Image: Misrata fighters in Tripoli
Anonymous  /  AP
Libyan rebels secure prisoners in the back of a pick-up truck during fighting in Tripoli, Libya. The graffiti on the truck, in Arabic, reads, "Misrata steadfastness."
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updated 10/24/2011 5:46:51 PM ET 2011-10-24T21:46:51

Ahmed al-Said, a 46-year-old computer engineer, joined the rebels in his hometown of Misrata and fought off a bloody siege by Moammar Gadhafi's forces in what became one of the turning points of Libya's civil war. His worst memory, he says, is collecting body parts of young children and women from his city's streets.

Seething with hatred for the longtime dictator over the 2-month siege, battle-hardened Misratan fighters went on to play a key role in the capture of the capital in August. They made a daring amphibious landing on the shores of Tripoli. And days later, in their signature black pickup trucks, they blasted their way into Gadhafi's fortified Bab al-Aziziya compound, tore down an iconic monument of a fist crushing an American plane and hauled it back to Misrata as a trophy.

Story: Official: Gadhafi's body to be buried in secret desert grave

Two months later, it was the Misratans who finally captured Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, the final bastion of regime loyalists.

And once they laid their hands on the fallen dictator, they did not let him go.

The Misratans hauled Gadhafi's body back to Misrata, where it was put on display on a bloody mattress in a commercial refrigerator in a shopping center. For four days running, men, women and children in the city of some 300,000 have donned surgical masks to block out the stench and formed long lines to snap pictures of themselves standing next to the rotting body.

Corpse as war trophy
By laying claim to Gadhafi's corpse as the ultimate war trophy, the Misratans are sending a clear message that they will be a force to be reckoned with in the new Libya.

"There is no doubt that because of their capabilities, the Misratans will have a bigger role" in the future, said Abdel-Basit al-Mzirig, deputy minister of justice and a Misrata native.

Misratans have flexed their muscles along the way to show that they will have a say in Libya's future and perhaps push for a leading role in the country in the post-Gadhafi era.

The have refused to accept old Libyan bank notes — which Gadhafi released in Tripoli during the civil war — despite the fact that they are accepted everywhere else in the country's west. They have also hauled suspected Gadhafi loyalists suspected of committing crimes during the siege back to Misrata, not believing other revolutionary forces will ultimately hold them accountable.

The city, Libya's third-largest and its commercial hub, has refused to budge on certain issues, chief among them the town of Tawergha south of Misrata. Used as a staging ground by Gadhafi's troops during the fight in Misrata, the town is home to black Libyans who Misratans accuse of joining the old regime's forces and committing some of the worst atrocities during the siege from March to May.

Munir al-Misrati, a 29-year-old fighter, said national reconciliation must take place, but stressed that "it is not going to happen between us and the people of Tawergha."

Misratans overran Tawergha on their way to Sirte, and virtually the entire population of the town fled ahead of the onslaught.

"They need to find a new home and the National Transitional Council should provide houses somewhere else because they can't come back to Tawergha," al-Misrati said. "I personally can't stand seeing any of them. If I did, it would be the end of his life."

Hatred runs deep
The NTC, which has been struggling to establish a functioning government since Tripoli fell to anti-Gadhafi fighters in late August, has shown little appetite for confronting Misrata over the issue. Acting Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril said during a September visit to Misrata that the central authorities would not interfere in the city's dispute with Tawergha.

The council's authority on the ground is weak at best, and its leaders are mindful of just how deep the animosity toward Tawergha runs.

The hatred reflects just how deep the scars are from the siege of Misrata, which proved in many ways to be the turning point of the war. If Gadhafi's forces had managed to crush the city, at the time the only major rebel-held outpost in the west, the regime may well have been able to hold on to the western half of the country, with rebels running the east.

Misrata suffered immensely during the siege. There was no power, no water and food was in short supply. The city's sole lifeline was its seaport, which came under frequent attack.

