TRIPOLI, Libya – It was to be a human shield, a massive gathering of Moammar Gadhafi’s supporters at his Bab al-Aziziya compound, and the Libyan leader was to give a late-night speech of defiance against the international forces arrayed against him.
They would stand by their beloved Brother Leader Saturday at the same compound destroyed by President Ronald Reagan’s airstrikes in 1986. Even if the bombs came sailing down. Even if the entire place went up in flames.
“I’m here to support Moammar Gadhafi and to oppose the threats of the West,” said Ghazal Muftah, a 52-year-old grandmother in a camouflage army jacket and hijab, or head scarf, among about 400 or so gathered around the ruler’s vast and well-protected residence. “If they want to hit Moammar Gadhafi, they have to hit us. We are all Moammar Gadhafi.”
It was a bizarre and somewhat macabre celebration, given that Western forces had already dropped a couple of bombs to halt Gadhafi’s attacks on Libyan rebel strongholds.
But to those in this crowd, only terrorists had been killed in the weeks of civil strife across the country, and the threats of the Westerners were just empty rhetoric.
“I’m here because I love Moammar Gadhafi,” said Fatih Mohammad, a 17-year-old high school student with a toothy smile. “I’m ready for war. Anyway, they won’t dare to challenge us.”
“We are here,” said medical student Salah Mohammad, 24, “to be with the leader of our revolution, even if we die.”
Cellphones began to ring. A hush fell over the crowd. People began to whisper to one another. Cruise missiles were being fired at Tripoli. Those sitting in a grassy area quickly got up and began heading for the exit.
More followed, until the human chain thinned out to a few dozen people standing in the chill before the balcony where Gadhafi was supposed to address them.
But the Brother Leader was nowhere to be seen. He would address Libyans later by telephone, from an undisclosed location.