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Reports Claim Gadhafi Either Captured or Killed

Aired October 20, 2011 - 08:30:00   ET



ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Let's go straight to the Pentagon and CNN's Barbara Starr who has some new information from her sources -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: We have just gotten a statement from -- I'm sorry, I'm having trouble in my ear. Am I still with --

VERJEE: Yes, go ahead.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. We may have lost her momentarily. But you're looking at picture that if I remember correctly Moammar Gadhafi in the Babalazazia (ph) compound with one of his grandchildren. This is another one, a piece of video, showing him speaking. He was really known for a lot of the fiery and long speeches that he has been giving over the years.

We don't know whether this man is alive or dead. CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. Let's see if we can connect with her.

Barbara, if -- we are trying to connect with Barbara. Let's go to Kristie Lu Stout.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN HOST: All right, Zain, thank you for that.

And just to recap this historic news as breaking this hour. The NTC in Libya, they have been reporting that Moammar Gadhafi has been captured in Sirte. There were also reports out there that the former Libyan leader may have been killed. And we are working on confirmation of these reports, but again world reaction is coming in to us as we're hearing this.

If confirmed, this would represent the end of Moammar Gadhafi's 42 years in power and a new era for Libya.

Now a civil war has been dragging on in Libya for the past 8 months. We've been covering it non-stop here on CNN. Tripoli, the Libyan capital, fell late August. The city of Sirte, Moammar Gadhafi's hometown was reportedly captured by NTC fighters today just hours ago before this new story about Moammar Gadhafi broke.

We're continuing to follow all lines of this story for you, tapping into our correspondents across the world. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Mohammed Jamjoom getting wider reaction, especially Arab Spring implications from Abu Dhabi. And of course our own Dan Rivers who has been reporting live from Tripoli.

And I understand that we may have Dan on the line for us. And if we do, if Dan could just comment on one thing that we can confirm at this moment, the celebrations underway in Tripoli and Libyans react to the news that Moammar Gadhafi may have been captured or killed -- Dan.

DAN RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A deafening celebration here. I think a lot of people want to believe it. Whether it's true or not, the next few hours will tell us. But have a look at the scene. You know, over here, if our cameraman marks his (inaudible) down to the right there you can see jubilant scenes out the front of the hotel we're staying in. They're all dancing and waving the tri-color flag and -- of this new country now. Of course, the green flag of Colonel Gadhafi has been ripped from every flag staff from the city and across the country and replaced with this new flag of -- the flag of this revolution, this nascent revolution that now appears to have finally completed its job in liberating Sirte and finally, if these rumors are to be true, to be believed, overthrowing Colonel Gadhafi.

Kristie, we got some other news in from NATO saying that approximately 8:30 local time, NATO air craft struck two pro-Gadhafi force military vehicles which were part of a larger group in the vicinity of Sirte. It goes on, these armed vehicles were conducting (inaudible) operations and presented a clear threat to civilians.

And that's unusual because the whole time we were in Sirte, I don't remember hearing or seeing any NATO air strike in Sirte. We certainly saw a plane circling at very high altitude overhead, but we never saw them actually firing any rockets, no reports of any involvement hitting targets on the ground while we were there.

And there were some rumors being aired on local television that perhaps Colonel Gadhafi had been injured by a NATO air strike itself. And if that's the case that would tie in with this segment from NATO about an air strike at 8:30 this morning.

NATO is not commenting any further on whether they were involved in hitting a convoy that was carrying Colonel Gadhafi. And of course we're still waiting for a definitive confirmation that Colonel Gadhafi has indeed been captured or killed.

VERJEE: From Tripoli. We want to show you a picture that we have just obtained. It's actually been distributed by the Agence France Presse, a news organiation. The AFP got this picture from a different source. CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of this picture, but it appears to show the former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi dead. He may be injured and wounded in this picture. It's really not clear the exact circumstances of this image, but it does show Moammar Gadhafi -- it looks like to me, this is the information that we are getting, a photograph distributed by AFP, but CNN cannot independently verify that this is, in fact, authentic.

These images coming to us at the same time as you are watching. We see a man at the center blood -- with a blood-stained face. And men surrounding him as well. Dan Rivers was reporting a moment ago that at 8:30 local time, according to NATO, who is giving out this information that they had struck a number of military vehicles in a convoy.

Let's go to Kristie Lu Stout. Kristie, we're just looking at this picture as it comes on the air right now. And we can't verify the authenticity of it yet -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: Yeah, Zain, let's just talk about this, because when you show that photograph to our viewers around the world. I mean, I personally, I just gasped looking at it. And of course as you say we cannot authenticate it. We cannot confirm it. But it does appear to be a bloodied Moammar Gadhafi in this digital camera photograph that we're looking at on our screen courtesy of the French news agency Agence France Presse.

