Libyans celebrate in Tripoli
01:00 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Celebrations erupt in the Libyan cites of Tripoli and Sirte

Drivers, ships sound their horns as celebratory gunshots are fired

Outside a hotel, staffers dance and wave Libyan flags

CNN  — 

Libyans erupted in jubilation Thursday from the very first incomplete reports that ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi was dead.

A “cacophony of celebration” could be heard in Tripoli as ships and cars blasted their horns and shots were fired into the air, said CNN’s Dan Rivers.

“It is very, very loud – a lot of excitement,” Rivers said.

“It’s a great moment,” said Mahmoud Shammam, information minister for Libya’s National Transitional Council. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for decades, and I’m thanking God that I’m alive to see this moment.”

Video footage showed a Tripoli street where people embraced and jumped in joy and crowds ran alongside vehicles. Other rejoicing people were hanging out of car windows and sunroofs and gathered in the beds of pickup trucks.

The sound of cheering could be heard, along with a call to prayer.

Outside a hotel, staff including chefs wearing their white hats gathered, dancing and waving Libyan flags.

“They’re breathing a huge sigh of relief here,” Rivers said. Many Libyans were concerned that a free Gadhafi might play a role in destabilizing Libya in the future, he said.

In Sirte – Gadhafi’s hometown and the city where he was discovered – video showed people gathering in celebration, some riding on the tops of cars waving Libyan flags and shooting guns in the air as horns honked.

One man, dressed in fatigues and carrying a weapon, ran up and kissed a television camera. Others chanted, danced and waved their hands in the air, some flashing the “peace” sign.

Many had suspected Gadhafi was hiding in Sirte after revolutionary forces took Tripoli in August. He had not been seen in public in months.

A former regime loyalist who did not want to be identified said in an e-mail to CNN that Gadhafi’s death was “good for the Libyan people” because both his supporters and opponents “can see a valid point in his death that they can relate to, although for different reasons.”

His supporters, he said, can find “remedy for their belief that he was on the right side of history defending his country” from NATO occupation. Gadhafi’s death “will end morally and practically the NATO involvement.”

In addition, he said, “his supporters see him as a martyr, and this gives them (a) sense (of) pride, which provides a psychological remedy” for many of them.

His opponents can find justification for their belief that they fought “a liberation battle for a better future, better democratic society, better Libya generally.” Gadhafi’s death will bring them “the heights of their sense of satisfaction for what they did,” he wrote.

If Gadhafi had been captured alive, this former regime loyalist wrote, it would have “intensified (supporter’s) effort to destabilize society further, for the hope that either they might be able to liberate him, or get one of his sons to power.”

That, he said, “would bring more destruction and devastation to society in general at all levels; including the death of many people.”

If the ousted leader had been put on trial, the former loyalist added, it “would have open(ed) many doors of disagreement that might lead to fight(ing), if not mass civil war.”

Social media sites such as Twitter showed users expressing support for the Libyans and noting that Gadhafi’s death would be another victory in a year that has seen the ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, as well as the death of Osama bin Laden.

Those from countries that participated in the so-called Arab Spring issued messages of support for Libyans.

CNN’s Mohammed Jamjoom contributed to this report.