NEW: Some anti-Gadhafi fighters turn in their weapons in a symbolic ceremony
Gadhafi is likely to be buried Tuesday, a Libyan official says, but no details are given
A rights group says 53 bodies found in a Sirte hotel, their hands tied, were Gadhafi loyalists
Another 23 bodies -- thought to be killed by Gadhafi loyalists -- were found in the same city
As questions linger about his death and those of dozens of others, ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is likely to be buried Tuesday – five days after he was killed in Sirte, and shortly after his body was displayed at a Misrata meat market – a Libyan official said.
The bodies of Gadhafi, his son Mutassim and his former defense minister, Abu Baker Yunis, had been available for public viewing from a cold storage unit in recent days, except for being removed temporarily so autopsies could be conducted. Gadhafi’s family had issued a statement calling on the United Nations and Amnesty International to push Libya’s new leadership “to hand over the bodies of the martyrs of their tribe so they can be buried according to Islamic rites,” a pro-Gadhafi TV station reported.
Anees al-Sharif, a spokesman for the National Transitional Council’s military arm in Tripoli, told CNN on Monday that Gadhafi was likely to be put to rest Tuesday. The day earlier, Mustafa Abdul Jalil – the chairman of the same council, which is now leading Libya – said a group had been established to deal with how to handle the ex-leader’s body.
No other details were immediately available as to exactly where and who would bury Gadhafi.
The National Transitional Council and the United Nations have called for an independent investigation into the death of the man who ruled Libya for 42 years. Human Rights Watch, in a statement issued Monday, described his and Mutassim’s deaths as “still unexplained.”
Mahmoud Jibril, Libya’s interim prime minister, has said Gadhafi’s right arm was wounded when a gunbattle erupted between the anti- and pro-Gadhafi fighters as his captors attempted to load him into a vehicle.
More shooting erupted as the vehicle drove away, and Gadhafi was shot in the head, dying moments before arriving at a hospital in Misrata, Jibril said, citing the city’s coroner.
In its statement, Human Rights Watch said it additionally “found the remains of at least 95 people who had apparently died that day. The vast majority had apparently died in the fighting and NATO strikes prior to Gadhafi’s capture, but between six and ten of the dead appear to have been executed at the site with gunshot wounds to the head and body,” the activist group said.
Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, commander of the NATO military operation, said at a news conference Monday, “We saw a convoy, and in fact we had no idea that Gadhafi was on board.” It was a surprise that Gadhafi was in the area, Bouchard said. The convoy was carrying weaponry, and seemed to present “a clear threat to the population,” he said.
The human rights group also claimed Monday that the bodies of 53 people, believed to be Gadhafi supporters, had been found in an abandoned Sirte hotel that was under the control of anti-Gadhafi fighters.
“Some had their hands bound behind their backs when they were shot,” said Peter Bouckaert, the group’s emergencies director.
Based on their condition, Human Rights Watch investigators determined these people – who were being put in body bags in preparation for burial when they were discovered – were likely killed between October 14 and 19.
Officials with the National Transitional Council were not immediately available for comment.
A NATO official noted that Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has repeatedly applauded Libya’s new leaders for saying they are committed to human rights, the rule of law and reconciliation. NATO has “no way of verifying” the Human Rights Watch report and will not comment on it specifically, the official said.
In addition, medical officials in Sirte told Human Rights Watch that they had found 23 bound bodies between October 15 and 20 that were killed by pro-Gadhafi forces.
CNN could not independently verify any of these accounts about the bodies, including their conditions, when they died and who they had supported.
The battle for the coastal city of Sirte, which was near Gadhafi’s birthplace, was the final one in the months-long conflict in Libya. Aided by NATO strikes, opposition fighters first rooted in Benghazi went on to defeat Gadhafi loyalists all around the North African country.
On Sunday, three days after Gadhafi’s death, Libya’s interim leaders declared the nation’s freedom, with Jalil urging “honesty, patience and toleration” as the nation moves toward reconciliation.
A Misrata-based group of anti-Gadhafi fighters conducted a ceremony Monday – described by Libyan officials as the first of its kind – in which they handed over weapons to the interior ministry. Besides interior ministry officials, U.N. representative Muin Shreim was at the event to lend his support.
“This is a good day today, and we also hope that this day is repeated again,” said the unit’s commander, Salem Omran. “The peace will be spread across Libya. We are looking forward to going back to our jobs.
The ceremony was largely symbolic as the number of guns returned represent a miniscule fraction of the millions available to Libyans. Many anti-Gadhafi fighters have told CNN that they’re willing to turn in weapons, as long as Libya’s new government lets them keep one for themselves.
CNN’s Ingrid Formanek and Claudia Rebaza contributed to this report.