MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) - Even as a corpse, Muammar Gaddafi is casting a shadow over Libya.
The country’s new rulers declared the birth of a new Libya as hundreds of people trooped past Gaddafi’s decaying body in Misrata for a third day, a final humiliation that deepened international disquiet about Libya’s future and angered family members.
There was a carnival atmosphere in Misrata on Sunday with twin attractions of celebrations marking the declaration of “liberation” in the main square coupled with the ghoulish spectacle of people queuing to view the bodies of Gaddafi, his son and army chief in a market cold store.
Scores of parents brought their children to see the bodies despite an increasingly strong stench of visibly putrefying flesh filling the air.
“We saw him when he was arrogant. Now we want to see him when he is humiliated. We brought our children to see him today because this is a chance to see history,” a man who identified himself as Mohammed told Reuters.
“We want to see this arrogant person as a lifeless body. Let all the people see him.”
On top of the desire to let all see the proof of Gaddafi’s demise, much of the reason behind his extended inglorious lying in state is disagreement among Libya’s regional rivals over what to do with the body.
Misrata, emerging from years of neglect under Gaddafi, is keen to show off the ultimate trophy of its resurgence as a potent force after months of bloody siege, but does not want the body under its soil.
Gaddafi’s kinsmen have asked to bury the body in his hometown of Sirte as requested in the former leader’s will, but the interim government has said it wants it disposed of in a secret location to prevent it becoming a shrine for his followers.
Gaddafi’s son Saadi, who fled to Niger after the fall of Tripoli in August, said in a statement he was “shocked and outraged by the vicious brutality” shown toward his father and brother Mo‘tassim.
But few Libyans were troubled by the public display of the Gaddafi corpses or the fact they had not been buried in a timely fashion as demanded by Islamic law.
“He’s not human and not a Muslim because what he did to us no Muslim can do,” said Mohammed Ahmed next to where Gaddafi lay on the floor on a filthy mattress in a place previously used to store onions.
“Even the animals don’t want anything to do with him.”
Still fewer Libyans worried about how Gaddafi and his son came to be there after both being captured alive trying to break out of the siege of Sirte on Thursday.
But many in the West worry the treatment meted out to Gaddafi and his henchmen casts doubt on the promises by Libya’s new rulers to respect human rights and prevent reprisals.
A succession of mobile phone videos show a wounded, but still conscious, Muammar Gaddafi being beaten and manhandled on the outskirts of Sirte and his captured son even sitting up drinking water and smoking a cigarette before both were later pronounced dead.
An autopsy conducted in the early hours of Sunday revealed Muammar Gaddafi had one bullet wound in the left side of his head and one in his abdomen, official sources told Reuters.
It is clear that he died of the bullet wounds, but when they were administered and by whom is far less clear.
“My master is inside and he is wounded,” one of Gaddafi’s body guards cried out to the government troops who came across the leader and his army chief sheltering in a storm drain after NATO air strikes devastated their escape convoy.
Gaddafi then crawled out on all fours, said Omar Ahmed Al Shibani, the commander of the unit which captured him.
When he was caught, Gaddafi was armed with a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum pistol loaded with dum-dum bullets -- banned under international conventions, a gold-plated Browning pistol in his waste band and two assault rifles lay nearby, Shibani told a news conference in Misrata on Sunday.
The first film of Gaddafi very shortly after he emerged from the drain clearly shows he already had the wound close to his left ear and that he was bleeding profusely. Shibani said Gaddafi also had the wound to his abdomen, but that is unclear.
Libya’s interim prime minister said the bullet that hit Gaddafi in the head may have been fired by one of his own guards during the shootout that was to prove his last stand. Several of his bodyguards were killed in the final gunbattle.
What followed was chaotic, violent and gruesome.
Government fighters hauled Gaddafi onto the bonnet of a Toyota pick-up truck to get him, one of them said, through the crowd of vengeful fellow fighters and to a waiting ambulance.
Gaddafi can be heard in one film saying “God forbids this” several times as slaps from the crowd rain down on his head.
“This is for Misrata, you dog,” said one man slapping him.
“Do you know right from wrong?” Gaddafi says.
“Shut up you dog,” someone replies as more blows rain down.
Gaddafi was still alive when he reached the ambulance, Shibani and interim government officials insist.
In other video footage obtained by Reuters a convoy of vehicles is seen speeding along a desert road, horns blaring and men shouting “We have Muammar! It’s Muammar!.”
Later the convoy slows to a halt. Fighters rush to an ambulance shouting that Gaddafi is dead. In the back of the vehicle a body lies with a bandage over a wound on its abdomen.
The head is covered with a white sheet, but a man beside it raises it briefly affording a glimpse of the former ruler’s face. A young man appears beside the ambulance and a bearded man beside him shouts out:
“He’s the killer. And I am the witness who saw him ... This is the man who killed Gaddafi. Using this,” the man with the beard shouts, holding up the young man’s hand in which he has a gun. “He did it in front of me. I saw it in front of me.”
The footage does not make clear whether Gaddafi died of wounds sustained before he was put into the ambulance or whether he was shot again while in the vehicle.
Brigade commander Shibani insisted his men did their best to stop Gaddafi dying.
“We worked very hard to keep him alive, but God’s will is greater than ours.”
Additional reporting by Taha Zargoun; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Matthew Jones