Deposed in August when rebel forces won control of the capital, he was killed in crossfire in Sirte, his loyalists’ last redoubt, after being dragged alive from a sewer culvert where he had taken refuge, said Mahmoud Jibril, the rebel leader who is Libya’s interim prime minister.
He became the first Arab ruler to be slain by his people in the transformative revolt that has come to be known as the Arab Spring, pitting thousands of citizen demonstrators against aging dictators and despots. His downfall followed the toppling of authoritarian rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, who were ousted before protesters took to the streets of eastern Libya in February.
Col. Gaddafi was thought to be 69, although his birth date was not known. At his death, he had been one of the world’s longest-serving rulers.
Many in the international community had long dismissed him as a clown for his quirky behavior. He traveled with an all-female praetorian guard and received guests in a Bedouin tent. But much of his reign was brutal.
Col. Gaddafi drew global condemnation for many years because of his decades-long patronage of terrorist groups. President Ronald Reagan referred to the Libyan leader as “this mad dog of the Middle East,” and for many, Col. Gaddafi’s name will always be associated with the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people.
At home, where Col. Gaddafi was more benignly known as “Brother Leader and guide of the revolution,” his long reign attested to his intelligence and political acumen and made Libya a nation to be noticed. It also brought the North African desert country economic ruin and decades of brutal political repression, as Col. Gaddafi used pervasive fear and frequent policy swings to keep his subjects off-balance.
As Libyan political scientist Mansour O. El-Kikhia wrote in “Libya’s Qaddafi: The Politics of Contradiction”: “The rules of the game in Libya continually change,” and Col. Gaddafi’s “genius . . . is his ability to maintain and manipulate this chaos . . . because the survival of his regime hinges on continued turbulence.”
Col. Gaddafi was 27 when he led a military coup to overthrow King Idris in 1969. With the death a year later of Col. Gaddafi’s childhood hero, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Libyan became a key voice of revolution, espousing a socialist pan-Arabism and militant rhetoric against Israel.