PROFILE: The notorious Moammar Gadhafi

Moammar Gadhafi rose from junior officer to become ruler of Libya, spent two decades dogging the West as a terrorist-funding rogue, and then sought rapprochement with the powers he had spent so many years bedevilling.
Ex-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was captured and reportedly injured by Libyan revolutionary forces outside his hometown of Sirte on Oct. 20. (Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

Col. Moammar Muhammad al-Gadhafi rose from junior officer to overthrow a king and become supreme ruler of Libya, spent two decades dogging the West as a terrorist-funding rogue, and then sought rapprochement with the very world powers he had spent so many years bedevilling.

In February, the Arab Spring swept into Libya, and Gadhafi found himself the subject of a rebellion. He was torn from power by a scrappy, six-month-long uprising that saw a ragtag crew of jeans-clad rebels overcome his tank-equipped army and drive into the capital Tripoli, forcing Gadhafi into hiding. He managed to disappear for two months.

Now it comes to this: on Oct. 20, Gadhafi is wounded and captured by Libyan fighters near his hometown of Sirte.

Until his last moments in power, Gadhafi exhibited the oddball traits that made him a global pariah. With rebel forces piling into Tripoli, after his own soldiers gave up the fight, he took to the radio waves to implore "all the men and women" to "come out in order to prevent the traitors and those agents to enter Tripoli."

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Moammar Gadhafi was born into a Bedouin family on June 7, 1942. As a teenager, he was deeply involved in political action, having participated in anti-Israel demonstrations during the Suez Crisis.

His thirst for power began while he was attending military college in Greece, where he started making plans to overthrow the Libyan monarchy, led by King Idris I. On Sept. 1, 1969, while Idris was in Turkey, Gadhafi led a small group of junior military officers in a bloodless coup and overthrew the king, establishing the Libyan Arab Republic and installing himself as leader.

Synonymous with terrorism

An admirer of Argentine-born revolutionary Che Guevara, Gadhafi offered aid for others who shared his anti-imperialist, anti-Western views. With Libya's oil fortunes, he was able to help fund numerous African coups, including those led by Uganda's Idi Amin and Liberia's Charles Taylor.

He was a staunch supporter of Arab nationalism, cementing an abortive federation with Syria and Egypt in 1972 and a merger with Tunisia in 1974. Then, taking his cue from Mao's Little Red Book, Gadhafi published his Green Book in 1975, outlining the tenets of his political ideology, which he termed Islamic Socialism.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Ghadafi's name became synonymous with international terrorism. He was a major financial backer of the Black September Movement (which was responsible for the attacks at the Munich Olympics in 1972 and which infamously claimed responsibility for the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing), the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am aircraft over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1989 bombing of a French aircraft over Niger.

His refusal to allow the extradition to the U.S. and Britain of two Libyan nationals involved in the Lockerbie bombing led to severe economic sanctions for Libya. In 2003, Gadhafi made significant steps to warm up his relationship with the West, agreeing to compensate victims of Libyan-sponsored terrorism and allowing UN investigators into his country to examine and dismantle weapons of mass destruction.

Gadhafi made further efforts to improve his image in the West, including welcoming dignitaries such as British prime minister Tony Blair in 2007 and former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. On his first-ever visit to the United States, Gadhafi even made a speech to the UN General Assembly in 2009, although he was widely criticized for his rambling. He has, however, consistently maintained a strict stance against those he deems to be "enemies" of his revolution and has advocated for their death.

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Gadhafi, as well as his son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi and brother-in-law Abdullah Senussi, on June 27. The Libyan leader is accused of orchestrating the killing, wounding, arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of civilians during the first 12 days of the popular uprising against his regime that began in February. He is also accused of trying to cover up the alleged crimes.

Gadhafi was elected chairman of the African Union in 2009 and pledged to work toward what he called a United States of Africa. He also used Libya's vast oil fortunes to send aid to countries torn apart by famine and civil war, including Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia.

Over the years, his idiosyncrasies were often what kept him in the headlines. He would live in a Bedouin tent in the desert, and made his way to Egypt for an official state visit by land through the Sahara. Frequently, he rode around on a camel.

Gadhafi amassed tremendous wealth from Libya's oilfields. When the United States froze his assets in February as the uprising against him took hold, he had at least $29.7 billion in various U.S. banks.

While sanctions and international ostracism marked his final days, Gadhafi's rule would likely not have been possible without tacit complicity over the decades from the West. During his 42 years in power, he acquired an estimated $10 billion in weapons from NATO countries, including $488 million worth in 2009 from the EU alone, the last year for which figures are available. Those are the very jets and artillery NATO began bombing in March.