And since the very beginning, Zain, since you've been on deck covering -- since this story broke, we've been piecing together all these bits of facts, reports coming in from Libya. First, these reports claiming that the Libyan leader, former Libyan leader had been arrested, then later killed. Now this photograph being circulated by the AFP showing what appears to be Moammar Gadhafi bloodied there. And again this news report that Dan Rivers cited from NATO. NATO saying that NATO aircraft struck two pro-Gadhafi forces military vehicles that were part of a larger group, this taking place in Sirte.

Of course, at this moment we can't confirm anything. We can just piece together and perhaps draw the dots between these very different stories that are coming our way.

But one thing that we do know is that Moammar Gadhafi, Zain, he has been defiant from the very beginning, hasn't he? I mean, 8 months ago when it started as a local uprising. And then it grew into a civil war there in Libya. He stayed on. He vowed to never leave. For months we were wondering, especially the last few weeks, about the whereabouts of Moammar Gadhafi. Was he in Sirte, his hometown? We were waiting for the fall of Sirte. NTC forces claim that that city fell earlier today.

And after they made that claim, this claim that Moammar Gadhafi, the former leader of Libya who has been ruling the country for 42 years, these claims that he may have been captured or killed. And that very striking image there courtesy of Agence France Presse showing a bloodied Moammar Gadhafi, a digital screen capture there. Incredible events.

Now you're watching live breaking news coverage here on CNN of these events out of Libya.

Let's get straight back to my colleague Zain Verjee in London -- Zain.

VERJEE: Kristie, as we continue to look at that photograph of what could be the biggest fish of them all and dead and captured in that image. And it could go down as the biggest day in history in Libya. And an extraordinary moment not just for that country, but the entire Arab world. That photograph is going to have ripples through the psyches, the hearts, the minds of millions of Libyans and millions more Arabs around the world that never could have imagined that the mad dog of the Middle East would end up this way -- if this picture is, in fact, him and we can't confirm it.

Months ago, this was totally unthinkable that Moammar Gadhafi could end this way.

Abdel Bari Atwan, a journalist and author, joins me now. You met Moammar Gadhafi. You're looking at these pictures. You're thoughts.

ABDEL BARI ATWAN, JOURNALIST: Definitely. He is Moammar Gadhafi. And definitely --

VERJEE: But we don't know that.

ATWAN: We don't know enough, but according to the picture --

VERJEE: You will need a DNA test to prove it.

ATWAN: Yes, definitely to prove it. But if it is true -- the picture is true, authentic, definitely this is Moammar Gadhafi. But I believe the Libyan would like to see him captured, would like to see him behind bars, the way the Iraqi wanted Saddam Hussein to be, because they don't want to see Moammar Gadhafi died as a martyr. They don't want to see him glorified among his tribe and his supporters.

So many people will be happy, but at the same time they would be a little disappointed. They would like to see him captured and brought to justice by the Libyan court, or by ICC, International Criminal Court.

So -- but it definitely is a happy ending to the Libyans. It is a happy ending to -- for the conflict in Libya I believe and for the Spring - - the demonstrations, the protests, the revolution of Libya. People are entitled to celebrate. This man was there for 42 years. He turned their country to a dump of rubbish, to be honest. He didn't rebuild the country. He didn't build institutions. No good governance, not at all. The only major aim for him is to glorify himself on the international scene.

So as you mentioned, Zain, this is definitely a historic moment for Libya and for the whole of the Middle East. Another revolution succeeded in the Arab world, another tyrant is removed from power. And a new democracy could emerge if things actually go the way it should be done.

I mean, you know, is institution building, there is democracy, reconciliation among the Libyans, the reconciliation among the rebels themselves.

VERJEE: Abdel Bari Atwan, thank you so much.

If that photograph that we are looking at, which we cannot independently confirm, is authentic, it is over for Moammar Gadhafi, his sons, his family. We are waiting for proof that that photograph is, in fact, him. The council in Benghazi is expected to make a statement in the coming hours. We are waiting for that, an official confirmation.

Here's Kristie Lu Stout.

LU STOUT: Thank you, Zain.

That's right, the NTC leader Moustafa Abdel Jalil, he is said to be speaking to the people of Libya in a few hours. Shortly, once that happens, of course we'll bring his words, that feed to you as soon as possible.

And we've also been monitoring reaction to the reports that Moammar Gadhafi may have been captured or killed. The NTC claiming that he has been captured in Sirte. And saw quite clearly the scenes there in Tripoli, the Libyan capital. We heard the horns honking. We saw flags being waved. Celebratory scenes there.

