Video: Rebels build base in Benghazi, prep for battle

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    >>> germany says it has conducted a secret military air mission into the libyan dez tort extract some of its citizens from the embattled country. britain's royal air force has also staged its own stealthy evacuations amid fierce of violence is about to get even worse . nbc's richard engel is in the key rebel strong hold of benghazi . richard, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, lester . as you mentioned, foreign governments are extracting their citizens here. everyone on the ground expect that this conflict will escalate even further. foreign workers are escaping libya in droves. according to the united nations , 100,000 people have fled libya since fighting began, all but stopping libya 's economy. foreign works ran libya 's oil industry . now, oil fields are still. exports largely halted. people are leaving because of scenes like this. an internet video appears to show gadhafi 's forces executing rebels in the streets of tripoli . the violent may have been too much even for gadhafi 's ukrainian nurse, described in a cable as a voluptuous blonde always at his side. now she has returned to kiev. but his son denies the opposition is killing the regime and in interviews with former media with itn's channel four. your father lost control of ben glaz gaz zi, he must be disappointed. he must feel this is a big blow .

    >> in benghazi there's 1.5 million people and they are talking to us and calling us, people that are afraid of the militia on the ground, because the militia, armed militia .

    >> do you think he will ever get back the parts of libya that he has lost?

    >> libya -- ben gasz.

    >> is part of libya .

    >> what spir visit your father in?

    >> very good. morales are very high.

    >> reporter: in benghazi , the people don't seem frightened. they are building a new country here. today, the opposition distributed food, banks reopened. the opposition even named an independent government of what they now call free libya . and free libya is building an army. at an old court building in benghazi , they have already collected the names of thousands of volunteers. most want to go to the front lines. others do donate money, cars and weapons. the rebels are keeping some of the heavy weapons here there are artillery rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and what appears to be a box of live grenades. they say that most of the weapon have already been sent to tripoli . the rebels know gadhafi and his family will hang on to tripoli as long as they can. they say they plan to take the city by force. both sides now seem to be consolidating their forces, lester . the rebels here in benghazi and there are reports tonight that gadhafi 's forces are planning a cou counteroffensive around tripoli .

    >> are any of the rebels talking about what a postgadhafi government might look like and the risk that libya could become a failed state ?

    >> reporter: there is a risk that it could become a failed state . for 41 years, this country has had no real institutions at all. gadhafi has run it like a cult of personality . there's no constitution. there's no parliament to speak of. so they know they will have to start from scratch. right now, today, they were trying to put a leadership together, even here in benghazi , but so far, they don't have a consolidated leadership in this city alone, let alone a national plan. lester ?

    >> richard engel tonight. thank you.

Image: Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi addresses the nation in Tripoli, Libya on state television Tuesday, Feb. 22.  Gadhafi is arming civilian supporters to set up checkpoints and roving patrols around the Libyan capital to control movement and quash dissent, residents said Saturday.
updated 2/27/2011 8:19:06 PM ET 2011-02-28T01:19:06

Moammar Gadhafi was many things over many years: a dashing icon of Libyan revolution, a brazen patron of terrorists, the custodian of vast oil wealth, a dictator whose flamboyance masked grit and guile, and a longtime pariah on the road to rehabilitation in the West.

From his cadre of female bodyguards to his penchant for pitching a tent on foreign visits, he was an object of fascination, ridicule and revulsion.

Now, in perhaps his final reinvention, Gadhafi is an apocalyptic figure, the dispenser of terrible bloodshed who seeks to keep power four decades after he ousted King Idris in a coup when he was an army captain.

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In sending warplanes and helicopters against protesters, and in threatening to turn Libya into "hell," Gadhafi has spurned even the facade of legitimate leadership amid a widening revolt that seems close to toppling him. Yet he does not appear aware of that, or to care, thereby subjecting the fate of Libya's 6 million people to the foibles of one man's narcissism.

