TRIPOLI, Libya — Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi on Friday threatened to attack Europe if NATO continued bombing his country.
In a recorded message broadcast to a large crowd gathered in Tripoli’s central square, Gaddafi said that Libyans would “target your homes, offices, families, which would become legitimate targets.”
“These people are able to one day take this battle to Europe,” he said as the crowd shouted slogans against the West.
Shortly after the speech, a series of blasts believed to have been NATO bombs thundered through the capital. The military coalition has been bombing Libya for more than three months in an effort to protect civilians from the brutal crackdown Gaddafi’s forces launched to quell an uprising in February.
The speech was one of Gaddafi’s most menacing in recent months. He and his supporters have sought to shift the focus of the conflict that plunged the country into civil war, portraying it as the West’s latest attempt to invade and exploit a Muslim nation.
The crowd’s size and vigor suggested that the beleaguered leader still has sizable support in the capital.
“Down, down Sarkozy!” protesters chanted, referring to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country has been one of the leading members of the NATO campaign.
A leading dissident in Tripoli said the city was heavily policed Friday and that the government appeared to allow only its supporters into Green Square.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States took Gaddafi’s threat seriously.
“This is an individual who’s obviously capable of carrying out these kinds of threats," Toner said at a news conference. “That’s what makes him so dangerous.”
The Libyan government has been accused of launching attacks in the West, including the 1986 bombing of a nightclub in Berlin and the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In Friday’s speech, Gaddafi called the rebels who have been fighting to oust him “traitors.”
Referring to the floods of refugees leaving the country, he marveled at how Libyans are now working as maids for Tunisians. “Tunisians used to work for Libyans,” he said. “What brought you to this stage? The traitors.”
The International Criminal Court in the Hague on Monday announced that it had obtained arrest warrants for Gaddafi, one of his sons and the country’s intelligence chief. They were charged with ordering the government’s violent crackdown, which began in February. Libyan officials have dismissed the court as illegitimate.
Gaddafi hasn’t been seen in public, or appeared live on television in months. His only missives in recent weeks have been audio clips on state television.
A dissident who goes by the nickname Niz said that must be “very frustrating for a man who proclaimed to be the leader of the masses, the king of the kings.”
“He loved to talk for hours on end in front of huge crowds; it all played to his ego,” Niz, who represents a group called the Free Generation Movement, said in a Skype interview. “Now he’s resorting to audio clips.”