Gadhafi: Legacy of a 42-Year Dictator

BY Larisa Epatko  October 20, 2011 at 9:05 AM EDT


Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli in 2004. Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.

After a months-long rebellion and incessant pursuit, Libya’s leader of 42 years, Moammar Gadhafi, was killed in his hometown of Sirte on Thursday. Gadhafi, known for his outlandish habits, was able to catapult the country out of diplomatic isolation, but internal discontent ultimately led to his downfall. View a timeline of his life, and additional resources:

June 7, 1942: Gadhafi is born in the desert near Sirte.

1961: Gadhafi enters the Libyan military academy in Benghazi, and receives further training in Greece and the UK.

1966: He returns to Libya as an officer in the Signal Corps.

Sept. 1, 1969: At age 27, Gadhafi takes power in a bloodless military coup from King Idris I, who was outside the country seeking medical treatment, and creates the Libyan Arab Republic.

1972: Gadhafi tries to set up the Federation of Arab Republics with Egypt and Syria, but the leaders are unable to agree on the terms of a union. Another attempted merger with Tunisia also fails.

1981: President Ronald Reagan expels all 27 Libyan diplomats from the U.S. after reports surface that Libyan assassins were targeting U.S. envoys abroad.

April 15, 1986: Libyan agents bomb “La Belle” nightclub in Berlin, killing three people including two U.S. soldiers. Reagan responds with air strikes on military targets in Tripoli and Benghazi. Gadhafi’s daughter is among those killed.

Dec. 21, 1988: Pan Am Flight 103 flying from London to New York crashes in Lockerbie, Scotland when a bomb in its cargo hold explodes. All 259 passengers and 11 people on the ground die. Two Libyans are charged with planting the bomb in 1991. One is acquitted and the other, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, is sentenced to life in prison but he is released in 2009 when he is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

1993 and 1996: Gadhafi escapes two assassination attempts by militants in Libya.

2003: After years of denying involvement, Gadhafi sends a letter to the U.N. Security Council accepting responsibility for the bombing over Lockerbie and agreeing to pay the victims’ families $2.7 billion. The letter also renounces terrorism. Gadhafi also agrees to dismantle the country’s weapons of mass destruction programs. The U.N. lifts its sanctions against Libya, and the U.S. restores diplomatic ties for the first time in 25 years.

Sept. 23, 2009: Gadhafi visits the U.S. for the first time during the 64th session of the U.N. General Assembly, where he speaks for an hour and 36 minutes.

February 2011: Following anti-government protests in Egypt and other countries in the region, an armed rebellion ignites against Gadhafi, and the two sides battle for months.

March 2011: The U.N. Security Council adopts Resolution 1973 authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya, and NATO forces launch air strikes against Gadhafi forces.

View a NewsHour discussion on the enactment of the no-fly zone:

August 2011: After rebels take over Tripoli and close in on Gadhafi’s hometown Sirte, the embattled leader’s wife, three children and several grandchildren flee to Algeria.

Oct. 20, 2011: Reports out of Sirte say Gadhafi is dead.

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Gadhafi appeared on the NewsHour twice: in 1981 and 1985. View the full interviews and an excerpt below:

Mideast correspondent Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post and David Mack of the Middle East Institute discuss Gadhafi’s legacy and personality.

This chart shows who’s who in the Gadhafi family.

Read more about the Arab Awakening.

We’ll have more on Gadhafi’s life on Thursday’s NewsHour. View all of our World coverage and follow us on Twitter.