Why has Mu’ammar Qaddafi managed to survive so many assassination attempts during his 28-year rule? Could it have anything to do with his all-female bodyguards, who have been described ‘wearing their kalashnikovs like Gucci fashion accessories’, and are known as ‘Revolutionary nuns’ because of their undoubted devotion to the colonel’s cause? If so, the supreme irony is that many of the attempts have come from attackers outraged by the way the guards breach Islamic norms of dress and behaviour.
The latest reported attempt is said to have taken place in the Benghazi region on June 2, when a group of armed men attacked him and his entourage. According to reports, one of the Libyan leader’s guards, Aisha, was killed when she shielded him. Seven other guards were seriously wounded. Qaddafi himself escaped with a slight injury to his elbow.
Initially, no group claimed responsibility for the attack. But the Benghazi region is known to be a centre for Islamic groups opposed to Qaddafi’s rule, and, according to the London-based Liberty for the Muslim World rights group, at least 100 young men had been rounded up, since the attack, in Dirnah and the towns of Ras al-Helal and al-Qubbah, in the Jabal al-Akhdar region, a stronghold of the Islamic groups.
The arrests suggested that Qaddafi suspected the attackers to be Islamic activists, who have emerged as his most obdurate opponents since armed Islamic resistance first appeared in Libya six years ago. These mujahideen represent the biggest challenge to his rule.’
The first group to claim responsibility for the attack was ‘The Martyrs’, but its claim was contradicted by a rival one from the Combatant Group, which told the London-based Al-Hayat daily that its fighters that had carried out the operation. The two groups often publicly contradict each other indirectly but have never contested operations in such explicit terms in the past.
A spokesman for the Martyrs told al-Hayat on June 18 that the dual claims could be explained in the light of the Combatant Group’s practice of claiming all operations in Libya and of pretending that the Martyrs do not exist.
Qaddafi issued a public statement denying that the attack had taken place at all. In a television interview with Associated Press, he said he had heard of the rumours but no attack directed against him had ever taken place. The colonel went further and asserted that he had never been the object of an assassination attempt during his entire rule. The colonel’s denial did not take any one in. He did not explain why he had not produced the bodyguard, Aisha, alleged to have died in the attempt. That would have silenced the allegations. Nor could he explain why he had cancelled an official visit to Egypt that was due on June 5. The last reported attempt on Qaddafi’s life, before the current one, was in December 1996, when a grenade hidden inside a pomegranate was thrown at him. On this occasion, he escaped unhurt.
The Islamic movement is not the only source, albeit the biggest, of opposition to Qaddafi’s rule or of threat to his life. The Warfallah tribe, which is well-represented in the army and security forces are a credible threat to his rule. It was members of this tribe that were responsible for the 1993 coup attempt.
The only consolation for the colonel in this episode is the public spectacle of the two Islamic groups contesting responsibility for the attempt on his life. This could be the beginning of a dangerous rift in the ranks of Islamic groups in Libya similar to the squabbling taking place among Algerian Islamic movements.
But the Libyan leader had a clear cause for celebration before the assassination attempt when he had attended the Organization of African Unity summit, for the first time in 15 years, and the heads of African States gathering in Ougadhougou, Burkina Faso, challenged the US and called for the trial of the Lockerbie suspects in a neutral country. Libya has already agreed to send the suspects to the International Court at the Hague. But both Britain and the US said they would disregard the summit’s resolution. Washington also stepped up its anti-Libyan action when it urged the North African countries to establish a free trade area but exclude Libya from membership. However, Qadafi has survived US machinations before - probably because Washington is not serious about toppling him, as it is not about removing the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Husain. Both men are in fact convenient aids to US imperialism in the Middle East.
What Qaddafi really must fear is the Islamic movement. The mujahideen’s armed struggle, which has already claimed the lives of many of his security officers and has made several regions of the country into no-go areas.
Muslimedia: July 1-15, 1998