The body of ousted Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was buried early Tuesday at an undisclosed location, the country's interim government says.

In a text message shown to The Associated Press, spokesman Ibrahim Beitalmal said the burial took place at 5 a.m. local time, with a few relatives and officials in attendance, and that Islamic prayers were read over the body.

The burial site, which also includes Gadhafi's son Muatassim and former defence minister Abu Bakr Younis, is being kept secret to protect the site from vandalism or becoming a shrine.

International organizations asking to see the burial site would be given access, Beitalmal said.

About 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, Mohammed al-Madani, a Muslim cleric and one of the detainees and another detained cleric were ordered to pray over the three bodies, which had been wrapped, with faces covered. Al-Madani told The Associated Press that he initially refused, but felt he had no choice and sped through the required Muslim prayers.

Beitalmal said a Gadhafi nephew and two sons of Abu Bakr also participated in the prayer. The nephew was later identified as Abdel Rahman Abdel Hamid, son of a Gadhafi sister and in detention since trying to escape from Sirte in September.

The bodies were then put in coffins, handed over to the authorities and driven to another location for burial, which took place at around 5 a.m., said al-Madani and Beitalmal.

As part of the ceremony, the bodies were  washed in line with Islamic tradition. A Muslim cleric, a nephew of Gadhafi and sons of Abu Bakr then recited prayers before handing the bodies over for burial, which took place at 5 a.m.

The three bodies were moved to an unknown location in Libya's southern desert Monday from a cold storage room in Misrata, where they had been displayed to the public since their deaths last week.

There was some disagreement among officials when and where the burial should take place, but their hand was forced Tuesday because of the deteriorating state of the body.

Ali Aujali, Libyan ambassador to the U.S., told CBC's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon Monday that the decision to bury Gadhafi came as no surprise.

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Libyan families view the body of slain Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi inside a storage freezer in Misrata on Monday. A Libyan official said the body was buried at dawn Tuesday. ((Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters))

"They have either to bury him and some other [people say], 'No, we just throw his body in the sea. But I think according to Islamic religion, maybe we have to take the second choice. They have to bury him, but I do agree completely to a place unknown to the people," Aujali said.

Aujali defended the move to leave Gadhafi's body on display, saying it gave Libyans the opportunity to confirm his death.

"The Libyans, they're very ambitious to see him dead. This man — maybe he put in the Libyan mind that he cannot be killed," he said.

Probe into Gadhafi's death

Also on Monday, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the chair of the National Transitional Council, ordered an investigation into Gadhafi's death amid increased international pressure to do so.

Questions continue about whether Gadhafi was executed after his capture — and a human rights group is now drawing attention to a discovery in Sirte that it says shows anti-Gadhafi fighters considered themselves "above the law."

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said Monday that it has discovered 53 decomposing bodies, apparently of Gadhafi loyalists, some of whom may have been executed by revolutionary forces.

The NTC, whose members act as Libya's new leaders, declared the country officially liberated on Sunday, following the death of Gadhafi and a brutal eight-month civil war.

In separate accounts late on Sunday, two Libyan fighters said Gadhafi was hurt after being captured near Sirte, but was able to stand.

One said that when he and others placed Gadhafi in an ambulance, the former Libyan leader had not yet suffered what Libya's chief pathologist said was a fatal gunshot to the head.

Cellphone videos showed the wounded deposed leader being taunted and beaten by a mob after his capture.

Gadhafi had been pulled from a roadside culvert, where he hid after his convoy came under attack. He was dragged across open ground and placed on the hood of a truck before being taken to an ambulance.

The autopsy found bullets lodged in Gadhafi's abdomen and skull.

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Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, Moammar Gadhafi's son and one-time heir apparent, is believed to be heading toward the West African nation of Niger, where his brother and dozens of Gadhafi regime members already have sought refuge. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)

A lawyer for Saadi Gadhafi, one of the deposed leader's sons who escaped to Niger in September, said his client is "shocked and outraged by the vicious brutality" shown toward his father and brother Muatassim.

A third son, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, is believed to be heading to Niger to join dozens of regime supporters who have already sought refuge in the West African nation, a government official said Tuesday.

"If he comes here, the government will accept him, but the government will also need to respect its international obligations. It's up to him to decide (whether to stay on the run or come to Niger)," said Rissa ag Boula, an adviser to Niger's president.

Seif al-Islam is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity. Boula said it is thought that his plan is to cross into Algeria in order to make his way to Niger.

With files from the Associated Press