Moammar Gadhafi, who ruled Libya with a dictatorial grip for 42 years, was killed Thursday when revolutionary forces overwhelmed his hometown, Sirte, the last major bastion of resistance two months after his regime fell. While most people in the New York region with ties to Libya welcomed the news, some had hoped Gadhafi would be captured alive.
Libyan activist Ali Alawaj, 29, who lives on the Upper West Side, said he didn't believe the news at first, but felt a range emotions from excitement to relief when the death was confirmed. His family in Tripoli was also excited about the news. "Honestly, they just want to close this chapter and start a new chapter," he said.
Yuseff Assed, a research scholar and specialist in Libyan affairs, expressed some concern though about the transition. "I worry about the infighting that's occurring now within the Libyan political establishment, while the foreign aid and especially democracy aid pours into the country as the country is in the midst of chaos," he said.
Assed's family in Libya, though, was exalted by Gadhafi's death, but he said some wished Gadhafi had been brought to trial. "Rather than acting in the way that the dictatorship has treated us, we should somehow lead by example and follow the rule of law, when there has been no rule of law for the last 42 years," Assed said.
The news broke early Thursday morning. "I will confirm that Gadhafi is dead and also his second man in the army, Abu Bakr Younus Jabr," Abdullah Kenshil, chief negotiator for Libya's National Transitional Council, told The Takeaway.
Speaking from the Rose Garden, President Barack Obama said the government of Libya announced the death of Gadhafi and Libya had won their revolution. "Today, we can definitively say the Gadhafi regime has come to an end," he said, nothing the end of Gadhafi strongholds. He added the new government was consolidating control over the country. Obama said Gadhafi's death marked the end of "a long and painful chapter for the people of Libya" and they now could determine their own destiny in a new and democratic Libya.
But the President said there was still much work ahead and the Libyan people had a responsibility "to build an inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya that stands as the ultimate rebuke to Gadhafi's dictatorship."
Obama not only praised the Libyan people for demanding their rights, but the international coalition that provided support to the Libyan people. He also noted to the region that Gadhafi's death showed that "the rule of an iron fist eventually comes to an end."
The 69-year-old Gadhafi is the first leader to be killed in the Arab Spring wave of popular uprisings that swept the Middle East, demanding the end of autocratic rulers and greater democracy.
"We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Moammar Gadhafi has been killed," Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril told a news conference in the capital Tripoli.
Initial reports from fighters said Gadhafi had been barricaded in with his heavily armed loyalists in the last few buildings they held in his Mediterranean coastal hometown of Sirte, furiously battling with revolutionary fighters closing in on them Thursday. At one point, a convoy tried to flee the area and was blasted by NATO airstrikes, though it was not clear if Gadhafi was in the vehicles. Details of his death remained unverified.
Al-Jazeera TV showed footage of a man resembling the 69-year-old Gadhafi lying dead or severely wounded, bleeding from the head and stripped to the waist as fighters rolled him over on the pavement.
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Thursday he hopes Libyans can come together and build a government open to everyone.
"They’re going to have a tough time after all of this fighting in building a democratic system of government," Bloomberg said, "and if this country can help them, we probably should.”
Vice President Joe Biden, who was in New Hampshire, said, "This is more of the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has been in the past." Gadhafi's death does lend credibility to the Obama administration's approach for handling bad actors or tough international situations without bringing the U.S. into a war.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday's developments represented a "new opportunity for Libya to move forward to the future."
With reporting by Arun Venugopal
Obama Announces Beginning of Military Operations in Libya (March 18, 2011)