Gadhafi Dead
Former Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, covered in blood, being held on the ground by NTC fighters in Sirte Reuters

Col. Muammar Gaddafi was killed in crossfire moments after being captured trying to flee his birthplace of Sirte, officials from the National Transitional Council say, and the latest reports suggest the authorities are now planning a secret burial within the next few hours.

Earlier, officials said Gaddafi had been killed in crossfire after being captured in his birthplace of Sirte.

Acting Premier Mahmoud Jibril, No. 2 in the NTC, held a news conference in Tripoli to confirm the colonel's death.

"We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Muammar Gaddafi has been killed," he confirmed.

The "mad dog of Africa" as U.S. President Ronald Reagan famously called him, hid in a sewer and begged the Libyan fighters who found him to spare his life, according to reports.

Video footage also suggests he was dragged through the streets of Sirte.

Jibril said the dictator was captured alive, but was later on killed in a crossfire and died after arriving at the hospital.

With Gaddafi out of the picture and the NTC now in control in most Libyan territory, the NATO operation in Libya is soon expected to end.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that with the death of Gaddafi "that moment has now moved much closer".

"After 42 years, Col. Gaddafi's rule of fear has finally come to an end," he said. "I call on all Libyans to put aside their differences and work together to build a brighter future."

The alliance's governing body is now expected to meet in the coming hours to officially declare an end to its Libyan bombing campaign but it is not clear yet what role the trans-Atlantic organisation will play in helping the new government implement the transition leading to elections in the next two years.

NATO also confirmed it had carried out an air strike earlier Thursday, and French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said French jets had fired warning shots to halt a convoy carrying Gaddafi as it tried to flee Sirte.

Soon after Gaddafi's death, footage showed Libyans celebrating in the streets, waving flags, cheering and shouting "God is Great".

While the colonel's death was widely celebrated by Libyans inside and outside the country, it is not yet clear what will happen to his body.

While the BBC has reported officials now plan to bury the dictator's body by the end of the day, it is not clear yet where and how it should take place.

During his news conference, Jibril told journalists that a "forensic report" had concluded the colonel had died from bullet wounds after he had been captured.

"When the car was moving it was caught in crossfire between the revolutionaries and Gaddafi forces in which he was hit by a bullet in the head," he said, quoting from the report.

"The forensic doctor could not tell if it came from the revolutionaries or from Gaddafi's forces."

Jibril's comments came after earlier reports from NTC fighters emerged, saying the colonel's captor had executed him after he had tried to escape.

While Gaddafi's death has now been confirmed, conflicting reports about his sons Saif and Mutassim have emerged.

Libyan TV showed a body, which officials identified as that of Mutassim.

The corpses of both Gaddafi and Mutassim are now said to be held in Misrata but it is not known yet how they will be buried.

It is not clear what happened to Gaddafi's other son, Saif al-Islam. While earlier reports said he had been captured and taken to hospital with a leg wounds, other officials said later on they did not know his whereabouts.

Gaddafi's death was welcomed by leaders from around the world, but they also urged the NTC to go ahead with the promised changes.

U.S. President Barack Obama said it was a "momentous day" for Libya but warned the country had a "long and winding road towards full democracy".

UK Prime Minister David Cameron praised his country's role in the NATO intervention, said it was "a day to remember all of Col. Gaddafi's victims".

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called it a "historic" moment, but warned, "The road ahead for Libya and its people will be difficult and full of challenges."

China, which only recognised the NTC late in the conflict, said the death of Gaddafi marked the turning of a page in Libya's history and called for an inclusive political transition to be implemented as soon as possible to prevent the country from becoming too unstable.

Russia's President Dimitry Medvedev, who along with China widely criticised the alliance's operation, said he hoped Libya could achieve a peaceful transition to a modern democratic state.

Libyan officials have also said the NTC is expected to announce the "liberation of the country" in the coming days, however with a land still divided and fractured by months of internal conflict, pushing for democratic reform while establishing an inclusive transistional government will prove challenging.