Libya's ruling National Transitional Council said Thursday that no order had been given to kill deposed autocrat Muammar Gaddafi.

Gaddafi was killed Thursday, succumbing to wounds sustained after fighters discovered him hiding in a sewage pipe while trying to flee his final redoubt of Sirte.

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Gory cell-phone footage appeared to show the fugitive strongman being dragged through the streets of his hometown while still alive, as throngs of Libyans beat the bloodied 69-year-old until he died.

In what appeared to contradict the events depicted in the video,the NTC said Gaddafi was killed when a gunfight broke out after his capture between his supporters and government fighters. He died from a bullet wound to the head, the prime minister said.

Conflicting reports continued to emerge Thursday night, though one chronology pieced together from various sources suggests Gaddafi tried to break out of Sirte at dawn in a convoy of vehicles after weeks of dogged resistance.

According to those reports, he was stopped by a French air strike and captured, possibly some hours later, after gun battles with rebel fighters who found him hiding in a drainage culvert.

NATO said its warplanes fired on a convoy near Sirte at about 8:30 a.m., striking two military vehicles in the group, but could not confirm that Gaddafi had been a passenger.

France later said its jets had been in action at the time.

The killing or capture of senior aides, including possibly two sons, may ease fears of diehards regrouping elsewhere – though the gruesome video of Gaddafi’s final moments may inflame his remaining sympathizers.

The brief footage shows a man looking like Gaddafi, with distinctive long, curly hair, being hauled by his hair from the hood of a truck. The man is bloodied and staggering under blows from armed men, apparently National Transitional Council fighters.

To the shouts of someone saying “Keep him alive,” he disappears from view and gunshots are heard along with chants of “Allahu akbar,” God is great.

“They captured him alive and while he was being taken away, they beat him and then they killed him,” said one senior source in the NTC.

A Libyan official said Gaddafi was killed in custody.

A spokesman for the NTC in Benghazi, Jalal al-Galal, said a doctor who examined the fallen dictator in Misrata found he had been shot in the head and abdomen. Driven in an ambulance from Sirte, his partially stripped body was delivered to a mosque in Misrata. Senior NTC official Abdel Majid Mlegta told Reuters that DNA tests were being conducted to confirm it is Gaddafi.

Some sources said he would be buried in Misrata, most likely by Friday, according to Muslim custom.

Other reports said he would be buried in a secret location.

Officials said his son Mo’tassim, also seen bleeding but alive in a video, also died. Another son, heir-apparent Saif al-Islam, was variously reported to be surrounded, captured or killed as conflicting accounts of the day’s events traveled around networks of NTC fighters rejoicing in Sirte.

Two months after Western-backed rebels ended 42 years of eccentric, often bloody, one-man rule by capturing the capital Tripoli, Gaddafi’s death and the fall of his final bastion ended a nervous hiatus for the new interim government, which is now set to declare formal “liberation” with a timetable for elections.

“We confirm that all the evil [people], plus Gaddafi, have vanished from this beloved country,” interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril said in Tripoli, as the body was delivered – a prize of war – to Misrata, the city whose siege and suffering at the hands of Gaddafi’s forces made it a symbol of the rebel cause.

“It’s time to start a new Libya, a united Libya,” Jibril added. “One people, one future.”

A formal declaration of liberation, that will set the clock ticking on a timeline to elections, will be made by Friday, he said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who spearheaded a Franco-British move in NATO to back the revolt against Gaddafi, hailed a turn of events that few had expected so soon, since there had been little evidence that Gaddafi himself was in Sirte.

But he also alluded to fears that, without the glue of hatred for Gaddafi, the new Libya could descend, like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, into bloody factionalism: “The liberation of Sirte must signal... the start of a process... to establish a democratic system in which all groups in the country have their place and where fundamental freedoms are guaranteed,” he said.

NATO said it would wind down its military mission in Libya.

In Benghazi, thousands took to the streets, firing weapons and dancing under the old tricolor flag revived by Gaddafi’s opponents.

In Sirte, a one-time fishing village that Gaddafi’s grandiose schemes styled a new “capital of Africa” for the “king of kings,” fighters whooped with delight and brandished a golden pistol they said they had taken from him.

Accounts were hazy of his final hours, though there was no shortage of fighters willing to claim they saw Gaddafi – who had long pledged to go down fighting – cringing underground, like Iraq’s Hussein eight years ago, and pleading for his life.

Libyan television carried video of two drainage pipes, about a meter across, where it said fighters had cornered a man who long inspired both fear and admiration around the world.

An announcement of final liberation was expected in an address by the head of the NTC to the nation of six million. The group faces the challenge of turning oil wealth once monopolized by Gaddafi and his clan into a democracy, that can heal an array of tribal and ethnic divisions he exploited.

The eight weeks since the fall of Tripoli have tested the nerves of the motley alliance of anti-Gaddafi forces and their Western and Arab-backers, who had begun to question the ability of the NTC forces to root out diehard Gaddafi loyalists in Sirte and a couple of other towns.

Gaddafi, wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of ordering the killing of civilians, was toppled by rebel forces on August 23, a week short of the 42nd anniversary of the military coup which brought him to power in 1969.

Hundreds of NTC troops had surrounded the Mediterranean coastal town of Sirte for weeks in a chaotic struggle that killed and wounded scores of the besieging forces and an unknown number of defenders. One NTC official on Thursday recalled an estimate that some 40,000 have died this year.

The death of Gaddafi is a setback to campaigners seeking the full truth about the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie in Scotland of Pan Am flight 103 which claimed 270 lives, mainly Americans, and for which one of Gaddafi’s agents was convicted.

Jim Swire, the father of one of the Lockerbie victims, said: “There is much still to be resolved, and we may now have lost an opportunity for getting nearer the truth.”

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