Shortly after Moammar Gadhafi's death was reported on Thursday, the Libyan Twitter account @dovenews tweeted, We will never put Gadhafi's body in a Holy Mosque. But moments later, Gadhafi's corpse was confirmed to have been taken to a mosque is Misrata. Although the former dictator's rule has come to an unceremonious end, his physical remains present a complicated situation, echoing the deaths of past dictators and leaders.
A few months ago, Gadhafi's death at the hands of his former subjects would have been unthinkable, but no doubt such an event would have prompted a lavish state funeral, enforced by his offspring. In May, Gadhafi's son Saif al-Arab Gadhafi and three of his grandchildren were killed in an apparent NATO bombing, and an estimated 2,000 supporters attended the funeral. But following his precipitous fall from power, Gadhafi has been vilified, and his death has been somewhat sensationalized with gory videos and photos.
In contrast, after U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in May, the Obama administration declined to release a photo of the corpse, fearing it would needlessly incite supporters. It also buried bin Laden at sea in accordance with Muslim tradition -- a location chosen because no government was willing to take possession of the corpse at such short notice. The vast expanse of ocean also meant that bin Laden's exact burial location could not be determined and used as a shrine for future terrorists who wished to emulate him.
Saddam Hussein's execution by hanging was messier, with insults being captured on a mobile phone and posted online within hours. Soon after, another leaked video showed the former Iraqi president's body with a gaping neck wound. He would ultimately come to rest in the village of Awja, where he was born, after a U.S. helicopter flew the body to his tribe. His sons, Uday and Qusay, were buried next to him, and some supporters made trips to show respect.
Some of the most infamous leaders of the 20th century had their bodies relocated. Adolf Hitler's corpse was repeatedly moved after his suicide, and its final location is unknown, incidentally thwarting neo-Nazis who might wish to make a pilgrimage. Joseph Stalin was originally buried in Lenin's Mausoleum -- where the communist patriarch still lies, preserved -- but later Stalin was interred next to the Kremlin walls as Russia emerged from communism. Mao Zedong is also interred in an imposing mausoleum in Tiananmen Square, although he originally wished to be cremated.
The fate of Gadhafi's body is still uncertain. His family, which belongs to the Qadhadhfa tribe, could potentially claim it, but the body remains in the custody of those that killed him, according to the latest reports. The potential for his burial site -- if revealed -- to become a shrine is also dampened by years of what were by most accounts harsh rule.