The macabre and divisive drama over the decomposing remains of Moammar Kadafi appears to have concluded with his anticlimactic and anonymous burial deep in the Libyan hinterlands.
Kadafi’s body was interred early Tuesday in a secret grave, Libyan officials confirmed. Also buried were the remains of his son Mutassim and a former chief military aide, Abu Bakr Yunis.
The Associated Press reported that a cleric and several relatives of the dead were present for a brief prayer service in the coastal city of Misurata before the bodies were whisked away in wooden coffins for predawn burial at an undisclosed site.
The deteriorating remains of the former leader had been on public display for four days in a cold-storage locker in Misurata. The bodies of Mutassim Kadafi and the former aide were laid next to Kadafi’s.
Images of Libyans filing by the decomposing corpses were broadcast worldwide, a gruesome spectacle that drew both revulsion and morbid interest.
Gawkers who lined up for a glimpse were issued surgical masks against the stench. Many posed for photographs alongside the remains of the man who wielded near-absolute power for more than four decades.
The burials came amid reports that another of Kadafi’s sons — his onetime heir apparent, Seif Islam Kadafi — was trying to escape to neighboring Niger, just south of Libya.
The Kadafi regime’s former security chief, Abdullah Sanoussi, reportedly had already fled to Niger. Both Sanoussi and Seif Islam Kadafi are wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of murder and other crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the regime’s crackdown on protesters this year.
Another Kadafi son, Saadi, found refuge in Niger after rebels chased the former leader and his family from Tripoli, the Libyan capital, in late August. Libya’s interim government is seeking Saadi’s extradition, but there is no international warrant for the onetime professional soccer player and aspiring Hollywood producer.
Disagreements between officials in Misurata and the transitional leadership in Tripoli reportedly delayed the decision on how to dispose of Kadafi’s corpse. They couldn’t agree on a final resting place, though both factions wanted to prevent the grave from becoming a shrine for potential pro-Kadafi insurgents.
As the indecision dragged on, Kadafi’s blood-streaked corpse remained in the cold storage warehouse, the natural process of decay taking an obvious toll. Kadafi’s family demanded that the remains be turned over to tribal kin in his hometown, Surt.
In the end, the man whose mercurial vision guided the North African nation for more than 40 years — and who was once dubbed the “mad dog of the Middle East” by President Reagan — appears to have been disposed of in a nameless stretch of desert with few witnesses.
Kadafi, his son and his former defense minister were apparently captured alive Thursday in Surt as the city was overrun by revolutionary fighters after weeks of intense urban combat. The fight capped an eight-month war that cost more than 30,000 lives.
How Kadafi and the other two died remains unclear.
Libyan authorities say he probably died in crossfire. Others say the evidence indicates Kadafi was executed with a bullet to his head. Amateur video showed fighters manhandling and shouting at the bloodied, dazed former leader after his capture.
Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab news channel, showed video of a fighter being lauded by comrades as the man who shot Kadafi. But no video of an execution has emerged.
Bowing to international pressure, Libyan authorities have said they will investigate Kadafi’s death.
Human Rights Watch said Monday that its inquiry indicated Kadafi probably had been been executed. The group also found that 53 apparent regime loyalists appear to have been executed at a Surt hotel as anti-Kadafi forces overran the city.
Libya’s transitional leaders have alleged that Kadafi’s forces executed scores of prisoners in the regime’s final weeks.