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(Gaddafi: 1969-2011 – continued)

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GADDAFI: 1969-2011 (4 of 5)

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Gaddafi, Ronald Reagan, and Pan-Am Flight 203

In April 1980, Gaddafi's revolutionary committees called for the assassination of Libyan dissidents living abroad. On April 26, Gaddafi set a deadline of June 11 for dissidents to return home or be "in the hands of the revolutionary committees." (Facts on File 1980 Yearbook, p. 353, 451.)

Ronald Reagan, wrote in his memoirs that, in early May 1981, FBI agents implicated a Libyan in a Chicago murder and that the US responded by ordering the Libyan government to close its embassy in Washington.

Reagan wrote of Egypt's Anwar Sadat complaining about Gaddafi being in league with Iran's Ayatollah Khomein. Sadat complained of their desire to remove him and impose on Egypt a government that they preferred. Libya was threatening Egypt by building up a force on its border, and Reagan promised help for Egypt. Two weeks later, wrote Reagan, on August 20, Gaddafi sent up several of his planes and that they fired at two F-14 jets from the USS Nimitz that were participating in naval maneuvers sixty miles off the coast of Libya. "In compliance with my instructions," wrote Reagan, the two Libyan aircraft were shot down. Reagan added:

A few days after the incident over the gulf, security people obtained secret information indicating that Gaddafi had advised some of his associates that he intended to have me assassinated. So, it was back into my iron vest whenever I was out in public.

Subsequently, security people obtained what they considered highly credible information that not only I, but [Vice President] George Bush, Cap Weinberger, and Al Haig were targeted by Libyan hit squads that had been smuggled into this country. From then on, security precautions became even more rigid. (Ronald Reagan, An American Life, Simon and Schuster, p. 291.)

In December, 1981, the Reagan administration ordered US citizens out of Libya. And in March, 1982, it placed an embargo on the importation of Libyan oil and the export of high technology to Libya.

In a note dated June 27,1985, after the hijacking of a TWA 727 two weeks before, Reagan described Gaddafi as "talking to Iran and Syria about a joint terror war against us ..."

On December 27, Palestinians fired on passengers at Rome and Vienna airports, killing twenty people. According to Reagan, Gaddafi promptly called the suicide attack a "noble act." On the body of one of the terrorists, according to Reagan, was a Tunisian passport that had been taken from a Tunisian worker at the time he had been expelled from Libya.

Reagan decided to go after Gaddafi. In March, 1986, he sent the Sixth Fleet on "naval maneuvers." Gaddafi took the bait and sent several gunboats in the vicinity of the US ships. The US fleet sank the gunships and knocked out the radar installation that had guided Libyan missiles at carrier-based aircraft. Gaddafi retaliated by bombing a disco in West Berlin that was frequented by US servicemen, killing a US soldier and a Turkish woman and wounding two hundred others. Reagan wrote in his memoirs that "our intelligence experts established conclusively that there had been conversations regarding the bombing before and after it occurred between Libyan diplomats in East Berlin. In the 1990s, archives in what had been the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) would reveal that the operation was carried out by Libyan agents from the Libyan embassy there.

Reagan considered Gaddafi a crackpot and a barbarian. On April 15, after several days of diplomatic talks with European and Arab allies, Reagan retaliated, with support from the Thatcher government of Britain. France and Spain refused to allow US bombers the use of their airspace, so the bombers from Britain had to go around and through the Straits of Gibraltar, adding 2,100 kilometers each way. At two in the morning, eighteen F-111 bombers hit three targets in the Tripoli area and two in the Benghazi region. One American F-111 was shot down by a Libyan SAM missile over the Gulf of Sidra. In Tripoli, some bombs went off-target, killing civilians.

"The attack," Reagan wrote in his memoirs,"was not intended to kill Gaddafi; that would have violated our prohibition against assassination. The object was to let him know that we weren't going to accept his terrorism anymore, and that if he did it again he could expect to hear from us again." Reagan cited article 51 of the UN Charter, which gives a nation the right to self-defense. In a television address to the nation Reagan said, "When our citizens are attacked or abused anywhere in the world, on the direct orders of hostile regimes, we will respond so long as I'm in this office."

On December 21, 1988, Gaddafi launched his retaliation. Pan Am Flight 103, on a flight from London to New York, exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing the 259 on the plane and 11 Lockerbie residents on the ground. The bomb had been in a Samsonite suitcase stored in the baggage. It had been routed on the interline baggage system at Frankfurt, Germany, from a flight from Malta and loaded onto the Pan Am plane 17 hours before take off. Apparently Gaddafi expected the plane to blow up over the ocean, leaving no evidence. Evidence was retrieved that led to the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrah, a Libyan intelligence officer, by three Scottish judges, in January 2001. In August, 2003, in a letter presented to the president of the UN Security Council, Libya admitted responsibility but not guilt for the bombing. On February, 24, 2011, Libya's former justice minister, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, claimed that Gaddafi had personally ordered the Lockerbie bombing.

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Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.