REPORTING FROM LONDON AND WASHINGTON -- French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said Thursday that his country’s aerial forces took out the convoy apparently ferrying former Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi out of his collapsing stronghold of Surt.
Longuet said French airstrikes stopped an 80-vehicle convoy trying to escape the city, allowing anti-Kadafi forces to move in on the vehicles.
There were conflicting reports about how Kadafi was killed.
In a statement issued at NATO headquarters in Brussels, the alliance said, "NATO aircraft struck two pro-Kadafi force military vehicles which were part of a larger group maneuvering in the vicinity of Surt."
The statement also said the vehicles "presented a clear threat to civilians."
NATO has maintained since it began a bombing campaign in Libya last March that it was not specifically targeting or tracking Kadafi. But it also carried out numerous attacks on palaces and other facilities he was known to use, including the large government compound in Tripoli where he lived and had offices.
The Pentagon provided armed Predator drones specifically to improve NATO’s ability to track and attack senior figures in the regime who it said were threatening civilians by issuing commands to fighters in the field.
Fathi Bashaga, spokesman for the Misurata military council, said fighters surrounded the pro-Kadafi convoy Thursday and exchanged fire with people in several of the vehicles, according to the Associated Press. Fighters found a wounded Kadafi inside one of the vehicles. He bled to death soon after, Bashaga said.
-- Henry Chu and David S. Cloud
Photo: Revolutionary fighters celebrate in Surt, Libya, on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011. Credit: Associated Press