Huneish Nasr last saw the boss he served for 30 years standing in the ruins of Sirte looking confused as all hell broke loose around them.
“Everything was exploding,” said Nasr, Muammar Gaddafi‘s personal driver, recalling the moments before the deposed dictator was caught last week. “The revolutionaries were coming for us. He wasn’t scared, but he didn’t seem to know what to do. It was the only time I ever saw him like that.”
Minutes later, euphoric rebels had ended Gaddafi’s last stand, over-running the ruined quarter of his birthplace that had served as his final, ignominious refuge.
Nasr said he threw his hands up in surrender as gun-toting rebels approached. He was knocked to the ground with a rifle butt, which blackened his left eye. Gaddafi was being pulled from a drainpipe just before Nasr fell. He caught a final glimpse of his master being swarmed over by rebels. Then blows rained down on them both.
Now, a week later, Nasr and Mansour Dhao, the slain dictator’s security chief, seem to be the only surviving members of Gaddafi’s old guard who can bear testament to the frantic final days. “If any of the other close staff are still alive, I don’t know where they are or what happened to them,” said Nasr from his makeshift cell in a Misrata military barracks. The battle for Sirte had left him deaf in his right ear and he leaned forward anxiously to listen to questions. “The rest of them may be somewhere with the revolutionaries or they may be dead,” he said.
As some semblance of order begins to emerge from a tumultuous week for the rebels of Misrata and Gaddafi’s vanquished loyalists, a picture is taking shape of a dictator who was either defiant or in profound denial – no one seems sure which – until his gruesome death in Sirte.
Nasr said he spent the last five days of the siege with Gaddafi, moving from house to house to evade fighters who were peppering the neighbourhood, known as District 2, with explosives and gunfire.
Still wearing the blood-spattered purple checked shirt he wore last Thursday when Gaddafi was killed, Nasr, a man in his mid-60s, said his former boss could not seem to grasp what was unfolding around him.
“He was strange,” said Nasr. “He was always standing still and looking to the west. I didn’t see fear in him.
“I was with him for 30 years and I swear by God that I never saw any bad behaviour in him. He was always just the boss. He treated me well,” he added, explaining he received a salary of 800 dinar a month (just over £300), as well as a house in Sirte.
Like many of the members of the tyrant’s inner court, Nasr came from the Gaddafi tribe. Without the tribal name – and decades of service – he would have been unlikely to have won a place at his master’s side during the final days. Gaddafi had been abandoned by almost everyone he had empowered, and many of those who remained simply had too much to lose by accepting the inevitable demise of the regime.
Nasr saw the last few desperate months through a simpler prism. “I believed them when they said we are fighting bad people,” he said. He even stayed loyal when told to retire from service in March.
“They told me to finish work on the 17th of March and I came back to Sirte,” he said. He said he only saw Gaddafi again in September after he left had Tripoli with four other men – Mansour Dhao, Mohammed Fahima (the driver who replaced him), Izzedin al-Shira (a security chief) and Abdullah Khamis.
Nasr was evasive about when he found out his former boss was in Sirte. He said it was around 10 October, but most of what remained of the inner sanctum was forming a protective guard weeks earlier than that.
“I was taken away by one of the patrols and then I was brought here,” he said, his hollow black eyes set deep in their sockets. “I never had anything against the revolutionaries,” he added, drawing a wide, sceptical smile from the young guard in the room.
In the early hours of Tuesday, Gaddafi’s loyal driver was thrown in the back of a van and driven deep into the desert with a handful of others. He saw his former boss lowered into an unmarked grave and covered with sand. It was a fate he never expected for a man he had seen as infallible. Nasr’s own fate is far less certain.
Martin Chulov, The Guardian