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And he used to be such a nice, quiet boy

Libya: The Rise of the Colonel

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Libya Coat of Arms

Just over forty years ago the king of Libya decided he had earned a break.  His back was hurting him and he was starting to despare at the breakdown of the relationship he had with the more urbane members of his cabinet.  In the fall of 1969 he flew to a remote spa in Greece to see a private doctor and perhaps get his thoughts in order.

In the early hours of 1 September 1969 the security guards based in the Government buildings, the National television stations, the joint Armed Services headquarters, and many other places, got a nasty shock.  The lights of oncoming army trucks were the first surprise.  Was this an exercise?  Why the hell hadn’t they been told?  Soldiers began to spill out of the trucks and swarm around the buildings.  Hang on, were those guns real?  The next shock for the hapless guards was a rifle-butt in the ribs.

A coup was under way, a coup supported by, the very man left in charge of the country, Crown Prince Sayyid ar-Rida.  He would declare a 27-year old Captain as the new head of the country and then abolish the monarchy.  For his pains he would spend years under house arrest.

Gaddafi after coup

The mysterious young man who seized control of the country was Muammar Abu Minyar a-Gaddafi.

He ahd been born at the height of Rommel’s campaign in Africa.  As an infant his much needed sleep was often broken by the passing of a convoy of Afrika Korps truck.  Small wonder he turned out a little cranky.

His was the youngest child of Mohammed al-Gaddafi and Aisha Bin Menier, born in the dry desert of Sirte.  From an early age he was known for his good looks.  He went to a very conservative, traditional school where he became the leader of a small group of friends.  At was the same crowd that followed him through prep school, and into the military academy.  They were at his side the day he seized power.  He formed the revolutionary command council to lead the country and, within a year, made himself Prime Minister.

Perhaps strangely, he promoted himself only to Colonel.  Many have asked why not General or Marshal of Libya?  Well, it is hard to say.  Gadaffi seems to see himself as a champion of the underdog, the refugee, the dispossessed.  Yet, in truth, he had not really had a hard life.  He wasn’t the whipped dog that Hitler was, nor the delinquant who became Saddam Hussain.  He was just a fairly successful junior soldier with a head full of dreams and a few friends with guns.

Once he had consolidated power he set out to become the Fidel Castro of the Mediterranean.  How he managed any of this is mostly due to the fact that the majority of American Intelligence agencies were fixated on the deteriorating situation in South East Asia.  And they were especially wary of communists, something al-Gadaffi never professed, or turned out, to be.

In the early seventies the eastern Mediterranean was torn by war.  The conflicts in Palestine and Israel were hotting up, the communists were consolidating Yemen, and Turkey invaded Cyprus.  Arabs everywhere were gaining the strength to assert their independence from American oil barons.


Libya became a focal point for Terrorism International.  Islamic Extremists, Communist Insurgents, Irish Nationalists, even German crazies were welcomed.  The only thing these motley crew had in common – they were anti-imperialist, as Gaddafi saw it.  He gave them camps, money, training, bank accounts, everything they needed to spread fear and havoc in the world.


In turn he became an agent for the Soviet Union.  They gave him the first MiG-25 Supersonic jets available outside of Russia.  They retained cordial relations right up to 1991.

Green Book

Gadaffi developed his ‘Green Book’ in imitation of Chairman Mao’s little Red Book.  It was a collection of Islamic doctrine, tactics, methods, and rambling nonsense.  It came in three parts:

Part 1:  The solution of the problem of democracy

Part 2: The solution of the economic problem

Part 3: The social basis of the third universal theory

A sinister terrorist at the scene of the Munich Olympic Massacre

A sinister terrorist at the scene of the Munich Olympic Massacre

Libya’s guest list was quite the rogues gallery.  Palestine Liberation Organization, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Abu Nidal, Black September, Irish Republicans,  Basque Speratives, the Baader-Meinhof group and Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda.   He certainly wasn’t fussy who he let in.

Consequently Libya’s fingerprints showed up in many a terrorist atrocity.  The US Ambassador had packed his bags and gone home as early as 1972.  In 1984, Britain followed after a horrific incident that left a Policewoman dead.


Yvonne Fletcher had been on duty, holding back demonstrators outside the Libyan embassy in London when a sudden burst of gunfire erupted from the building.  Several officers and demonstrators were hit, but Police Constable Fletcher died of her injuries within the hour.  The embassy was soon surrounded by armed police and army special forces.  Eventually the ‘Ambassadors’ (to use the term loosely) were expelled from the country.  No one was arrested for murder of an unarmed officer on the streets of the UK.

Gaddafi’s only response was to bemoan that his ‘ambassadors’ were not being allowed to go about their duties.

Years later a bomb was detonated in a Berlin disco, leaving three dead and nearly two hundred wounded, many of them NATO servicemen.  An intercepted telex (an early fax machine) from the Libyan embassy in East Germany seemed to point to Libyan involvement.

UTA flight 772 in central Africa, from Chad to Paris was bombed.  Libya was chief suspect.

Soon the American state department were asking questions about what they should be doing about Libya?  Sanctions? International pressure?

They also had a beef with the Libyans.  Gaddafi wanted to claim the Gulf of Sidra as Libyan international waters.  Now perhaps this was not as unreasonable as it sounds, as the bay in entirely contained within Libyan coastline and it is far away from regular shipping lanes.  But the US objected to this proposal.

To show them who is boss Gaddafi launched two SCUD missiles at the small Mediterranean island of Lampedusa where a small US Coast Guard listening post was located.  However the SCUDs proved to be wholly inaccurate and fell into the ocean.

Operation Dorado Canyon

By now the American President, Ronald Reagan, had had enough.  He ordered his Air Force to make tactical air strikes on Libyan airfields and barracks.  One bomb landed in the compound where Gaddafi was staying.  Although he himself escaped injury his adopted daughter, Hannah was killed.  Unfortunately no picture of her seems to exist.

Losing a daughter had a profound effect of Gaddafi, who, naturally, swore revenge.  In 1988, tragically, he would have it.  He summoned one of his best agents, Abdelabaset al-Magrahi, to come up with a new bombing plan.  This man was a Libyan Intelligence agent, and also the head of security of Libyan airlines.  He knew better than anybody how to get a bomb on board an aircraft.

Flight PA-103 was flying over Scotland when the bomb onboard blew it’s neck wide open.  The fuselage and the cockpit were ripped asunder and the flaming wreckage landed on several houses in the town, killing many more people.

The Colonel had avenged himself, at least in his mind.

In the following years Gaddafi concentrated on arming and training as many guerrillas as he could. He stepped up arms shipments to Ireland and Palestine.

But as far back as 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Gaddafi could tell the world was changing.  Slowly, surely, he started to backtrack on twenty years of terrorist activity.  He offered to pay compensation to victims of the bombings.  He sought to restore diplomatic relations with first Britain and finally America.  He is the only terrorist leader to have done so.  It may yet ensure his survival.

But in spite of this gesture of penance he remains a dictator who ruthlessly puts down domestic dissenters.  His internal security apparatus is cut from the same cloth as Saddam’s secret police.

Muammar Gaddafi is still an all-powerful dictator of millions.


Written by Nick Gilmartin

September 14, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Posted in in the news

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One Response

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  1. Very nice article.
    Now, please make a similar articles on Henry Kissinger and his bombings of Cambodia


    August 23, 2011 at 1:03 am

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