Gadhafi's forces indiscriminately shelled the city, killing hundreds of civilians and overwhelming the hospitals with wounded. But through grit and guile, the city's residents fought back, turning bottles, tires and trailer trucks into tools of war to defeat tanks, rockets and professional snipers.

The ferocity of the struggle over Misrata's fate was stamped across the downtown streets — the charred hulks of tanks, the pockmarked and blown-out buildings. The main commercial boulevard and key battlefront, Tripoli Street, was left little more than a bullet-scarred wasteland, its shops and cafes shattered.

The city has avenged much of the pain and suffering Gadhafi inflicted on it.

But for al-Said, the computer engineer turned commander, Gadhafi's stay in Misrata is temporary, and he should not be buried there.

"Misrata's soil is too pure and always will be because the blood of the martyrs is in every inch of it," he said. "This filth shouldn't be buried in pure land."

___

Lucas reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report from Cairo.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Libya declares independence

  1. Transcript of: Libya declares independence

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: Libya 's interim leaders declared this a new day, celebrating liberation after eight months of civil war and decades of oppression under Moammar Gadhafi , at the same time, charting a course to democracy, based in Islamic law . But as the country's new founding fathers look forward, the US, among other countries, is calling for some accountability to the past and the question of how Gadhafi died. NBC 's Adrienne Mong reports from Misrata .

    ADRIENNE MONG reporting: A sea of red, black and green flooded Benghazi 's main square , the site where Libya 's uprising began eight months ago. Hundreds of thousands celebrating liberation from 42 years of rule under Moammar Gadhafi . The leader of the transitional government thanked rebel forces for winning the war and stressed the need for tolerance and reconciliation among the different tribes. Casting a shadow on the celebrations, however, questions still over Gadhafi 's death. As his corpse lay in Misrata for a third day, an autopsy confirmed he died from a bullet to the head. No other details have been released. Amateur video continues to emerge showing his last chaotic moments alive. In another piece of new footage, a rebel soldier grasped the gun of Gadhafi 's alleged killer saying, 'I saw it in front of me. He's the guy who killed him.' The US and other nations are urging a thorough investigation.

    Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Secretary of State): You know, I think it's important that this new government, this effort to have a democratic Libya , start with the rule of law , start with accountability.

    MONG: Fighters from the unit that found Gadhafi in a drain pipe in his hometown on Thursday said they don't care about how or when he died. 'The important thing,' they said, 'is that he was caught.' Towards the end the eccentric former leader was said to be growing impatient with life on the run. The fighters who seized him said he refused to believe his time was up. In Misrata , which put up some of the fiercest fighting against Gadhafi 's troops earlier this year, thousands of people again crowded into the recently renamed Freedom Square . Many of them said they wanted to look forward, not backwards.

    Unidentified Man: Now you have to look about the future.

    MONG: Today's declaration of liberation sets in motion a process that will ultimately end in the nation's first re-elections. Already there's a sign of what a new free Libya will look like. Transitional leaders have said that Islamic Sharia law will form the basis for all legislation. Adrienne Mong, NBC News, Misrata , Libya .

