Seeing is believing. Libyans by the hundreds, rushed on Saturday to see the corpse of ex-leader Moamer Kadhafi who was captured and perhaps killed by new regime forces.
The body is being kept in a freezer in the so-called Tunisian market of Misrata, where news that the tyrant who laid siege to the merchant city had finally fallen sparked mass celebrations after midday Friday prayers.
Steeped in the smell of rotting meat — discarded chicken carcasses, one guard says — lies the sinister refrigerated room where people come to check that the “enemy” is well and truly dead.
The spectacle inside is nothing short of sordid.
The rigid, bloody, yellow corpse of Kadhafi and his son Mutassim lie on dirty mattresses spread over the metal floor of the glacial makeshift mortuary.
Colourful blankets cover most of their bodies raising the spectre of possible mutilations.
Only their heads are visible. Mutassim stares at death with open eyes and a slack jaw. The eyes and mouth of his father are shut.
High ranking officials of the new regime, including the National Transitional Council’s interim prime minister Mahmud Jibril and the Tripoli military council’s Abdelhakim Belhaj, visited the dead pair on Saturday.
Curious onlookers hailed from Misrata, Zliten to the west, the capital Tripoli, and beyond. By noon, hundreds had lined up at the gates which open intermittently to let a handful of spectators in.
Only one woman was visible among them but she declined to comment.
Meanwhile, a man identifying himself as Sadiq said he was only 18 when the former despot took power in 1969.
“All my adult life I lived with this low life, this …” said the 60-year-old, who declined to give his last name, spattering curses against Kadhafi.
“But he is dead and I am happy,” he said laughing.
At the centre of the concrete market building, a new queue forms in front of the cold room. Four or five people are allowed in at a time. The guards urged them to take their photos quickly to make room for those following.
Some pose for a picture, smile or whoop. Others watch in silence.
Mustafa Araibi comes out of the cold room with his sons and nephews, five boys between the ages of 6 and 12, and lays to rest his scepticism.
“I was shocked when the news was announced. People told me Kadhafi was dead but I couldn’t believe it until I saw him,” he said.
The guards at first refused to let the children in, on account of their young age, but they relented when Araibi insisted.
“I am not afraid that they will be traumatised. They lived under bombs for five months. The fear is gone,” he explained.
His son, Ezzedine, 12, chimes in with a dose of bravado: “I wanted to hit Kadhafi but they didn’t let me. I was not afraid. I was happy to see him.”
But his six-year-old brother, Mohammed, timidly admits “I was afraid” but quickly adds: “I am happy. The war is over.”
Men pour out of the cold room shouting “Allahu Akbar!” (God is greatest) whipping the crowd into a frenzy.
Ibrahim Mukhtar Abdullah, 42, a big burly man sporting a beard, leaves the death chamber and strips off the mandatory hygienic mask.
“I came to see my enemy dead and to make sure,” he told AFP.
“For 42 years I lived in an ocean of lies. I wanted to be sure,” Abdullah said, adding that he was overcome with joy when he heard the news of Kadhafi’s demise on Thursday.
“But I also remember what he did to us. I’ve seen many young men die. Kadhafi’s forces killed us, bombed our cities,” he said.
The Misrata authorities hope to bury the body in a secret place to prevent future pilgrimages by Kadhafi supporters.
A meeting is due to be held, perhaps on Saturday, to determine what to do with Kadhafi’s remains.
Misrata’s military commanders told AFP no autopsy would be conducted on Kadhafi’s bodies despite concerns over how the toppled dictator died.
Questions remain over how Kadhafi met his end after video footage showed NTC fighters manhandling him after capturing him alive in his hometown and final bastion of Sirte.