers were read.[46][47] Libya's Minister for Information Mahmoud Shammam said that a fatwa had declared that "Gaddafi should not be buried in Muslim cemeteries and should not be buried in a known place to avoid any sedition."[48]

Concurrent capture or death of relatives and associates

National Transitional Council officials also announced that one of Gaddafi's sons, Mutassim Gaddafi, once the Libyan national security advisor, was killed in Sirte the same day. A video later surfaced showing Mutassim's body lying in an ambulance.[49] A video aired on Al Arrai television showed Mutassim alive and talking to his captors. The circumstances of his death are unclear.[50]

Another son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, was captured almost a month after his father's death, whilst trying to flee to Niger.[51]

Footage had emerged earlier on 20 October of the body of Gaddafi's defense minister, Abu-Bakr Yunis Jabr. Abdul Hakim Al Jalil, the commander of the NTC's 11th brigade, stated that former Gaddafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim had been captured near Sirte. Reports indicate that Ahmed Ibrahim, one of Gaddafi's cousins, was also captured.[52]

Subsequent events

Calls for investigation

Numerous organizations, including the United Nations and the U.S. and UK governments, have called for an investigation of the exact circumstances of Gaddafi's death,[53] amid concerns that it might have been an extrajudicial killing and a war crime.[54][55]

The UN Human Rights Office spokesperson said that he expects the UN commission already investigating potential human rights abuse in Libya would look into the case.[50] Waheed Burshan, a member of the NTC, said that an investigation should happen.[56]

On 24 October 2011, the NTC announced that it had ordered an investigation in response to the international calls[35] and that it would prosecute the killers if the investigation showed he died after his capture.[57] Almost a year later, on 17 October 2012, new evidence was revealed by Human Rights Watch showing that mass killings occurred at the Gaddafi death site.[58]

Regional ramifications

In its immediate aftermath, the killing of Gaddafi was thought to have significant implications in the Middle East, as a critical part of the wider 'Arab Spring'.[59][60] Former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel speculated that the death would intensify protesting in Syria and Yemen, and French officials stated that because of this they were "watching the Algerian situation".[61]


Omran Shaban, the Misrata fighter who discovered Gaddafi in the drain pipe and who had posed in photos with his golden gun was captured by Green Resistance fighters in Bani Walid. He was then paralysed and severely tortured. The interim president of Libya secured his release but he died some days later from his wounds in France.[62][63]

Domestic reactions

Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril said he wished Gaddafi had remained alive so he could be tried for crimes against humanity,[64] saying he had wanted to serve as Gaddafi's prosecutor,[65] but now that he was dead, Libya would need a meticulous plan for the transition to democracy.[66]

The de facto head of state, said, "Our forces' resistance to Gaddafi ended well, with the help of God." He declared Libya to be "liberated" at a ceremony in Benghazi on 23 October, three days after Gaddafi's death.[67]

NTC official Ali Tarhouni said on 22 October that he had instructed the military council in Misrata to keep Gaddafi's body preserved for several days in a commercial freezer "to make sure that everybody knows he is dead".[68] Two days later, Tarhouni acknowledged that there had been human rights abuses in the Battle of Sirte, which he said the NTC condemned, and said the Executive Board "did not want to put an end to that tyrant's life before bringing him to trial and making him answer questions that have always haunted Libyans".[69]

A spokesman for the Misrata military council, Fathi Bashagha, said the council was confident Gaddafi was dead and that he had died of wounds sustained during fighting before his capture.[70]

Saadi Gaddafi, one of Muammar Gaddafi's surviving sons in exile in Niger, said through an attorney that he was "shocked and outraged by vicious brutality" toward his father and his brother, Mutassim Gaddafi, and that the killing showed that the new Libyan leadership could not be trusted to hold fair trials.[71]

International reactions

Many leaders and foreign ministers of European countries, as well as fellow Western countries like Australia, Canada, and the United States, made statements hailing Gaddafi's death as a positive development for Libya. The city-state of Vatican City responded to the event by declaring it recognised the National Transitional Council as Libya's legitimate government.[72] World leaders such as Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi,[73] and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard[74] suggested that the death of Gaddafi meant the Libyan Civil War was over. Some officials, such as UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, expressed disappointment that Gaddafi was not brought back alive and made to stand trial.[75]

Reaction from the governments of countries including Cuba,[76] Russia,[77] Venezuela,[78] Iran,[79] Nicaragua,[80] was negative. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez described the former Libyan leader's death as an "assassination" and an "outrage",[81] Russia's Vladimir Putin lashed out at U.S. for the killing of Gaddafi and asked "They showed to the whole world how he (Gaddafi) was killed; there was blood all over. Is that what they call a democracy?"[82] and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega later called his killing a "crime" during his inauguration on 10 January 2012.


Immediately after Gaddafi's death, NATO released a statement denying it knew beforehand that Gaddafi was traveling in the convoy it struck. Admiral James G. Stavridis, NATO's top officer, said the death of Gaddafi meant that NATO would likely wind down its operations in Libya.[83] Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO secretary-general, said NATO would "terminate [its] mission in coordination with the United Nations and the National Transitional Council".[75]


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