Photos: Moammar Gadhafi

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  1. Col. Moammar Gadhafi is seen in Tripoli on Sept. 27, 1969, after leading a military coup that toppled King Idris. Gadhafi has maintained his rule over Libya for more than four decades since the coup. Gadhafi was killed in Sirte on Oct. 20 as revolutionary forces took the last bastion of his supporters. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Gadhafi, left, and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, right, arrive in Rabat, Morocco, in December 1969 for the Arab Summit Conference. (Benghabit / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Col. Gadhafi, left, jokes with a group of British hippies in Tripoli in July 1973. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gadhafi was purportedly a major financier of the Black September movement, a band of Palestinian militants. Its members perpetrated the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. One of the Black September guerrillas who broke into the Olympic Village is seen in this picture. (Keystone via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Gadhafi during the summit of the Organization of African Unity on Aug. 4, 1975, in Kampala, Uganda. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Flowers are laid at the memorial to Yvonne Fletcher, a British police constable who was shot dead by terrorists in April 1984 while on duty during a protest outside the Libyan embassy in London. Fletcher's death led to an 11-day police siege of the embassy and a breakdown of diplomatic relations between Libya and the United Kingdom. (Fox Photos via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Gadhafi and his second wife Safiya wave to the crowd upon their arrival in Dakar, Senegal, for a three-day official visit on Dec. 3, 1985. Gadhafi has eight biological children, six by Safiya. (Joel Robine / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. U.S. Ambassador to West Germany Richard Burt, fourth from left, and West Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, fifth from left, inspect the damage following an April 5, 1986, bombing at a Berlin discotheque frequented by American serveicemen. Libya was blamed for the blast, which killed three and injured more than 200. Then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan retaliated by ordering airstrikes against the Libyan capital of Tripoli and city of Benghazi. (Wolfgang Mrotzkowski / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. French policemen and army soldiers unload crates of arms and ammunition seized aboard the Panamian merchant ship Eksund on Nov. 3, 1987 at Brest military port in France. A huge supply of arms and explosives purportedly supplied by Libya and destined for the Irish Republican Army was found aboard the vessel. (Andre Durand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. This Dec. 22, 1988, photo shows the wreckage of the Pan Am airliner that exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people - most of them Americans. Gadhafi has accepted Libya's responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to the victims' families. Libya's ex-justice minister was recently quoted as telling a Swedish newspaper that Gadhafi personally ordered the bombing. (Letkey / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, right, welcomes Gadhafi upon his arrival at Tunis airport on Jan. 10, 1990. (Frederic Neema / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi is escorted by security officers in Tripoli on Feb. 18, 1992. Al-Megrahi was granted a compassionate release from a Scottish prison in August 2009 on the grounds that he was suffering from prostate cancer and would die soon. (Manoocher Deghati / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, left, accompanies Gadhafi on a tour at the pyramids of Giza on Jan. 19, 1993. (Aladin Abdel Naby / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian border policeman counts passports belonging to Palestinians waiting at the post in Salloum for transit to the Gaza Strip on Sept. 12, 1995. Families were stranded at the border with Libya after Gadhafi decided to expel 30.000 Palestinians, reportedly in order to call attention to the political situation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. (Amr Nabil / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Libyan women bodyguards provide security for VIPs during a military parade in Green Square on Sept. 1, 2003, to mark the 34th anniversary of Gadhafi's acension to power. (Mike Nelson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Family members of people killed in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, read documents on Sept. 12, 2003, as the U.N. Security Council votes to lift sanctions against Libya for the 1988 bombing. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, flew to Libya in 2004 to hold talks with Gadhafi inside a Bedouin tent. Here, Blair and and Gadhafi stroll to a separate tent in Tripoli for lunch during a break in their talks. Blair's role was particularly vital in Gadhafi's international rehabilitation. He praised the leader for ending Libya's nuclear and chemical weapons program and stressed the need for new security alliances in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. (Stefan Rousseau / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. U.S. President George W. Bush looks at material and equipment surrendered by Libya, during a tour of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee on July 12, 2004. Bush officially lifted the U.S. trade embargo against Libya on Sept. 20, 2004. