The 42-year reign of Moammar Gadhafi is ending in gunfire and bloodshed. Rebel forces seek to solidify their hold on Tripoli with the support of NATO air power, but Gadhafi himself remains elusive. Historically the dictator’s regime has been marred by violence and Gadhafi’s own capricious, narcissistic behavior.
Sept. 1, 1969
According to Time Magazine , Gadhafi leads a “bloodless coup” to oust King Idris I. At 27, he becomes ruler of the newly established Libyan Arab Republic. As Libya’s top military officer, he is awarded its highest rank, colonel. So begins the government by force of Col. Gadhafi and his Revolutionary Command Council.
April 17, 1971
Gadhafi forms an alliance with Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Syrian President Hafez Assad called the Federation of Arab Republics. The spirit of solidarity between the three would be short-lived.
Gadhafi defies Islamic law by executing 11 people during Ramadan. Ramadan is the month in the Islamic calendar dedicated to spiritual and physical purification, charity, fasting and prayer. The Los Angeles Times reports that among those executed was Sadiq Hamed Shwehdi, who was hanged on live TV, further incensing the Libyan people.
Jan. 8, 1986
President Ronald Reagan freezes Libyan assets, thought to be worth approximately $400 million, in protest of Libyan-supported terrorism, according to the Chicago Tribune. This after Reagan called for international sanctions against Libya and ordered Americans in Libya to leave the country. Reagan’s sanctions were largely ignored by America’s European allies.
April 5, 1986
At around 2 a.m. local time a bomb detonates at the La Belle discotheque in Berlin. The club, popular with American servicemen, is at peak occupancy with an estimated 500 people inside. According to BBC News, two American soldiers are killed and several other Americans are among the 200 injured. Three men employed at the Libyan embassy were later convicted of plotting the attack, and the German wife of a fourth embassy employee actually planted the bomb.
April 15, 1986
Jet fighters attack Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya, under orders from President Reagan, who labels Gadhafi the “mad dog of the Middle East.” The New York Times reports that this is a retaliatory strike. American intelligence had intercepted radio messages from the Libyan embassy in East Berlin confirming Libyan involvement in the La Belle bombing. Gadhafi’s home is a target; his adopted daughter perishes in the assault.
Dec. 21, 1988
BBC News reports that Pan Am flight 103 is downed over the town of Lockerbie, Scotland. The death toll reaches 259, including 11 on the ground. Eventually a Libyan citizen, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, is convicted in connection with the bombing.
Gadhafi agrees to pay $35 million in compensation to the 150 non-American victims of the La Belle discotheque bombing, hoping to improve the world’s perception of Libya.
Aug. 20, 2009
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the only person convicted in the Lockerbie bombing, goes home to Libya. Al Megrahi, supposedly stricken with prostate cancer, is released by the Scottish government out of sympathy for his conditions, according to Reuters. Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill proclaims, “My decision is that he returns home to die.” To date, al Megrahi is still among the living, fueling speculation that his release may have been part of a deal to ease British and Libyan tensions.
As the hunt for Gadhafi continues, Libya’s provisional government is beginning to take the reins. It’s still a dangerous time in Libya, but now there is hope and optimism for the future.