Born to nomadic Bedouin parents in 1942, Muammar Gaddafi was certainly an intelligent, resourceful man, but he did not receive a thorough education, apart from learning to read the Koran and his military training. Raised in a Bedouin tent in the Libyan desert, he came from a tribal family called the al-Qadhafah. At the time of his birth, Libya was an Italian colony. In 1951, Libya gained independence under the Western-allied King Idris. As a young man Qaddafi was influenced by the Arab nationalist movement, and admired Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. In 1961 Qaddafi entered the military college in the city of Benghazi. He also spent four months receiving military training in the United Kingdom.
Nevertheless, in the early 1970s he set out to prove himself a leading political philosopher, developing something called the third universal theory, outlined in his famous Green Book.
His rule saw him go from revolutionary hero to international pariah, to valued strategic partner and back to pariah again. Muammar al-Qaddafi joined the military and staged a coup to seize control of Libya in 1969, ousting King Idris. Though his Arab nationalist rhetoric and socialist-style policies gained him support in the early days of his rule, his corruption, military interference in Africa, and record of horrific human rights abuses turned much of the Libyan population against him. Accused of supporting terrorism, in the last decade of his rule Qaddafi reached a rapprochement with Western leaders, and Libya became a key provider of oil to Europe. During the “Arab Spring” of 2011, NATO troops supported dissidents attempting to overthrow Qaddafi’s government.
Gaddafi developed his own political philosophy, writing a book so influential – in the eyes of its author, at least – that it eclipsed anything dreamt up by Plato, Locke or Marx.
He made countless show-stopping appearances at Arab and international gatherings, standing out not just with his outlandish clothing, but also his blunt speeches and unconventional behaviour.
He spent his life reinventing himself and his revolution: one Arab commentator called him the “Picasso of Middle East politics”, although instead of Blue, Rose or Cubist periods, he had his pan-Arab period, his Islamist period, his pan-African period, and so on.
Qaddafi’s first order of business was to shut down the American and British military bases in Libya. He also demanded that foreign oil companies in Libya share a bigger portion of revenue with the country. Qaddafi replaced the Gregorian calendar with the Islamic one, and forbade the sale of alcohol.
Feeling threatened by a failed coup attempt by his fellow officers in December 1969, Qaddafi put in laws criminalizing political dissent. In 1970, he expelled the remaining Italians from Libya and emphasized what he saw as the battle between Arab nationalism and Western imperialism. He vocally opposed Zionism and Israel, and expelled the Jewish community from Libya. Qaddafi’s inner circle of trusted people became smaller and smaller, as power was shared by himself and a small group of associates. His intelligence agents traveled around the world to intimidate and assassinate Libyans living in exile.
So the long-suffering Libyan masses were dragooned into attending popular congresses vested with no power, authority or budgets, with the knowledge that anyone who spoke out of turn and criticised the regime could be carted off to prison.
A set of draconian laws was enacted in the name of upholding security, further undermining the colonel’s claim to a champion of freedom from oppression and dictatorship.
Legal penalties included collective punishment, death for anyone who spread theories aiming to change the constitution and life imprisonment for disseminating information that tarnished the country’s reputation.
Tales abounded of torture, lengthy jail terms without a fair trial, executions and disappearances. Many of Libya’s most educated and qualified citizens chose exile, rather than pay lip service to the lunacy.
In these early days, Qaddafi sought to orient Libya away from the West and towards the Middle East and Africa. He involved the Libyan military in several foreign conflicts, including in Egypt and Sudan, and the bloody civil war in Chad.
In the mid-1970s, Qaddafi published the first volume of the Green Book, an explanation of his political philosophy. The three-volume work describes the problems with liberal democracy and capitalism, and promotes Qaddafi’s policies as the remedy. Qaddafi claimed that Libya boasted popular committees and shared ownership, but in reality this was far from true. Qaddafi had appointed himself or close family and friends to all positions of power, and their corruption and crackdowns on any kind of civic organizing meant much of the population lived in poverty. Meanwhile, Qaddafi and those close to him were amassing fortunes in oil revenue while the regime murdered those it deemed as dissidents.
Qaddafi’s ruling style was not just oppressive, it was eccentric. He had a cadre of female bodyguards in heels, considered himself the king of Africa, erected a tent to stay in when he traveled abroad, and dressed in strange costume-like outfits. His bizarre antics often distracted from his brutality, and earned him the nickname “the mad dog of the Middle East.”