Once known as "Brother Leader of the Revolution," Gadhafi again stands at an intersection of brutality and buffoonery.

The man lampooned for his eccentricities is the same one who funded Italy's Red Brigades and the Irish Republican Army, and whose regime was implicated in the bombings of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and a French airliner over the Niger desert in the late 1980s.

Some examples of Gadhafi's eccentricities:

— He has shown a penchant for conducting state business in tents, pitching them in Moscow, Paris and Rome, among other locales. For a September 2009 visit to New York to give a speech at the United Nations, he tried and failed to make camp in Manhattan's Central Park and Englewood, New Jersey. The white cloth tent, lined with a tapestry featuring camels and palms, later appeared in Bedford, New York, in a courtyard of a stone manor house on property owned by real estate magnate Donald Trump, who hinted that he had been tricked into renting his land. Politicians eventually declared Gadhafi unwelcome, and Bedford issued a stop-work order.

— Gadhafi's personal bodyguards, known as the Amazonian guard, consisted of young women said to be martial arts experts. They often carried machine guns and sometimes wore military-style uniforms with matching camouflaged headscarves. In 2006, Nigerian authorities stopped dozens of Gadhafi's bodyguards, including members of the female corps, from entering Abuja, the capital, with weapons in a dispute that lasted hours and saw the exasperated Libyan leader storm away from the airport on foot before a compromise was reached.

— Dapper and handsome in his youth, he cultivated an increasingly flamboyant appearance over the years, donning garish military uniforms with braids and huge, fringed epaulettes or flowing, colorful Bedouin robes and clothing with African patterns, along with sunglasses and fly whisks. His hair grew scruffy and he sported a goatee and scraggly mustache. In his first televised appearance after protests broke out in Libya, he appeared with an umbrella and a kind of hunter's cap with flaps over the ears.

— In a 2009 speech at the United Nations, he rambled about jet lag, the assassination of U.S. President Kennedy and a proposal that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be settled by creating one country called "Isratine," where the two peoples live together. He also tore up a copy of the U.N. charter in front of the delegates, criticizing the Security Council as a form of global feudalism. "It should be called the 'terrorism council,'" he said. On Saturday, the Security Council imposed sanctions on Gadhafi, his children and top associates to try to stop his attacks on the opposition.

— A 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable released by the website WikiLeaks cites Gadhafi's heavy reliance on a Ukrainian nurse — described as a "voluptuous blonde" — and his intense dislike of staying on upper floors of buildings, aversion to flying over water and a taste for horse racing and flamenco dancing. On Saturday, Ukraine's Segodnya daily newspaper reported that the nurse, 38-year-old Halyna Kolotnytska, was planning to flee the violence in Libya and return home.

The cable said that while "tempting to dismiss his many eccentricities as signs of instability," Gadhafi was "a complicated individual" who has stayed in power "through a skillful balancing of interests and realpolitik methods."

Interactive: Libya uprising: The latest (on this page)

Gadhafi suffers "the sense of mission and the sense of personal power that someone has when they've been at the top for a very long time with few people, if anybody, seriously contradicting them," said Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Libya and Iran. He said the Libyan has the classic delusion of absolute rulers who believe, even as citizens abandon them, that the people are at fault.

"He may do something that one calls crazy, but it flows from the internal history and logic of the personality and his experiences," Dalton said.

Born in a Bedouin tent, Gadhafi has known power for virtually his entire adult life. Cuba's Fidel Castro and North Korea's Kim Il Sung are among the few leaders to have held it longer. He took control of Libya in 1969, just weeks after astronauts landed on the moon. U.S. President Richard Nixon was in office, and so was Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, whose pan-Arab nationalism inspired the young Libyan.

"Libya is leading the continents, even Europe," he said last week in one of several diatribes. "No one knew Libya before Gadhafi."

