Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was found cowering in a sewer full of rubbish before he was captured and killed.

Gaddafi, 69, who ruled Libya for 42 years, was found by rebels hiding in the drainpipe under a motorway in his home town of Sirte as he tried to flee.

Dragged from his final refuge, a wounded Gaddafi raised his hands and begged revolutionary fighters: “Don’t kill me, my sons,” according to Fathi Bashagha, spokesman for the Misrata Military Council, and Hassan Doua, a fighter who was among those who captured him.

“We want him alive. We want him alive,” one man shouted before Gaddafi was dragged off the hood, some fighters pulling his hair, toward an ambulance.

Later footage (below) showed fighters rolling Gaddafi’s lifeless body over on the pavement, stripped to the waist and a pool of blood under his head. His body was then paraded on a car through Misrata, a nearby city that suffered a brutal siege by regime forces during the eight-month civil war that

Eventually ousted Gaddafi. Crowds in the streets cheered in unprecedented scenes, “The blood of martyrs will not go in vain.”

Across Libya, as the news broke, there were celebrations. “We have been waiting for this moment for a long time,” the Libyan prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, told a news conference.

Some reports say he died when he was shot in the head, but a government account of Gaddafi’s death said he was captured unharmed and later was mortally wounded in the crossfire from both sides.

Amnesty International urged the revolutionary fighters to give a complete report, saying it was essential to conduct “a full, independent and impartial inquiry to establish the circumstances of Col. Gaddafi’s death.”

However he died, the irony of Gaddafi’s final place of refuge was not lost on his captors.

Among scenes of wild celebration, one fighter, Ahmed Al Sahati, 27, said: “He called us rats but look where we found him.”

“I can’t tell you how good it feels,” said revolutionary fighter Ali Algadi, 21,  as he sat near the drainage pipe now decorated with anti-Gaddafi slogans. “When we came here we thought it was just snipers, that’s it. Then one of the guys started yelling Muammar Gaddafi! Muammar Gaddafi!

He had him by the leg and was dragging him from the hole. He was hiding like a rat.

In Sirte, one of the last remaining Gaddafi strongholds in Libya, the ecstatic former rebels celebrated the city’s fall after weeks of fighting by firing endless rounds into the sky, pumping their guns, knives and even a meat cleaver in the air and singing the national anthem.

One man held up a brown sock tied around his rifle butt.

“This is the sock of Muammar Gaddafi, I swear!”

“Have some Gaddafi cake!” offered another, holding out a spoonful of dessert, apparently from Gaddafi’s personal stock.

In Tripoli, there were also scenes of jubilation, with celebratory gunfire and cries of “God is great” across the capital.

Also killed in the city was one of his feared sons, Muatassim, while another son – one-time heir apparent Seif al-Islam – was wounded and captured. An AP reporter saw cigarette burns on Muatassim’s body

When the end came for Gaddafi it was not as his son Saif al-Islam once promised, with the regime fighting to “its last bullet”. Instead, the man who once styled himself “the king of the kings” of Africa was cornered while attempting to escape with his entourage in a convoy of cars after a

final 90-minute assault on the last few loyalist positions in Sirte’s District Two.

Finally, after Gaddafi’s death, oppressed Libyans were able to vent the full force of their anger after Gaddafi’s brutally warped and idiosyncratic rule. After seizing power in a 1969 coup that toppled the monarchy, Gaddafi created a “revolutionary” system of “rule by the masses,” which

supposedly meant every citizen participated in government but really meant all power was in his hands. He wielded it erratically, imposing random rules while crushing opponents, often hanging anyone who plotted against him in public squares.

In London, David Cameron hailed Gaddafi’s death as a step towards a “strong and democratic future” for the north African country. Speaking in Downing Street after Jibril officially confirmed the death of the dictator, Cameron said he was proud of the role Britain had played in Nato airstrikes

to protect Libyan civilians after the uprising against Gaddafi’s rule began in February.

Cameron added that it was a time to remember Gaddafi’s victims, including the policewoman Yvonne Fletcher, who was gunned down in a London street in 1984, the 270 people who died when Pan-Am flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb over Lockerbie in 1988, and all those killed by the

IRA using Semtex explosives supplied by the Libyan dictator. Nato commanders will meet on Friday to consider ending the coalition’s campaign in Libya.

Gaddafi, 69, is the first leader to be killed in the Arab spring, the wave of popular uprisings that swept the Middle East demanding the end of autocratic rulers and greater democracy.

Even as Gaddafi’s body was being driven away, the drain where he was found was being immortalised in blue aerosol paint. On it, someone wrote: “The hiding place of the vile rat Gaddafi.”