SIRTE, Libya — Dragged from hiding in a drainage pipe, a wounded Moammar Gadhafi raised his hands and begged revolutionary fighters: “Don’t kill me, my sons.” Within an hour, he was dead, but not before jubilant Libyans had vented decades of hatred by pulling the eccentric dictator’s hair and parading his bloodied body on the hood of a truck.
The death Thursday of Gadhafi, two months after he was driven from power and into hiding, decisively buries the nearly 42-year regime that had turned the oil-rich country into an international pariah and his own personal fiefdom.
It also thrusts Libya into a new age in which its transitional leaders must overcome deep divisions and rebuild nearly all its institutions from scratch to achieve dreams of democracy.
“We have been waiting for this historic moment for a long time. Moammar Gadhafi has been killed,” Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril said in the capital of Tripoli. “I would like to call on Libyans to put aside the grudges and only say one word, which is Libya, Libya, Libya.”
Although the U.S. briefly led the relentless NATO bombing campaign that sealed Gadhafi’s fate, Washington later took a secondary role to its allies. Britain and France said they hoped that his death would lead to a more democratic Libya.
Other leaders have fallen in the Arab Spring uprisings, but the 69-year-old Gadhafi is the first to be killed. He was shot to death in his hometown of Sirte, where revolutionary fighters overwhelmed the last of his loyalist supporters Thursday after weeks of heavy battles.
Also killed in the city was one of his feared sons, Muatassim, while another son — one-time heir apparent Seif al-Islam — was wounded and captured. An AP reporter saw cigarette burns on Muatassim’s body.
Video on Arab television stations showed a crowd of fighters shoving and pulling the goateed, balding Gadhafi, with blood splattered on his face and soaking his shirt.
Gadhafi struggled against them, stumbling and shouting as the fighters pushed him onto the hood of a pickup truck. One fighter held him down, pressing on his thigh with a pair of shoes in a show of contempt.
A government account of Gadhafi’s death said he was captured unharmed and later was mortally wounded in the crossfire from both sides.
The outpouring of joy reflected the deep hatred of a leader who had brutally warped Libya with his idiosyncratic rule. After seizing power in a 1969 coup that toppled the monarchy, Gadhafi created a “revolutionary” system of “rule by the masses,” which really meant all power was in his hands. He wielded it erratically, imposing random rules while crushing opponents, often hanging anyone who plotted against him in public squares.