TRIPOLI, Libya – Taunting NATO, Moammar Gadhafi said Friday that he is alive despite a series of airstrikes and “in a place where you can’t get to and kill me.” The defiant audio recording was broadcast after the Libyan government accused NATO of killing 11 Muslim clerics with an airstrike on a disputed eastern oil town.
Gadhafi had appeared on state TV but had not been heard speaking since a NATO attack on his Tripoli compound two weeks ago. In a brief recording played Friday on Libyan TV, Gadhafi said he wanted to assure Libyans concerned about a strike this week on his compound in Tripoli.
“I tell the coward crusaders – I live in a place where you can’t get to and kill me,” he said. “I live in the hearts of millions.”
He referred to a NATO airstrike on Thursday that targeted his Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, claiming it had killed “three innocent journalist-civilians.”
Many people “driven by their love for me put in many calls to check on my well-being after they heard of the cowardly missile attack of the crusaders on Bab al-Aziziya last Thursday, May 12,” Gadhafi said in the recording, which lasted just over a minute.
NATO shrugged off the statement. “We are not targeting him, our targets are solely military,” alliance spokeswoman Carmen Romero said in Brussels.
Shortly before Gadhafi’s remarks were broadcast, regime spokesman Moussa Ibrahim claimed that NATO had attacked Brega while dozens of imams and officials from around Libya were gathered there to pray for peace. Ibrahim said 11 imams were killed in their sleep at a guesthouse, and 50 people were wounded, including five in critical condition.
One of the slain men was wearing beige military clothing.
The alliance, responding to the claim, said it had attacked a military command-and-control center in Brega, 450 miles southeast of Tripoli.
“We’re very careful in the selection of our targets and this one was very clearly identified as a command center,” said an official at NATO’s operational headquarters in Naples, Italy, who spoke under the alliance’s rules that he could not be named.
Ali Abou el-Sowa, an imam with Ibrahim, referred to Osama bin Laden.
“I would like to remind my brothers … how Osama bin Laden came into existence,” el-Sowa said. “He was reacting to the extremist actions by the West against Islam. We do not think al-Qaida is justifiable, but we would like to remind you that hatred begets hatred.”