Former Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi was secretly buried in a desert grave on Tuesday, officials said, ending a four-day spectacle in which his bloody body was displayed to a public largely overjoyed about his ignominious end after decades of repressive rule.
Like other leaders toppled in the Arab Spring uprisings, Gaddafi was despised as a corrupt authoritarian ruler. But he was viewed here as more cruel and capricious than the presidents of Egypt or Tunisia, a man who would suddenly nationalize companies or hang dissident students — and force their classmates to watch.
That explains why most Libyans appear to have been unfazed by cellphone videos showing a blood-spattered Gaddafi punched, kicked and possibly even sodomized by revolutionaries before he died in captivity. Human rights groups have said the brutality surrounding Gaddafi’s death marked a troubling beginning for the new democracy emerging from an eight-month, U.S.-backed war. But many Libyans saw it as a fitting end for a tyrant.
“Have you seen the mass graves they discovered? Did you know we had more than 50,000 people die during this revolution?” asked Muhammad al-Jady, 53, an engineer walking near Tripoli’s downtown Martyrs Square, citing a widely quoted estimate.
Jady recounted a litany of abuses his family suffered under the Gaddafi regime. The government seized four of his father’s villas after passing a law banning ownership of more than one home. Then in 1984, Jady was jailed for six months without explanation upon returning from college in Oregon, he said.
“We are still hurting,” he said. “I am still feeling that six months of my life. Yes, they should kill him.”
Under Gaddafi, Libyans suffered some of the strictest curbs on freedom of expression in the Middle East. Munir Abdusalem Kridig, 25, said his brother was shot by security forces in June simply for complaining about Gaddafi as he sat in his car in a long line at a gas station. “They heard him and opened fire,” he said.
“Now that Gaddafi’s buried, I don’t think even Satan would accept him,” the deejay said, clutching a red, green and black revolutionary flag as he strolled with his wife through Martyrs Square.
Thousands of Libyans lined up starting Friday to gaze with contempt or wonder at Gaddafi’s decomposing body, which had been laid out on a bloody mattress in a refrigerated meat locker in Misurata. The weak central government seemed powerless to wrest the body from the city’s fiercely anti-Gaddafi fighters, who had captured him on Thursday.
Suliman Fortia, the representative of the city of Misurata on the national governing council, said in a telephone interview that Gaddafi’s body was put in an unmarked grave “somewhere in the desert” at dawn Tuesday. News services reported that a Muslim cleric recited prayers over the body before it was turned over for burial.
Libyan officials have said they wanted a secret site to prevent his tomb being desecrated or turned into a pilgrimage site. Gaddafi was buried with his son Mutassim and former defense minister Abu Bakr Yunis Jabir, officials said.
Human rights groups have called for an investigation into whether Gaddafi was executed by fighters who had found him alive. There is little enthusiasm here for such a probe, although the interim government has promised to request one.
In a fresh sign of how Gaddafi was abused after his capture, a new video obtained by Global Post appears to show a man trying to shove a knife between the former leader’s buttocks as revolutionaries lead him from his hiding place in a drainage pipe.
Libya’s interim government has said Gaddafi was killed when his supporters opened fire on revolutionaries escorting the wounded former leader to a hospital. There has been no evidence of such a firefight, however.
Like citizens of Tunisia and Egypt, Libyans blamed their authoritarian leader for high unemployment and corruption. Libyans appeared especially stung because their country is rich in oil. But little of that money trickled down.
Worst of all was the constant uncertainty of life under Gaddafi, they said. “I never felt safe,” said Salem Ghaith, 50. As a young man, he feared being yanked out of school and press-ganged to fight abroad, he said. As a college student, he was forced to watch several classmates hanged for political activity.
When he became the principal of a prestigious English-language school, he had to turn over students’ tuition payments to government officials. “They take the money, and they buy cars, furniture, farms,” he said.
Asked whether he was concerned about the way in which Gaddafi was manhandled after his capture, he said: “I don’t think so. Because what he did to people was worse.”