The head of the Libyan military council said that Colonel Moammar Gaddafi was killed Thursday as fighters battling the vestiges of his fallen regime wrested control of his hometown of Sirte after a prolonged struggle. Al-Jazeera television showed what it said was Colonel Gaddafi's corpse as Libyans rejoiced. (Graphic video shows Gaddafi captured alive
Abdul Hakim Belhaj, the leader of the Tripoli military council, said on Al Jazeera that the former leader had been killed and that anti-Gaddafi forces had his body. (Watch: Graphic cellphone video claiming to show Gaddafi moments after his death
The report of Colonel Gaddafi's death by the highest ranking military officer in Libya's interim government appeared to put an end to the fierce manhunt for the former leader who remained on the lam in Libya for weeks after the fall of his government. (Read: Moammar Gaddafi - An erratic leader, brutal and defiant to the end
Libya's interim leaders had said they believed that some Gaddafi family members - possibly including Colonel Gaddafi and several of his sons - were hiding in the coastal town of Sirte or in Bani Walid, another loyalist bastion that the anti-Gaddafi forces captured several days ago.
There were multiple reports on Thursday that Colonel Gaddafi had been either captured or killed in the fighting. Previous such reports regarding high-level Gaddafi officials have proven false. As rumor of his death spread in the capital, Tripoli, car horns blared as many celebrated in the streets. (Read: Who is Moammar Gaddafi?
Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Afghanistan, said the department was aware of the reports "on the capture or killing of Muammar Gaddafi" but could not confirm them "at this time." (Timeline of Gaddafi's capture, according to Libyan officials
There was no immediate comment from Mr. Jalil, the interim government's top official. If confirmed, the capture or killing of Colonel Gaddafi - along with the fall of Sirte - would allow Mr. Abdul Jalil to declare the country liberated and in control of its borders, and to start a process that would lead to a general election for a national council within eight months.
Libyan fighters said on Thursday that they had routed the last remaining forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi from the Sirte, ending weeks of fierce fighting that had prevented Libya's interim rulers from declaring the country liberated and starting the transition to an elected government.
A military spokesman for the interim government, Abdel Rahman Busin, said, "Sirte is fully liberated."
Gunfire could still be heard in Sirte on Thursday, as former rebel fighters searched houses and chased fleeing loyalist fighters. The anti-Gaddafi fighters killed at least 20 loyalist soldiers trying to escape down the coastal highway, and captured at least 16, the Associated Press reported.
The battle for Sirte was supposed to have been a postscript to the Libyan conflict, but for weeks soldiers loyal to Colonel Gaddafi, Libya's deposed leader, fiercely defended the city, first weathering NATO airstrikes and then repeated assaults by anti-Gaddafi fighters. Former rebel leaders were caught off guard by the depth of the divisions in western Libya, where the colonel's policy of playing favorites and stoking rivalries has resulted in a series of violent confrontations.
Sirte emerged as the stage for one of the war's bloodiest fights, killing and injuring scores on both sides, decimating the city and leading to fears that the weak transitional leaders would not be able to unify the country.
The battle turned nearly two weeks ago, after a prolonged stalemate, when the anti-Gaddafi fighters laid siege to an enormous convention center that the pro-Gaddafi troops had used as a base.
The interim leaders had claimed that the ongoing fighting had prevented them from focusing on other pressing concerns, including the proliferation of armed militias that answered to no central authority.