Libyan Dictator Moammar Gadhafi Is Dead, Rebels Claim

ABC News
FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 1, 2003 file photo, showing Safiya Gadhafi, the wife of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, waves at Libyan soldiers during a military parade at Tripoli's main square.  Ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's wife and other relatives fled to Algeria Monday, the Algerian foreign ministry said, declaring that Gadhafi's wife, daughter, two of his sons and their children entered the neighboring country on Monday. It did not say whether Moammar Gadhafi himself was with the family group. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)
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Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the most wanted man in the world, has been killed, the country's rebel government claimed today.

The flamboyant tyrant who terrorized his country and much of the world during his 42 years of despotic rule was cornered by insurgents in the town of Sirte, where Gadhafi had been born and a stronghold of his supporters.

The National Transition Council said that its fighters found and shot Gadhafi in Sirte, which finally fell to the rebels today after weeks of tough fighting.

Word of Gadhafi's death triggered celebrations in the streets of Tripoli with insurgent fighters waving their weapons and dancing jubilantly.

The White House and NATO said they were unable to confirm reports of his death.

Gadhafi had been on the run for weeks after being chased out of the capital Tripoli by NATO bombers and rebel troops.

He had been believed to be hiding in the vast Libyan desert while calling on his supporters to rise up and sweep the rebel "dogs" away, but his once fearsome power was scoffed at by Libyans who had ransacked his palace compound and hounded him into hiding.

Gadhafi, 69, took over the top spot as the world's most wanted man after Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. troops in Pakistan.

At the height of his ability to threaten terrorism, President Ronald Reagan dubbed Gadhafi the "mad dog of the Middle East."

He was accused of backing the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco popular with American soldiers, reportedly funding the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, and the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which resulted in the U.N. and United States imposing sanctions on Libya.

For years, Gadhafi refused to take responsibility for the bombing, but that changed in 2003 when he acknowledged his role and tried to make amends.

The eccentric leader, who amassed power and wealth by controlling the nation's oil industry, held the title of being the longest-serving leader in Africa and the Arab world.

Over the years, Gadhafi earned an international reputation for his outlandish apparel and much-ridiculed phobias and proclivities.

In U.S. diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks, Gadhafi was described as a "mercurial and eccentric figure who suffers from severe phobias, enjoys flamenco dancing and horse racing, acts on whims and irritates friends and enemies alike."

He was "obsessively dependent on a small core of trusted personnel," especially his longtime Ukrainian nurse Galyna, who has been described as a "voluptuous blonde," according to the cables.

Among his other unusual behaviors, the Libyan leader reportedly feared flying over water, didn't like staying on upper floors and traveled with a "pistol packing' posse" of female bodyguards.

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