But what is the reaction outside in the region and around the world? Let's bring in my colleague Errol Barnett from CNN Center to give us a snapshot of that -- Errol.

ERROL BARNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kristie, just in these past few hours if you look at the microblogging site Twitter, the top trends are Gadhafi, Captured, the name of his hometown Sirte, and Libya. As we all await confirmation that that is, in fact, that case.

We can show you this map on Trendistic which simply shows traffic on Twitter if we go back just one page. And you can see there towards the end, this time is in GMT, conversations about Moammar Gadhafi initially started as a bit of a rumble and a murmur, and the density of traffic just exploded.

In this next image, we can show you The larger the word, the more people are talking about it in that region. And you see #Gadhafi popular in Europe and particularly in North Africa and throughout the Middle East where when I look at messages from people in this region they say they are emboldened and enthused by news of Colonel Gadhafi possibly being captured, a successful Arab revolution now in a third country.

Now we take a look here at just some of the messages on Twitter that we've been looking into. In the top left corner our correspondent in Libya, Ben Wedeman, makes the important point here that he's waiting for the hard evidence that Moammar Gadhafi has been captured. Too many alarms regarding the capture/killing of senior regime officials. It's happened before in Libya where the National Transitional Council has said an individual was captured and that was not the case.

So CNN is still working to confirm that.

But people online still reacting to the possibility of Moammar Gadhafi being captured. Here we can show you a message from a Nadia Al Sheikh saying "what a great day it'll be if Gadhafi is really captured. Not that he matters, but to mark a new beginning for Libya."

Some world leaders, in fact, are using their Twitter page to welcome this news. This is from the Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt saying online that he warmly welcomes information that Colonel Gadhafi has been captured by NTC forces. It's important that he is now put on trial for his crimes.

And another message, it gives us a sense of what reaction is like on the ground in places in the Middle East. This is from Moez, Libya. The quote here, "women ululating from all their buildings." That's the very high pitched sound some people make when they celebrate here. "Shouts of Allahu akbar" meaning God is great, "in every neighborhood. Sound of Takbeer from the mosques" as well.

I've been sharing all the information CNN has online on my social media pages. You can connect with me at @errollcnn on Twitter, or at

And Kristie, the point is that the -- for people in the Middle East, they feel completely enthused that Colonel Gadhafi has possibly been captured and that, unlike other -- each country has had its own unique experience with the Arab Spring and internal uprising. And if Libya was also able to oust its leader -- I see one tweet here saying that they hope they can now move on to stop the massacres in Syria.

So people in the Middle East watching this closely as well as the rest of us around the world.

LU STOUT: That's right. And people also watching it very cautiously as they work to confirm these reports that the former Libyan leader has been captured and/or killed.

Errol Barnett with the social media reaction there, thank you very much indeed Errol.

Now let's bring in our Barbara Starr. She joins us live from the Pentagon once again.

And Barbara, we have to talk about what we have heard from NATO. And I'll just -- I'm getting some noise in my ear, but let me just reiterate this wire that we received earlier from NATO saying that NATO aircraft struck two pro-Gadhafi forces military vehicles which were part of a larger group maneuvering in the vicinity of Sirte.

Is there a connection here between this NATO operation, striking these pro-Gadhafi compound? Could Gadhafi, Moammar Gadhafi, have been in that vehicle? Is there a connection between the reports from the NTC and what we're hearing from NATO?

STARR: OK. Do I just say -- OK. Oh, I see.

LU STOUT: OK. Unfortunately it seems that we just -- we're having some technical issues here. That was our Barbara Starr, again. We'll try to rework that connection with you.

But let's bring in colleague Mohammed Jamjoom live in Abu Dhabi. He has been monitoring wider Arab reaction to the story. Again, the reports coming in Moammar Gadhafi, the former leader of Libya may have been captured or killed.

And Mohammed, what are you coming across?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kristie, right now this is really -- the story is dominating the Arab media here, especially the networks here in the region.

If you see behind, we have screens and we have Al Jazeera right here. They're showing a picture of what is reportedly Moammar Gadhafi after he was wounded or killed. They are saying that they have sources that have confirmed that Moammar Gadhafi has been killed.

Arabiya, on the screen next to it, they're also showing this picture. This is what is dominating the Arab airwaves right now. This is a picture, again CNN cannot independently confirm this, but this is a still that purports to show Moammar Gadhafi some reports saying after he was wounded, some reports saying after he was killed.

Still a lot of confusion and contradictory information even on the networks here. The networks here in the region, some saying he was wounded, some say he was captured, some say he was killed. Some saying Moammar Gadhafi is being transported right now from one city to another.