In addition to his destructive rule at home, Qaddafi was despised by much of the international community. His government was implicated in the financing of many anti-Western groups around the world, including some terror plots. The Irish Republican Army allegedly had links to Qaddafi. Because of the regime’s links to Irish terrorism, the United Kingdom cut off diplomatic relations with Libya for more than a decade.
In 1986, Libyan terrorists were thought to be behind the bombing of a West Berlin dance club that killed three and injured scores of people. The United States in turn, under President Ronald Reagan’s administration, bombed specific targets in Libya that included Qaddafi’s residence in Tripoli.
In the most famous instance of the country’s connection to terrorism, Libya was implicated in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. A plane carrying 259 people blew up near Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all on board, with falling debris killing 11 civilians on the ground. Libyan terrorists, including an in-law of Qaddafi’s, were also believed to be behind the destruction of a French passenger jet in 1989, killing all 170 on board.
In 1990s, the relationship between Qaddafi and the West began to thaw. As Qaddafi faced a growing threat from Islamists who opposed his rule, he began to share information with the British and American intelligence services. In 1994, Nelson Mandela persuaded the Libyan leader to hand over the suspects from the Lockerbie bombing. It wasn’t long before Qaddafi had mended relations with the West on many fronts.
Qaddafi was welcomed in Western capitals, and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi counted him among his close friends. Qaddafi’s son and heir apparent, Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, mixed with London’s high society for several years. Many critics of the newfound friendship of Qaddafi and the West believed it was based on business and access to oil.
In 2001, the United Nations eased sanctions on Libya, and foreign oil companies worked out lucrative new contracts to operate in the country. The influx of money to Libya made Qaddafi, his family and his associates even wealthier. The disparity between the ruling family and the masses became ever more apparent.
After more than four decades in power, Qaddafi’s downfall happened in less than a year. In January 2011, the Tunisian revolution forced out longtime dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and set off the Arab Spring. The next month, Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak was forced out, providing a morale boost to protesters in several Arab capitals. Despite the atmosphere of severe repression, demonstrations broke out in the city of Benghazi and spread throughout Libya.
Qaddafi used aggressive force to try to suppress the protests, and the violence quickly escalated. Police and foreign mercenaries were brought in to shoot at protesters, and helicopters were sent to bombard citizens from the air. As casualties mounted, Libyans grew more determined to see Qaddafi’s ouster. As violence spread through the country, Qaddafi made several rambling speeches on state television, claiming the demonstrators were traitors, foreigners, al-Qaeda and drug addicts. He urged his supporters to continue the fight, and small groups of heavily armed loyalists battled against the rebels.
By the end of February 2011, the opposition had gained control over much of the country, and the rebels formed a governing body called the National Transitional Council. The opposition surrounded Tripoli, where Qaddafi still had some support. Most of the international community expressed support for the NTC and called for the ouster of Qaddafi. At the end of March, a NATO coalition began to provide support for the rebel forces in the form of airstrikes and a no-fly zone. NATO’s military intervention over the next six months proved to be decisive. In April, a NATO attack killed one of Qaddafi’s sons. When Tripoli fell to rebel forces in late August, it was seen as a major victory for the opposition and a symbolic end for Qaddafi’s rule.
In June 2011, the International Criminal Court issued warrants for the arrest of Qaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam, and his brother-in-law for crimes against humanity. In July, more than 30 countries recognized the NTC as the legitimate government of Libya. Qaddafi had lost control of Libya, but his whereabouts were still unknown.
Death and Turmoil
On October 20, 2011, Libyan officials announced that Qaddafi had died near his hometown of Sirte, Libya. Early reports had conflicting accounts of his death, with some stating that he had been killed in a gun battle and others claiming that he had been targeted by a NATO aerial attack. Video circulated of Qaddafi’s bloodied body being dragged around by fighters.
For months, Qaddafi and his family had been at large, believed to be hiding in the western part of the country where they still had small pockets of support. As news of the former dictator’s death spread, Libyans poured into the streets, celebrating the what many hailed as the culmination of their revolution.
Post Qaddafi, Libya has continued to be embroiled in violence. With state authority eventually being held by the General National Congress, various militia groups have vied for power. Dozens of political figures and activists in Benghazi have been killed, with many having to leave the area. The country has also seen a succession of interim prime ministers.