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. View of the remains of Gadhafi's bombed-out headquarters, now turned into a living memento, inside his compound in Tripoli on Oct. 15, 2004. The sculpture in the center represents a golden fist grabbing a U.S. jet fighter. U.S. jets bombed Tripoli, killing Gadhafi's adopted 4-year-old daughter, in April 1986 in retaliation for the Berlin discotheque bombing. (John Macdougall / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is welcomed by Gadhafi in Tripoli on July 25, 2007. Sarkozy arrived for a meeting with the Libyan leader a day after the release of six foreign medics from a Libyan prison. (Patrick Kovarik / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Gadhafi's son Saif, center, attends a ceremony in the southern Libyan city of Ghiryan on Aug. 18, 2007, to mark the arrival of water from the Great Manmade River, a project to pipe water from desert wells to coastal communities. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Gadhafi looks at a Russian-language edition of his book "The Green Book" during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 17, 2008, in Tripoli. Putin was in Libya for a two-day visit to rebuild Russian-Libyan relations. (Artyom Korotayev / Epsilon via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Gadhafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pose for a picture after signing an agreement in the eastern city of Benghazi on Libya's Mediterranean coast on Aug. 30, 2008. Berlusconi apologized to Libya for damage inflicted by Italy during the colonial era and signed a $5 billion investment deal by way of compensation. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gadhafi poses with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prior to a meeting in Tripoli on Sept. 5, 2008. Rice arrived in Libya on the first such visit in more than half a century, marking a new chapter in Washington's reconciliation with the former enemy state. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gadhafi attends the closing session of the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar, on March 30, 2009. (Marwan Naamani / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Gadhafi waves after delivering a speech during a meeting with 700 women from the business, political and cultural spheres on June 12, 2009, in Rome. The Libyan strongman drew cheers and jeers when he criticized Islam's treatment of women but then suggested it should be up to male relatives to decide if a woman can drive. (Christophe Simon / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. U.S .President Barack Obama shakes hands with Gadhafi during the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, on July 9, 2009. (Michael Gottschalk / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, top left, is accompanied by Seif al-Islam el-Gadhafi, son of the Libyan leader, upon his arrival at the airport in Tripoli on Aug. 20, 2009. Scotland freed the terminally ill Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds, allowing him to die at home in Libya despite American protests that he should be shown no mercy. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. The president of the U.N. General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki, top center, listens in apparent misery as Gadhafi speaks on Sept. 23, 2009, at U.N. headquarters in New York. It was Gadhafi's first appearance before the U.N., and he emptied out much of the chamber with an exhaustive 95-minute speech in which he criticized the decision-making structure of the world body and called for investigations of all the wars and assassinations that have taken place since the U.N.'s founding. (Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Gadhafi greets Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during the plenary session at the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island on Sept. 27, 2009. Chavez and Gadhafi urged African and South American leaders to strive for a new world order countering Western economic dominance. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Gadhafi and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a group picture of Arab and African leaders ahead of the opening of the second Arab-African summit in the coastal town of Sirte, Libya, on Oct. 10, 2010. Ben Ali and Mubarak were driven out of power by popular revolts in 2011. (Sabri Elmehedwi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Gadhafi is followed by members of the press in Tripoli before making a speech hoping to defuse tensions on March 2. Gadhafi blamed al-Qaida for creating turmoil and told applauding supporters there was a conspiracy to control Libya and its oil. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyan rebels step on a picture of Gadhafi at a checkpoint in Tripoli's Qarqarsh district on Aug. 22. Libyan government tanks and snipers put up a scattered, last-ditch effort in Tripoli on Monday after rebels swept into the heart of the capital, cheered on by crowds hailing the end of Gadhafi's 42 years in power. (Bob Strong / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A man in Tripoli holds a photo said to be of Moammar Gadhafi after the announcement of the former leader's death, Oct. 20, 2011. Gadhafi was killed when revolutionary forces overwhelmed his hometown, Sirte, the last major bastion of resistance two months after the regime fell. (Abdel Magid Al-fergany / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: TO GO WITH AFP PACKAGE ON THE 40TH ANNIV
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    Above: Slideshow (34) Moammar Gadhafi through the years
  2. Image: A photo said to show people gathering during recent days' unrest in Benghazi, Libya. The content, date and location of the image could not be independently verified.
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    Slideshow (81) Conflict in Libya

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