Black-and-white film of Gadhafi in his early years at Libya's helm gives a hint of the enigma he would become. The slender officer sits at a desk, awkwardly holding pen to paper, while answering an interviewer's questions in halting English. He smiles often, but it is hard to tell whether it is from shyness, irreverence or even bewilderment at being propelled to such heights in his mid-20s.

A maverick to the last, Gadhafi is devising an endgame different from the narratives unfolding elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, where autocrats have fumbled for a formula to resist or defuse protests whose calls for change splintered a decaying order.

All tried force, but unlike Gadhafi, they did not have the means or will to declare war on their own citizens. Tunisia's president fled, Egypt's president resigned under pressure, Bahrain's king seeks to negotiate, and support for Yemen's leader is eroding.

Other besieged leaders in retreat developed the same skewed sense of infallibility, but their institutions and sense of accountability, however flimsy, exercised some restraint. Gadhafi, by contrast, built authority on family and tribal loyalty, buttressed by personal militias while undercutting his own military in case it might challenge him.

"He believes in his world. He thinks of himself: 'I am much higher than presidents, than kings,'" said Mustafa Abushagur, a Libyan who is president of the Dubai campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology. For 40 years, Abushagur said, Gadhafi's acolytes have told him: "You are the greatest."

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This personality cult in the desert degraded the traditional idea of a nation state in Libya, which as a former Italian colony was already a shaky patchwork of territory. The country had no constitution, but officially followed Gadhafi's "Green Book," a treatise that condemns parliaments, plebiscites and other features of Western-style democracy.

In Gadhafi's view, "direct democracy" stemmed from so-called people's committees, though his meandering socialist and Islamic rhetoric did little to hide the fact that he alone was in charge. He was also a self-styled and mostly unsuccessful champion of Arab and African solidarity, and his denunciations of Israel and imperialism resonated in developing countries and radical circles around the world.

Journalist Paul Barker described attending a 1970s conference in Tripoli.

The Libyan leader was "a film star of the revolution. He was bright and slim in a safari suit," Barker wrote in the London Times. "He was like the lead in 'The Desert Song.' The fraternal delegates clustered round him like autograph-hunters. Libya had money to spend, after all, on all kinds of activities."

With celebrity status came callousness. In 1989, during one of Libya's periodic anti-Italian demonstrations, an Italian worker was shot and set on fire by a mob. Italian TV interviewed Gadhafi as he sat in a black leather jacket inside a tent. He said through an interpreter that he had not heard about the slaying, but added: "I hope he had life insurance."

Libya's oil wealth was fuel for his follies, and he dispatched troops in an ill-fated attempt to prop up Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, later a guest in exile. U.S. President Ronald Reagan dubbed him the "mad dog of the Middle East" and U.S. airstrikes targeted Gadhafi in 1986 after a bombing at a Berlin disco that killed three people, including two American soldiers.

The Lockerbie bombing led to international sanctions against Libya, which began to emerge from isolation when it renounced terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and agreed to pay compensation in terrorist attacks. Western leaders courted energy-rich Libya, despite some unsavory moments.

He sponsored an annual human rights award in his name. Recipients included Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, both accused by critics of curbing civil liberties.

Gadhafi last week delivered a defiant speech near a sculpture of a golden fist crushing a U.S. fighter jet.

"I don't see him surviving," said Dalton, the former British ambassador. "I suppose you could say that in Shakespearian terms, his vanity is his fatal flaw."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Moammar Gadhafi

