Defiant Muammar Gaddafi has threatened to carry out attacks in Europe against “homes, offices, families,” unless Nato halts its campaign of airstrikes against his regime.
The Libyan leader, sought by the International Criminal Court for a brutal crackdown on anti-Government protesters, delivered the warning in a telephone message played to thousands of supporters gathered in the capital Tripoli.
It was one of the largest pro-Government rallies in recent months, signalling that Gaddafi can still muster significant support. A pro-regime green cloth, several hundred meters long and held aloft by supporters, snaked above the crowd filling Tripoli’s Green Square.
A series of powerful explosions later rattled the heart of the capital, apparently new Nato airstrikes, as Gaddafi supporters cheered, honked horns and fired into the air in the street. Black smoke could be seen rising from the area near Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound.
Gaddafi spoke from an unknown location in a likely sign of concern over his safety. Addressing the West, Gaddafi warned that Libyans might take revenge for Nato bombings.
“These people [the Libyans] are able to one day take this battle to Europe, to target your homes, offices, families, which would become legitimate military targets, like you have targeted our homes,” he said.
“We can decide to treat you in a similar way,” he said of the Europeans. “If we decide to, we are able to move to Europe like locusts, like bees. We advise you to retreat before you are dealt a disaster.”
It was not clear whether Gaddafi could make good on such threats.
In the past, Gaddafi supported various militant groups, including the IRA and several Palestinian factions. Libyan agents were blamed for attacks in Europe, including a Berlin disco bombing in 1986 and the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Libya later acknowledged responsibility for Lockerbie.
In recent years, however, Gaddafi was believed to have severed his ties with extremist groups when he moved to reconcile with Europe and the US.
Al-Qaeda and other jihadi groups have opposed Gaddafi since he cracked down in the late 1990s on the Islamist Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which sought to replace his regime with an Islamic state.
A US State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said the US would take Gaddafi’s threat of attacks seriously, as his regime carried out such actions in the past. Toner did not know if there was intelligence to indicate Gaddafi’s regime would be able to carry out such attacks.
“This is an individual who is obviously capable of carrying these kinds of threats, that’s what makes him so dangerous, but he’s also someone who is given to overblown rhetoric,” Toner told a news conference in Washington.
The rally came just four days after the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Gaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam and Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi for crimes against humanity. International prosecutors allege Government troops fired on protesters during anti-Gaddafi demonstrations earlier this year.
The popular uprising has since turned into a protracted civil war. Nato has been bombing Government-linked targets since March. In his speech yesterday, Gaddafi denounced the rebels as traitors and blamed them for Libya’s troubles.
He said Libyans who fled to neighbouring Tunisia were now “working as maids for the Tunisians”. “Tunisians used to work for Libyans. What brought you to this stage? The traitors,” he added.
He called on his supporters to march on rebel strongholds. “We must end this battle fast,” he said. Seif al-Islam denied in a TV interview that either of them ordered the killing of civilian protesters in Libya.
Seif al-Islam accused Western nations of intervening in Libya because they were after the country’s resources. He vowed to fight on. “Nobody will give up. Nobody will raise the white flag,” he said. “We want peace, but if you want to fight, we are not cowards. We are going to fight.”