TRIPOLI, Libya – Moammar Gadhafi’s blood-streaked body has been stashed in a commercial freezer at a shopping center as Libyans try to keep it away from crowds as they figure out where and when to bury the hated leader.
An AP correspondent saw the body Friday at the shopping center in the coastal city of Misrata, home of the fighters who killed the ousted leader a day earlier in his hometown of Sirte.
The body, stripped to the waist and wearing beige trousers, is laid on a bloodied mattress on the floor of a room-sized freezer where restaurants and stores in the center keep perishables. A bullet hole is visible on the left side of his head and in the center of his chest. Dried blood streaks his arms and head.
The burial of slain leader Moammar Gadhafi has been delayed until the circumstances of his death can be further examined and a decision is made about where to bury the body, Libyan officials said Friday, as the U.N. human rights office called for an investigation into his death.
The transitional leadership had said it would bury the dictator Friday in accordance with Islamic tradition. Bloody images of Gadhafi’s last moments in the hands of angry captors have raised questions over his treatment minutes before his death. One son, Muatassim, was also killed but the fate of Gadhafi’s one-time heir apparent Seif al-Islam was unclear.
Justice Minister Mohammed al-Alagi said Seif al-Islam was wounded and being held in a hospital in the city of Zlitan. But Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam on Friday that the son’s whereabouts were uncertain.
Shammam said Gadhafi’s body was still in Misrata, where it was taken after he was found in his hometown of Sirte, and revolutionary forces were discussing where it should be interred.
Thursday’s death 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.
Many Libyans awoke after a night of jubilant celebration and celebratory gunfire with hope for the future but also concern that their new rulers might repeat the mistakes of the past.
Khaled Almslaty, a 42-year-old clothing vendor in Tripoli, said he wished Gadhafi had been captured alive.
“But I believe he got what he deserved because if we prosecuted him for the smallest of his crimes, he would be punished by death,” he said. “Now we hope the NTC will accelerate the formation of a new government and … won’t waste time on irrelevant conflicts and competing for authority and positions.”
Bloody images of Gadhafi’s last moments also cast a shadow over the celebrations, raising questions over how exactly he died. 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.
Fighters propped him on the hood as they drove for several moments, apparently to parade him around in victory.
“We want him alive. We want him alive,” one man shouted before Gadhafi was dragged off the hood, some fighters pulling his hair, toward an ambulance.
Later footage showed fighters rolling Gadhafi’s lifeless body over on the pavement, stripped to the waist and a pool of blood under his head. His body was then paraded on a car through Misrata, a nearby city that suffered a brutal siege by regime forces during the eight-month civil war that eventually ousted Gadhafi. Crowds in the streets cheered, “The blood of martyrs will not go in vain.”
Libyan leaders said it appeared that Gadhafi had been caught in the crossfire and it was unclear who fired the bullet that killed him.
Shammam said a coroner’s report showed that Gadhafi was killed by a bullet to the head and died in the ambulance on the way to a field hospital. Gadhafi was already injured from battle when he was found in the drainage pipe, Shammam said.
“It seems like the bullet was a stray and it could have come from the revolutionaries or the loyalists,” Shammam said, echoing an account given by Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril the night before. “The problem is everyone around the event is giving his own story.”
Shammam said that the NTC was expecting a report from Financial Minister Ali Tarhouni who was sent as an envoy to Misrata on Thursday.
The governing National Transitional Council said interim leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil will formally declare liberation on Saturday in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the revolution against Gadhafi’s rule began in mid-February. The NTC has always said it will form a new interim government within a month of liberation and will hold elections within eight months.
NATO’s governing body, meanwhile, was meeting Friday to decide when and how to end the seven-month bombing campaign in Libya, a military operation whose success has helped reinvigorate the Cold War alliance.
The U.N. Human Rights Council established an independent panel earlier this year to investigate abuses in Libya, and spokesman Rupert Colville said it would likely examine the circumstances of the 69-year-old leader’s death. He said it was too early to say whether the panel – which includes Canadian judge Philippe Kirsch, the first president of the International Criminal Court – would recommend a formal investigation at the national or international level.
“We believe there is a need for an investigation,” Colville said. “More details are needed to ascertain whether he was killed in some form of fighting or was executed after his capture.”
“The two cell phone videos that have emerged, one of him alive, and one of him dead, taken together are very disturbing,” he told reporters in Geneva.
Mohamed Sayeh, a senior member of NTC, said representatives from the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court would come to a “go through the paperwork.”
Sayeh also says Gadhafi’s body is still in Misrata, where it was taken after his killing in Sirte. He says Gadhafi will be buried with respect according to Islam tradition and will not have a public funeral.
The ICC did not issue any official comments about Gadhafi, but judges at the court would need official confirmation – most likely a DNA sample from the body – that Gadhafi is dead before they could formally withdraw his indictment.
Gadhafi, Seif al-Islam and former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi have been charged with crimes against humanity for the brutal crackdown on dissent as the uprising against the regime began in mid-February and escalated into a civil war.