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  1. Col. Moammar Gadhafi is seen in Tripoli on Sept. 27, 1969, after leading a military coup that toppled King Idris. Gadhafi has maintained his rule over Libya for more than four decades since the coup. Gadhafi was killed in Sirte on Oct. 20 as revolutionary forces took the last bastion of his supporters. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Gadhafi, left, and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, right, arrive in Rabat, Morocco, in December 1969 for the Arab Summit Conference. (Benghabit / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Col. Gadhafi, left, jokes with a group of British hippies in Tripoli in July 1973. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gadhafi was purportedly a major financier of the Black September movement, a band of Palestinian militants. Its members perpetrated the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. One of the Black September guerrillas who broke into the Olympic Village is seen in this picture. (Keystone via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Gadhafi during the summit of the Organization of African Unity on Aug. 4, 1975, in Kampala, Uganda. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Flowers are laid at the memorial to Yvonne Fletcher, a British police constable who was shot dead by terrorists in April 1984 while on duty during a protest outside the Libyan embassy in London. Fletcher's death led to an 11-day police siege of the embassy and a breakdown of diplomatic relations between Libya and the United Kingdom. (Fox Photos via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Gadhafi and his second wife Safiya wave to the crowd upon their arrival in Dakar, Senegal, for a three-day official visit on Dec. 3, 1985. Gadhafi has eight biological children, six by Safiya. (Joel Robine / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. U.S. Ambassador to West Germany Richard Burt, fourth from left, and West Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, fifth from left, inspect the damage following an April 5, 1986, bombing at a Berlin discotheque frequented by American serveicemen. Libya was blamed for the blast, which killed three and injured more than 200. Then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan retaliated by ordering airstrikes against the Libyan capital of Tripoli and city of Benghazi. (Wolfgang Mrotzkowski / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. French policemen and army soldiers unload crates of arms and ammunition seized aboard the Panamian merchant ship Eksund on Nov. 3, 1987 at Brest military port in France. A huge supply of arms and explosives purportedly supplied by Libya and destined for the Irish Republican Army was found aboard the vessel. (Andre Durand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. This Dec. 22, 1988, photo shows the wreckage of the Pan Am airliner that exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people - most of them Americans. Gadhafi has accepted Libya's responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to the victims' families. Libya's ex-justice minister was recently quoted as telling a Swedish newspaper that Gadhafi personally ordered the bombing. (Letkey / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, right, welcomes Gadhafi upon his arrival at Tunis airport on Jan. 10, 1990. (Frederic Neema / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi is escorted by security officers in Tripoli on Feb. 18, 1992. Al-Megrahi was granted a compassionate release from a Scottish prison in August 2009 on the grounds that he was suffering from prostate cancer and would die soon. (Manoocher Deghati / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, left, accompanies Gadhafi on a tour at the pyramids of Giza on Jan. 19, 1993. (Aladin Abdel Naby / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian border policeman counts passports belonging to Palestinians waiting at the post in Salloum for transit to the Gaza Strip on Sept. 12, 1995. Families were stranded at the border with Libya after Gadhafi decided to expel 30.000 Palestinians, reportedly in order to call attention to the political situation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. (Amr Nabil / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Libyan women bodyguards provide security for VIPs during a military parade in Green Square on Sept. 1, 2003, to mark the 34th anniversary of Gadhafi's acension to power. (Mike Nelson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Family members of people killed in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, read documents on Sept. 12, 2003, as the U.N. Security Council votes to lift sanctions against Libya for the 1988 bombing. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, flew to Libya in 2004 to hold talks with Gadhafi inside a Bedouin tent. Here, Blair and and Gadhafi stroll to a separate tent in Tripoli for lunch during a break in their talks. Blair's role was particularly vital in Gadhafi's international rehabilitation. He praised the leader for ending Libya's nuclear and chemical weapons program and stressed the need for new security alliances in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. (Stefan Rousseau / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. U.S. President George W. Bush looks at material and equipment surrendered by Libya, during a tour of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee on July 12, 2004. Bush officially lifted the U.S. trade embargo against Libya on Sept. 20, 2004. