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Gadhafi Burial Delayed Amid Questions Over Cause of Death

October 21, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT

JEFFREY BROWN: And we turn to Libya, one day after the death of Moammar Gadhafi.

Islamic tradition dictates the dead should be buried within 24 hours, but burial for the former Libyan leader was delayed amid questions surrounding the sequence of events yesterday.

Bill Neely of Independent Television News is in Tripoli tonight. His report begins with the scene in Misrata, where Gadhafi’s body has been taken.

BILL NEELY: Gadhafi was a showman in life, but he could never have dreamed he’d be a show in death, crowds of Libyans lining up to film and photograph his dead body on a bloody mattress. His last minutes alive were deeply humiliating.

Here, Colonel Gadhafi is being led away into a furious crowd. “Don’t kill him,” shouts one of his captors. “We need him alive.”

In fact, he didn’t have long to live. Gadhafi falls to his knees. He is clearly being struck, the crowd shouting insults. Videos seem to contradict the government’s account that he was shot dead in crossfire. Not far away in Sirte, his son Mutassim seems relaxed, a prisoner granted a cigarette. But he, too, didn’t have long to live.

This is the only senior loyalist who appears to have survived from Sirte, the internal security chief, who says Gadhafi came to Sirte in August, hiding out in a flat, and taking no part in the fighting.

The people taking photographs of the tunnel where Gadhafi was found hiding don’t care how he died. For them, it’s enough that he’s gone. They were celebrating on the Tripoli square where so often Gadhafi addressed massed obedient crowds. Now they’re just savoring their freedom.

WOMAN: Finally, finally, we get the freedom. Do you know that? You know that feeling that you get everything that you wanted?

BILL NEELY: You lost friends?

MAN: I lost two brothers.

BILL NEELY: Was it worth it?

MAN: Well, yes, 100 percent.

MAN: Finished. It’s finished, is not here, you understand me, is dead, is finished. It’s good. It’s very nice.

BILL NEELY: This is the first full day in 42 years that Libya has been free of Colonel Gadhafi. Most of the people in this square, in this country have never known any other leader. Most of his family and friends are now either dead, fled, in hiding, or injured.

What follows him, what comes next is for another day. And that will be hard, but, for now, this is simply a day of celebration.

There are calls for an investigation into Gadhafi’s last minutes. Libya’s new leaders insist he wasn’t executed. But they couldn’t control their fighters, and of course, Gadhafi couldn’t either. His command had already ended here, as his life was about to.

JUDY WOODRUFF: ITN’s Lindsey Hilsum traveled to the coastal city of Misrata, where she talked to some of the men who captured the one-time leader.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The fighters who found Colonel Gadhafi prayed in a Misrata mosque today. One was wearing the watch he took from the body of the defense minister. They are the men of the moment, credited by most Libyans for bringing 42 years of dictatorship to an end.

OMRAM SHEIBANI, Al Ghiran Brigade (through translator): I saw him face to face. He was bleeding and not fully conscious. I took my Kalashnikov, said, “Allah akbar,” and jumped on top of him. I captured him in seconds. For the first time in my life, I saw Gadhafi in the flesh, after nine months of war in which so many have died. He sounded just like he does on TV, and he said: “What’s happening? What’s happening?”

LINDSEY HILSUM: The brigade that captured Gadhafi say that this telephone was in his possession. They say a call was made to it after they captured him. It was a woman, they say, calling from Syria. And they also found this. They say this is magic. This is an amulet that he used to protect himself.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights wants an investigation into how Colonel Gadhafi died, but the men here say, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. They say they didn’t kill him; they captured him and put him in an ambulance. They didn’t quite know what happened next. But what’s most important to them is that he’s gone.

Back at the base, they were showing off the paraphernalia they found on the “Brother Leader,” his shoes, his scarf, his assault rifle, and his solid gold pistol, engraved and decorated with a legend, saying the sun would never set on his rule.