Moamer Kadhafi, the "king of kings of Africa" who for eight months refused to surrender, was captured Thursday in a sewage pipe waving a golden gun near his hometown Sirte, Libyan fighters said.
"Kadhafi was in a jeep when rebels opened fire on it. He got out and tried to flee, taking shelter in a sewage pipe," National Transitional Council (NTC) field commander Mohammed Leith told AFP.
NTC fighters "opened fire again and he came out carrying a Kalashnikov (assault rifle) in one hand and a pistol in the other," he said.
Kadhafi "looked left and right and asked what was happening. Rebels opened fire again, wounding his leg and shoulder. He died after that," according to Leith.
But according to interim prime minister Mahmud Jibril, Kadhafi was shot in the head "in crossfire" between his supporters and new regime fighters after his capture.
"When he was found, he was in good health, carrying a gun," Jibril told a press conference in Tripoli. Kadhafi was transferred from the sewage pipe to a pickup truck, at which point he was shot in the right hand.
"When the vehicle started moving, it was caught in crossfire between Kadhafi fighters and the revolutionaries, and he was shot in the head," according to Jibril.
"He was alive up to last moment, until he arrived at hospital" in the town of Misrata.
Outside the hospital in Sirte, the Mediterranean city where Kadhafi diehards for weeks put up a last stand against a revolt which broke out in mid-February, a young fighter proudly brandished what he said was the strongman's golden gun.
Mohammed Shaban, who said he took part in Kadhafi's capture, said the 69-year-old who ruled Libya for four decades had been cornered in the sewage pipe. "His blood is on my shirt. I'll never wash it," he said.
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A fugitive since the NTC forces with NATO air support swept into Tripoli at the end of August, Kadhafi's whereabouts had remained a mystery.
A wounded Kadhafi was seen alive and standing as he was being manhandled by Libya's new regime fighters before the announcement of his death, in a videotape aired on Arab satellite channels.
Bloodied in the head, face and shoulders, NTC fighters circled Kadhafi, who was hailed as the country's "king of kings" by African tribal chiefs in 2009, as he apparently tried to cry out.
One fighter appeared to hold a gun to his head but it was unclear if he fired before Kadhafi was hauled onto the front of a vehicle, amid chaotic scenes in the video broadcast on Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera television channels.
"We announce to the world that Kadhafi has died in the custody of the revolution," NTC spokesman Abdel Hafez Ghoga announced earlier.
In France, Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said French warplanes fired a warning shot to stop a convoy of up to 80 vehicles carrying Kadhafi before he was captured.
The convoy of several dozen vehicles "was stopped from progressing as it sought to flee Sirte but was not destroyed by the French intervention," Longuet told journalists.
Libyan fighters then intervened, destroying the vehicles, from which "they took out Colonel Kadhafi," he added.
The minister said a French Mirage-2000 was "informed by the integrated general staff (of NATO) of the need for an intervention to prevent this column from advancing."
"A French warning shot was fired to prevent the column from proceeding and it divided," he said, after which some of the vehicles were confronted by the NTC fighters.
"In these clashes, vehicles were destroyed, people were wounded and killed and it was among them that... Kadhafi was a part," he said.