Amid the fighting, a NATO airstrike blasted a fleeing convoy that fighters said was carrying Gadhafi.
The head of the government did not immediately not confirm Gadhafi’s capture or death. The transitional government called a news conference in Tripoli, where Prime Minister Mustafa Abdul-Jalil could confirm the death.
Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam said he was told that Gadhafi was dead from fighters who said they saw the body. He said he expects the prime minister to confirm the death soon, noting that past reports emerged before they could confirm them 100 percent.
“Our people in Sirte saw the body ... Mustafa Abdul-Jalil will confirm it soon,” Shammam told The Associated Press. “Revolutionaries say Gadhafi was in a convoy and that they attacked the convoy.”
Other military officials in the government also said Gadhafi was dead, and several revolutionary groups fighting in Sirte also said he was either killed or captured.
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 this morning struck two vehicles of pro-Gadhafi forces “which were part of a larger group maneuvering in the vicinity of Sirte.”
But NATO officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance to alliance rules, said the alliance also could not independently confirm whether Gadhafi was killed or captured.
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 today’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.