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On liberation day, Libyans flock to see Qaddafi – for proof, closure

Libyans officially celebrated the liberation of the country from the rule of Muammar Qaddafi today, just days after he was killed after fleeing his hometown of Sirte.

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Kawa was at a farm outside Misrata, which his brigade uses as hangout, when Qaddafi’s body was brought in there on Thursday.

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“The ambulance driver was one of us,” Kawa said as he kicked some dust over the spot where Qaddafi lay during the half hour he spent here. “He didn’t know where to take the body and he was afraid of getting mobbed.”

“We discussed the situation and then one of us thought of the freezer at the shopping mall," he said. "It was far enough outside the city to keep the body safe from the people.”

The news that an autopsy revealed that Qaddafi was shot in the head after his capture doesn’t trouble many people here.

'Good riddance'

“It’s good riddance,” says Kawa. “Even at the very end, during the battle over Sirte, he made sure that many people died needlessly.”

He remembers the surprise of the civilians of Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte as they escaped the fighting. “I gave them juice, I played with their children. They couldn’t believe their eyes. ‘You are Libyans,’ they said, ‘[Qaddafi loyalists] told us that your were Al Qaeda and that you were going to kill and rape us.”

Hussein Dabaiba, a 33-year-old fighter who was living in Newcastle in the UK until he joined the fight in August, was there when Qaddafi was apprehended.

“I was standing on the road above the sewer where Qaddafi had hidden,” he said at the barracks of the rebel's "Tiger brigade" in Misrata. “We were being shot at by four of his bodyguards who were protecting whoever was inside the sewer tunnel. We didn’t know who it was until I heard my friends shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ from below.”

Dabaiba doesn’t know what happened to Qaddafi after he was led away. “We were too busy fighting. People forget that the firefight went on for hours after Qaddafi was captured.”

Barbeques and bravado

As he speaks, hundreds of fighters pour into the barracks. They are returning from what used to be the frontline at Sirte, Qaddafi’s last holdout. The fighters display the usual bravado: they shoot into the air and burn rubber with their home-made fighting vehicles.

As some of the fighters prepare a barbeque, family members and other fighters line up to be embraced every single fighter returning from Sirte.

“This is what we do now: we hug each other and we go to each other’s barbeques,” says Dabaiba, dismissing any rumors of lingering tensions between the former rebel brigades, which some analysts have warned might turn into a civil war. “We were all fired up, and we were frustrated over the lack of progress at the front in Sirte.”

Haj Othman Belhaj, a leader of the Halbous brigade, which shares barracks with the Tiger brigade, agreed.

“We can’t wait to get back to our nomal lives,” he said. “We in Misrata were the first to pick up weapons against Qaddafi; now we will be the first to hand them over to the new national army.”

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