Muammar Gaddafi’s body has been buried in secret after being displayed in public, in an ignominious end for Libya’s longtime ruler.
The last top figures of his ousted regime, Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam and former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, meanwhile, were poised to cross the border into Niger.
Saif al-Islam was “near the Niger border, he hasn’t entered Niger yet but he’s close”, a local official from the northern Niger Agadez region said.
A Misrata military council member said Gaddafi was buried on Monday night in a religious ceremony, along with another of his sons, Mutassim and former defence minister Abu Bakr Yunis Jaber.
The bodies had been put on display in a market freezer on the outskirts of Misrata, with thousands of Libyans queuing up since Friday to view and photograph them.
According to guards at the entrance to the market, a convoy of four or five military vehicles took the bodies away to an unknown location, being kept secret to avoid the site turning into a rallying point for Gaddafi supporters.
Three Muslim religious figures loyal to the ousted dictator prayed and performed a religious ceremony before the burial, according to the military council member.
The overnight burials come amid raging controversy over the circumstances of Gaddafi’s death after he was taken alive last Thursday during the fall of his hometown Sirte, the last hold out after an eight-month armed revolt.
Libya’s interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil said on Monday that a commission of inquiry is to probe the strongman’s killing after concerns raised by foreign governments and rights group.
Disquiet has grown internationally over how Gaddafi met his end after NTC fighters hauled him out of a culvert where he was hiding following NATO air strikes on the convoy in which he had been trying to flee his falling hometown.
Mobile phone videos show him still alive at that point.
Libya’s interim prime minister Mahmud Jibril has said an autopsy report showed Gaddafi was killed in “crossfire from both sides.”
On the political and military front, the NTC said it wants NATO to extend its mission in the north African country.
“I ask NATO to remain at least for another month,” said interim oil and finance minister Ali Tarhuni, four days after the military alliance announced plans to end its seven-month mission on October 31.
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ambassadors are scheduled to meet on Wednesday to make a formal decision on a preliminary agreement on the end of the mission.
Meanwhile a fuel tank exploded in Sirte late on Monday killing more than 100 people, NTC military commander Leith Mohammed said.
“There was an enormous explosion and a huge fire. More than 100 people were killed and 50 others wounded,” he said. The scene was “a heart wrenching spectacle with dozens of charred bodies”.
The accidental explosion, apparently caused by a spark from a nearby electricity generator, happened as a crowd of people waited near the fuel tank to fill up their cars.
Some of the victims had returned to the town to inspect the damage to their properties, the NTC commander added.
Some of Sirte’s residents, who numbered 120,000 before the conflict, have returned to salvage the remains of their personal belongings. But few are expected to stay.