Faced with suspicions of an execution by a lynch mob, the order that “nobody here killed Kadhafi” has gone around to the fighters who captured alive the ex-strongman of Libya.
The fighters at a farm on the outskirts of the city of Misrata that serves as their Al-Ghiran brigade base proudly exhibit the ousted leader’s black boots, gold-plated gun and beige scarf.
Souvenir photographs are taken standing in front of the pickup in which Kadhafi was hauled off after being captured on Thursday in his loyalists’ final stronghold of Sirte.
Dried blood stains the front of the vehicle to which Kadhafi was seen being hauled in mobile phone footage.
Since the fighters’ return from the final frontline in the eight-month-long conflict, Kadhafi’s golden pistol, machinegun and satellite phone have been passing from hand to hand.
“The last phone call received on his Thuraya came from Syria. It was a lady on the phone,” according to a brigade member.
Omran Shaaban, 21, says he was the first to locate the man who ruled Libya for four decades in a concrete drainage pipe. “When I saw him, I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t think. I thought: ‘That’s it, Kadhafi is finished,'” he said.
Ahmed Gazal, a comrade, said they had just arrived to join a final assault on Sirte when they ran into a group of survivors from a NATO air strike on a convoy of pro-Kadhafi fighters trying to make an escape.
After a brief exchange of gunfire, they were informed of Kadhafi’s hiding place in the pipe.
“Omran was close to Kadhafi. He grabbed him first, then I said ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is greatest) and I took his legs outside … When he came out of the pipe, he said: ‘What’s going on, what’s happening?'” Gazal said.
“When I was face to face with him, I thought about all his crimes. I thought he was a big character, but in fact he was just a small mouse,” he said, adding that Kadhafi was bloodied and weak when found.
In the mobile footage, Kadhafi is seen being manhandled by a group of fighters as he is dragged off to the pickup. Shaaban says he was then taken to an ambulance for transfer to Misrata.
Libyan new regime officials say he died of a shot in the head suffered in crossfire between pro- and anti-Kadhafi fighters. The United Nations and Amnesty International have called for a probe to determine if he was executed.
“Nobody here killed Kadhafi,” a brigade chief discreetly passes the word around in Arabic.
On Friday night, residents of Misrata, which suffered a five-month siege by pro-Kadhafi forces, lined up to view his body on the floor of a vegetable market freezer, amid celebratory gunfire and fireworks out on the streets.
“If I had caught Kadhafi, I would have killed him myself. He killed my people in Misrata, all my friends,” said Mohammad Belhadj, a fighter with a different brigade.
Adding to the confusion, a young fighter from the rebel bastion of Benghazi claimed in a video posted on the Internet on Friday that he had captured Kadhafi and shot him twice, fatally wounding him.
“I fired two bullets at him. One hit under his armpit, the other his head. He did not die immediately. It took him half an hour,” said the youth, identified as Sanad al-Sadek al-Ureibi.