With injuries to his leg, torso and head, Gaddafi was found alone in the drain pipe, surrounded by the bodies of his guards who had been shot as they tried to flee Sirte from the west.
In video footage captured on the mobile phone of 21-year-old Ali Algadi, Gaddafi is seen being dragged from his hiding place, bloodied and dazed. Those present shout repeatedly, “Don’t’ kill him! Don’t kill him! We need him alive.” But the long-time Libyan leader was later confirmed to have died.
“I can’t tell you how good it feels,” said Algadi 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.”
One of the men who dragged him from the drain was Ibrahim Abuziad.
“When we came to arrest him he was saying, “What do you want with me? What is going on? What happened with you?”” Abuziad said at the scene shortly after Gaddafi’s capture. “He was like crazy. He was waving this [white hessian sack] above his head.”
In the shaky footage, the former dictator is kicked and hit. Dirt is thrown into his face as he is dragged by a crowd of rebel fighters to a waiting vehicle.
Tirana Hassan of Human Rights Watch said they have confirmed Gaddafi’s death through video evidence and reports from the Misrata committee of the National Transitional Council.
“The NTC confirmed he was captured alive but died on the way to Misrata. I’m not a medical expert but he has clearly been shot once in the head and twice in the abdomen,” Hassan said.
Shortly after Gaddafi’s capture, rebel fighters celebrated at the scene, hugging each other, firing guns in the air and shaking their heads in disbelief. Some wrote the names of their battalions around the concrete drain and labeled it “Gaddafi’s hole.”
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.
The bodies of three of Gaddafi’s bodyguards still lay scattered around the drain pipe. All wore civilian clothes. Their bodies had been respectfully covered by the fighters. The leg of one man was in plaster from a previous injury.
Nearby was a cluster of several more bodies in a field. Several fighters said Gaddafi’s son Mutassim had been captured in this area. Lufty Alamin, who transported the body back to Misrata, said that he was shot in the chest while attempting to flee.
At dawn, 40 cars had fled fr Huom central Sirte as forces moved into the inner city area from the East.
“Each car that fled was covered by heavy fire from many rooftops,” said Farg Saud Megarif, 26, as the rebels cleared the last snipers from the remnants of the smoldering city earlier Thursday morning, before the dictator’s capture. “They stayed behind to protect the cars like a suicide mission. I think there must have been someone important, like a high official or something for these men to give their lives like that.”
Megarif said 12 cars had left from their section but the heavy cover fire prevented them from stopping the vehicles. Forty cars in all fled along the beachside but NATO Apache helicopters disabled the convoy, killing dozens.
Along the road and in the surrounding area, burned out cars still smouldered. The bodies of their occupants lay nearby. One man, still alive but unable to move said Gaddafi had been with them in the convoy but had escaped with Mutassim.
Algady said his unit, whose base is situated adjacent to the drain where Gaddafi was found, came under heavy fire from the vehicles as they fled the city.
“I thought we were all going to die,” he said pointing to the damage covering the building. “Their cars were about to enter here. Then NATO struck them at the last minute.”
The remaining men fled into the fields. Several prisoners captured the night before had confirmed Gaddafi’s son Mustassim was still within Sirte. As Algady and several battalions pursued the escapees, they had been expecting to find him. No one had expected Gaddafi himself to be among the convoy.
“I thought for sure he was in Algeria or somewhere outside,” said rebel fighter Shakir Mohammed, who seemed still in shock over the sudden and dramatic end to the conflict. “I want to celebrate — it’s over — but even though my eyes have seen it my mind still doesn’t believe it.”
Within Sirte, bodies littered the streets. The body of one sniper lay on a rooftop. Wooden boards formed walkways to neighboring houses. In courtyards, holes had been blown through the stone fences to form escape routes. Rebel fighters towed away damaged cars. The houses, mostly blown to pieces by rockets, grenades and gunfire, seemed empty of possessions.
Several food stores still held stocks of cooking oil, rice, beans and tomato paste. Rebel fighters said they found weapons and ammunition buried in many of the houses, showing the loyalists still had some supplies.
Back in Misrata, celebrations rang out across the city. It seemed the entire population had taken to the streets tooting car horns, waving flags and setting off fireworks.
“What happened to Gaddafi is the same as Saddam,” said Abuziad as he wrote the name of his battalion above Gaddafi’s hiding place. “We got both of them from holes. In the end we found out who the rat is.”
Watch Video of how Gaddafi was killed: