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During that "liberation," rebels wounded and captured Mr. Qaddafi as he fled the city in a convoy that was attacked by NATO warplanes, National Transitional Council (NTC) official Abdel Majid told Reuters on Thursday.
Abdul Hakim Belhaj, an NTC military chief, has now confirmed that Qaddafi has died of his wounds after being captured near Sirte, reports Al Jazeera.
Celebrations erupted in Libya's capital, Tripoli as the reports circulated on Libyan TV and radio stations.
The US and NATO are rushing to confirm the claims, which could not immediately be verified.
With Sirte now under rebel control, the NTC can move forward with plans for elections and other critical steps in the democratic process, which it said it would put off until the battle for Sirte was over.
"Sirte has been liberated. There are no Gaddafi forces any more," said Col. Yunus Al Abdali, head of operations in the eastern half of the city, according to Reuters. "We are now chasing his fighters who are trying to run away."
However, the risk of small flare-ups of resistance remains. Some of the Qaddafi loyalist fighters managed to slip out of Sirte, according to Reuters, and Tripoli has been the site of brief clashes in some of the city's former pro-Qaddafi neighborhoods. The BBC reports that there is still some resistance in Bani Walid as well, the other main Qaddafi stronghold that the NTC took over earlier this week.
According to the Associated Press, Qaddafi was suspected of planting weapons stores in the country's southern desert. Should those weapons end up in the hands of lingering Qaddafi supporters, there is a risk of an insurgency. When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Libya on Tuesday, she told NTC leaders that locating those weapons should be a top priority and pledged a significant chunk of aid to assist in the search.
According to the Tripoli Post, NTC leader Mahmoud Abdul Jalil said that he is concerned that Qaddafi has been recruiting fighters from other African countries. Qaddafi also made a deal with the Hamada tribe, which lives in the border region between Chad, Sudan, and Libya, in which the tribe will provide 12,000 fighters, Mr. Abdul Jalil said.
The transition to a democratic system will be difficult in a country that hasn't held an election since 1952 and no longer has any political parties, a political consultant specializing in Libya notes in a Foreign Policy piece in September. "In short, Qaddafi left no meaningful ideological legacy behind. It will be fascinating to see what type of political parties – and there can be no democratic transition without them – emerge in his wake," he writes. Militias, regional alliances, the youth, and returning exiles could all be starting points for political parties.
He warns that the remaining pockets of resistance need to be subdued, but waiting for that to happen could prove just as problematic.
First, though, the NTC must overcome the dilemma of quelling the remaining areas of resistance without alienating large numbers of Libyans who will need to participate in any successful democratic transition. The southern city of Sabha, a vital gateway to the resource-rich Wadi al-Hayat and home to more than 250,000 people, is still being fought over. No genuinely inclusive national reconciliation can start until it is stable, but delays to an already ambitious election timetable could prove unpopular, just as they have in Egypt. Parts of the northeast have already been Qaddafi-free for six months, and people's patience will be tested.
In neighboring Tunisia, which at least has some past experience of holding elections – however rigged they might have been – the interim government began licensing new parties barely six weeks after Ben Ali fled. … Although Tunisia's transition has not been perfect, a potentially bloodier road lies ahead in Libya, where the electorate will wield guns as well as votes.