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. View of the remains of Gadhafi's bombed-out headquarters, now turned into a living memento, inside his compound in Tripoli on Oct. 15, 2004. The sculpture in the center represents a golden fist grabbing a U.S. jet fighter. U.S. jets bombed Tripoli, killing Gadhafi's adopted 4-year-old daughter, in April 1986 in retaliation for the Berlin discotheque bombing. (John Macdougall / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is welcomed by Gadhafi in Tripoli on July 25, 2007. Sarkozy arrived for a meeting with the Libyan leader a day after the release of six foreign medics from a Libyan prison. (Patrick Kovarik / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Gadhafi's son Saif, center, attends a ceremony in the southern Libyan city of Ghiryan on Aug. 18, 2007, to mark the arrival of water from the Great Manmade River, a project to pipe water from desert wells to coastal communities. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Gadhafi looks at a Russian-language edition of his book "The Green Book" during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 17, 2008, in Tripoli. Putin was in Libya for a two-day visit to rebuild Russian-Libyan relations. (Artyom Korotayev / Epsilon via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Gadhafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pose for a picture after signing an agreement in the eastern city of Benghazi on Libya's Mediterranean coast on Aug. 30, 2008. Berlusconi apologized to Libya for damage inflicted by Italy during the colonial era and signed a $5 billion investment deal by way of compensation. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gadhafi poses with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prior to a meeting in Tripoli on Sept. 5, 2008. Rice arrived in Libya on the first such visit in more than half a century, marking a new chapter in Washington's reconciliation with the former enemy state. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gadhafi attends the closing session of the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar, on March 30, 2009. (Marwan Naamani / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Gadhafi waves after delivering a speech during a meeting with 700 women from the business, political and cultural spheres on June 12, 2009, in Rome. The Libyan strongman drew cheers and jeers when he criticized Islam's treatment of women but then suggested it should be up to male relatives to decide if a woman can drive. (Christophe Simon / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. U.S .President Barack Obama shakes hands with Gadhafi during the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, on July 9, 2009. (Michael Gottschalk / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, top left, is accompanied by Seif al-Islam el-Gadhafi, son of the Libyan leader, upon his arrival at the airport in Tripoli on Aug. 20, 2009. Scotland freed the terminally ill Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds, allowing him to die at home in Libya despite American protests that he should be shown no mercy. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. The president of the U.N. General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki, top center, listens in apparent misery as Gadhafi speaks on Sept. 23, 2009, at U.N. headquarters in New York. It was Gadhafi's first appearance before the U.N., and he emptied out much of the chamber with an exhaustive 95-minute speech in which he criticized the decision-making structure of the world body and called for investigations of all the wars and assassinations that have taken place since the U.N.'s founding. (Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Gadhafi greets Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during the plenary session at the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island on Sept. 27, 2009. Chavez and Gadhafi urged African and South American leaders to strive for a new world order countering Western economic dominance. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Gadhafi and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a group picture of Arab and African leaders ahead of the opening of the second Arab-African summit in the coastal town of Sirte, Libya, on Oct. 10, 2010. Ben Ali and Mubarak were driven out of power by popular revolts in 2011. (Sabri Elmehedwi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Gadhafi is followed by members of the press in Tripoli before making a speech hoping to defuse tensions on March 2. Gadhafi blamed al-Qaida for creating turmoil and told applauding supporters there was a conspiracy to control Libya and its oil. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyan rebels step on a picture of Gadhafi at a checkpoint in Tripoli's Qarqarsh district on Aug. 22. Libyan government tanks and snipers put up a scattered, last-ditch effort in Tripoli on Monday after rebels swept into the heart of the capital, cheered on by crowds hailing the end of Gadhafi's 42 years in power. (Bob Strong / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A man in Tripoli holds a photo said to be of Moammar Gadhafi after the announcement of the former leader's death, Oct. 20, 2011. Gadhafi was killed when revolutionary forces overwhelmed his hometown, Sirte, the last major bastion of resistance two months after the regime fell. (Abdel Magid Al-fergany / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Above: Slideshow (34) Moammar Gadhafi through the years
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    Slideshow (81) Conflict in Libya

Timeline: Recent Middle East unrest


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