by Zheng Kaijun, Zhu Xiaolong
SIRTE, Libya, Oct. 25 (Xinhua) -- "This is where Muammar Gaddafi has hidden for the last three weeks of his life," a local resident, who identified him as Munsif, said when he led a group of Xinhua reporters to a double-floor house in the coastal town of Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown.
The house, numbered 24 in the Salahdin street in northern Sirte, locates in a neighborhood of relatively wealthy people in the city. But months of battles have left the city, where Gaddafi was born in 1942, completely in ruins, with all types of shell cases visible on the city roads and literally not a single building undamaged.
Not long after Gaddafi took power and became Libya's top figure in 1969, he implemented extensive programs to expand his hometown village into a city, which he later even wished to become the center of a "United States of Africa."
But at last, it is only a place for himself. The Libyan ex- leader, rather than running into the southern desert or seeking refuge in neighboring countries as many had predicted, opted to stay in his birthplace until his "mysterious" death after he was captured alive by fighters of the now ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) on Oct. 20.
"Gaddafi was moving with his close guards from place to place within this district, but this was where he spent his last three weeks," Munsif said, opening the gate of the house and then the door of the living room, where about twenty dirty mattresses and empty bottles of water are scattered around in a messy way.
Despite Gaddafi's conventional defiance towards the end of his life as suggested by his voice recordings broadcasted by a Syria- based channel, Gaddafi was certainly living in humbleness and fear that he had not experienced for over four decades.
The several windows of the room were warded off by metal sheets in a bid to avoid pryers and bullets. In the murky room, Munsif told Xinhua that Gaddafi would not go outside the room when he was hiding here, while only his chef would make meals for him in a makeshift kitchen in the yard, which was covered by a steel ceiling.
In the last several weeks, about 200 snipers were stationing on rooftops of buildings around Gaddafi's shelter. On occasions, they could resist the heavy offensives from the NTC fighters, and that could prolong Gaddafi's life for another day, Munsif and his friends, who lived around, said.
However, as the NTC and NATO started to narrow down the scope of attacks last week, Gaddafi was compelled to flee. Some one km from his shelter, a Xinhua report saw a fleet of cars, which are in ashes after alleged NATO bombardments on Oct. 20, as well as some dozens of dead bodies who have already been perishing and attracting countless flies.
"They are all the African mercenaries of Gaddafi," said a man in mask, medical gloves and anti-virus coat, who was collecting the corpse onto a truck. "They were killed last Thursday by bombs, before Gaddafi was killed," said the man who required anonymity.
According to earlier reports, Gaddafi's car managed to escape the shells, and he later hid into a twin-hole drainage tunnel about only 100 meters away.
The holes, less than one meter in diameter, could not afford a standing man, while even sitting inside would be an uncomfortable posture.
Considering that the tunnels -- about less than 15 meters long - - are open at both ends, it is almost impossible for Gaddafi to escape.
Five days after his death, Gaddafi's corpse was on Tuesday morning buried in a secret location in the desert after being put on public display in Misrata in western Libya.
While it is almost certain that Gaddafi, an iron-handed ruler for about 42 years in the North African country, ended his life in a most indign way, question marks linger on over the circumstances of his death, as some international organizations have called for a thorough investigation to see whether Gaddafi was shot dead purposely by the NTC fighters after capture.