"He called us rats, but look where we found him," said Ahmed al-Sahati, a 27-year-old fighter, standing next to two stinking drainage pipes under a six-lane highway near Sirte.
Elsewhere trucks and cars, probably from among a convoy of about 75 targeted by French NATO jets, lay burned out. Many of their occupants sat charred inside, others, dozens of them, strewn dead across nearby fields as the diehards who had held out in Sirte for weeks raced for a getaway in all directions.
Government fighter Saleem Bakeer recounted to Reuters a version of Gaddafi's capture that was corroborated by others, including one man who had what he said was Gaddafi's golden pistol: "At first we fired at them with anti-aircraft guns, but it was no use," said Bakeer, being feted by comrades near the road and the drainage pipes. "Then we went in on foot."
After confronting pro-Gaddafi gunmen who said their "master" was wounded and inside, he went on: "We went in and brought Gaddafi out. He was saying 'what's wrong? What's wrong? What's going on?'." He said Gaddafi was then put in a vehicle. [See photos of the unrest in Libya.]
Mahmoud Hamada, a fighter clearly recognizable from the films as being present at the time, said Gaddafi was already barely able to walk but alive when put into an ambulance.
The doubts befitted a man who retained an aura of mystery in the desert as he tormented Western powers by sponsoring bomb-makers from the IRA to the PLO then later embraced Tony Blair, Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi in return for investment in Libya's oil and gas fields.
Some NTC officials insisted the fighters had tried to get Gaddafi to hospital but he was hit in crossfire. But another, speaking to Reuters anonymously, said simply: "They beat him very harshly and then they killed him. This is a war."