Muammar al-Qaddafi Comes to Power and Militarizes Libya
On Sept. 1, 1969, 27-year-old Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi deposed the king and revolutionized the country, making it a pro-Arabic, anti-Western, Islamic republic with socialist leanings. It was also rabidly anti-Israeli. A notorious firebrand, Qaddafi aligned himself with dictators, such as Uganda's Idi Amin, and fostered anti-Western terrorism.
On Aug. 19, 1981, two U.S. Navy F-14s shot down two Soviet-made SU-22s of the Libyan air force that had attacked them in air space above the Gulf of Sidra. On March 24, 1986, U.S. and Libyan forces skirmished in the Gulf of Sidra, and two Libyan patrol boats were sunk. Qaddafi's troops also supported rebels in Chad but suffered major military reverses in 1987. A two-year-old U.S. covert policy to destabilize the Libyan government ended in failure in Dec. 1990.
On Dec. 21, 1988, a Boeing 747 exploded in flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, the result of a terrorist bomb, killing all 259 people aboard and 11 on the ground. This and other acts of terrorism, including the bombing of a Berlin discotheque in 1986 and the downing of a French UTA airliner in 1989 that killed 170, turned Libya into a pariah in the eyes of the West. Two Libyan intelligence agents were indicted in the Lockerbie bombing, but Qaddafi refused to hand them over, leading to UN-approved trade and air traffic embargoes in 1992. In 1999, Libya finally surrendered the two men, who were tried in the Netherlands in 2000–2001. One was found guilty of mass murder; the other defendant was found innocent. Libya had hoped its fainthearted cooperation would lead to suspended sanctions, which had severely affected the Libyan economy. The UN did suspend its sanctions, but they were not formally removed for another four years, not until Sept. 2003, when Libya finally admitted its guilt in the Lockerbie bombing and agreed to pay $2.7 billion to the victims' families. In 2004, Libya also agreed to compensate the families of the victims of the UTA airliner bombing ($170 million) and the Berlin disco bombing ($35 million).