So right now, very much a developing story, very much the news that is dominating the region as far as the satellite network stations here. And a lot of questions being asked right now trying to find out exactly what has happened to Moammar Gadhafi, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Mohammed, what will this report, even though it is still unconfirmed, what impact will it have on the great Arab Spring movement. Do you think it will re-energize the uprisings that we have seen, especially the ones in Yemen.

JAMJOOM: Kristie, just from -- just from some of the anecdotal evidence we're seeing right now by social media users in the region, users that are really identified with Arab Spring movements in different countries here are overjoyed at this news. Even though many of them on sites like Twitter and Facebook still trying to find out exactly what has happened -- if Gadhafi has been captured, if he has been killed. And they're expressing caution to reports out there to make sure it's confirmed exactly what happened. They are expressing joy at the news.

I'll give you some examples, one Facebook user saying "God is great. We hope the news is correct."

Another one saying "you were winners since February 17." This is to the Libyan people, "you are a courageous people. And you deserve the freedom."

Another Facebook user saying "congratulations, this is a great victory against the killer of the Libya people."

We're seeing tweets like this emerge from countries like Yemen, countries like Egypt, countries that have expressed solidarity with the Libyan people in their uprising. And we expect we're going to be seeing much more of this sentiment in the hours ahead, especially as the news becomes much more clear and confirmed exactly what happened to Moammar Gadhafi in Libya today -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: All right.

Mohammed Jamjoom live in Abu Dhabi. Thank you very much for monitoring wider reaction to this story.

And then let's bring back Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon. We have reestablished that connection with her. And Barbara, earlier we were talking about -- or I was making reference to -- the NATO statement about a NATO strike that took place in Sirte earlier today, a strike. Is there a relationship between that event and these reports that we're getting from the NTC and elsewhere that Moammar Gadhafi may have been captured or killed?

STARR: Well, you know, Kristie we talked to NATO officials about it, and as you point out they issued a statement saying that at 8:30 local time on the ground, NATO aircraft struck a military convoy, two pro-Gadhafi forces, military vehicles moving around Sirte where this heavy fighting was taking place.

We spoke to NATO officials who told us at the time they struck the convoy they did not have any reason in particular to believe that Gadhafi was inside, but now as events have unfolded, they are looking at that, not ready to confirm it, but events could be moving in that direction where that type of confirmation could be coming. NATO not ready, but they are confirming they did strike a military convoy around Sirte today.

At the same time, NATO is also confirming to us that they are looking at when and how soon to end the military operation over Libya, that they plan to have a recommendation from the top NATO military official in the next few days. And then a special session of NATO's North Atlantic Council will be convened and take a vote on ending the operations over Libya. We'll see -- that vote could come in the next few days. The actual end of the operation not determined just yet -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: Yeah, I'm trying to understand the motivation behind this NATO strike in Sirte. From the very beginning NATO has said that its mission was to serve the UN mandate and to protect civilians in Libya. So why --

STARR: Let me jump in and remind you, Kristie --

LU STOUT: Why did this strike take place.

STARR: Kristie, let me jump in and remind you and all the viewers, this is what's been going on since March. As military forces move around the country that are pro-Gadhafi forces, they pose a threat and NATO strikes them. That has been the NATO military mission all along -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: OK. What does NATO, what is the United States saying about security and providing security in Libya in a pro-Gadhafi Libya, especially given the concern that there would be pro-Gadhafi loyalists who would remain, and perhaps an insurgency could take root?

STARR: Well, I think both the United States and the individual member countries of NATO now are saying that they will move to have their own relationships with the Libyans, military cooperation, training, selling of some modernized military equipment, everything that they can do to help these Libyan forces look after their own security.

There still is a lot of concern, as you say, about the surface to air missiles that may be on the loose. And there is a huge program from the U.S. State Department to work with the Libyans on trying to secure those weapons.

LU STOUT: Barbara Starr joining us live from the Pentagon. Thank you very much indeed for that.

Let's bring in my colleague Zain Verjee in London -- Zain.

VERJEE: Kristie, if you're just joining us right now, this is the picture the world is looking at. We got it a short while ago. It appears to show Moammar Gadhafi either dead or wounded. We cannot independently confirm the authenticity of this photograph, but it is making waves in Libya and around the world.

We received reports that there was a strike by NATO about 8:30 local time. And Moammar Gadhafi, according to some reports, may have been killed in that firefight.

This was a man that ruled for 42 years with an iron fist. This is a man that inspired fear in Libya and beyond. Moammar Gadhafi has been on the run for two months.

Let's go to CNN USA and join their programming.