The bodies of ex-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, his son Mutassim and a top aide have been buried in secret in the desert, Libyan officials say.
A National Transitional Council (NTC) official told the BBC the bodies were buried at dawn in an unknown location. This follows days of apparent uncertainty among the new leadership about what to do with the bodies.
Gaddafi’s family wanted them buried outside the former leader’s hometown of Sirte. NTC leaders had expressed a preference for a secret burial.
Officials say the burial ceremony took place early yesterday. A few relatives and officials were in attendance and Islamic prayers were read.
Libya’s Minister for Information Mahmoud Shammam said the NTC was following a fatwa, or religious ruling.
“It says that his body should not be buried in Muslim cemeteries and should not be buried in a known place to avoid any sedition,” Shammam said.
An NTC official had earlier told Reuters news agency that Gaddafi would be buried in a “simple” ceremony with “sheikhs attending” on yesterday.
“It will be an unknown location in the open desert,” he said, adding that a burial was needed because decomposition of the body had reached the point where the “corpse cannot last any longer”.
Gaddafi, Mutassim and former defence minister Abu Bakr Younis Jabr were killed on Thursday following the fall of Sirte, the last major pro-Gaddafi bastion.
Witnesses said the bodies had been removed late on Monday from the meat storage warehouse in Misrata where they had been on display.
The BBC was told prayers were said over the bodies before they were driven away.
“Our job is finished,” a security guard at the warehouse, Salem al Mohandes, told the Arabic television station Al-Jazeera. “[Gaddafi] was transferred and the military council of Misrata took him away to an unknown location.”
The BBC’s Katya Adler in Tripoli says the question of how to dispose of Gaddafi’s body has been a political minefield for the new Libyan leadership, and is the reason why it has taken four days to reach a decision.
Islamic tradition dictates a burial should happen within a day of the death.
But the NTC leadership was concerned that any public grave could become a shrine for Gaddafi loyalists or a target of hatred for those who opposed his regime, our correspondent says.
In the end, Adler adds, the decomposition of the body meant the NTC had to act.
Questions have been raised over the former leader’s death after video footage showed him alive at the time of capture. Officials said he had been killed subsequently in a crossfire.
A post-mortem examination carried out on the 69-year-old’s body on Sunday showed he had received a bullet wound to the head, medical sources said.
Meanwhile another of Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam, remains at large. He is believed to have fled towards the desert border with Niger.
A Niger official said Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was travelling with ethnic Tuaregs – who were among Gaddafi’s supporters.