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Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi (Arabic: مُعَمَّر القَذَّافِي Muʿammar al-Qaḏḏāfī audio (help·info);[variations] June 1942 – 20 October 2011), commonly known as Muammar Gaddafi /ˈmoʊ.əmɑr ɡəˈdɑːfi/ or Colonel Gaddafi, was the autocratic ruler of Libya from 1969, when he seized power in a military coup, until 2011 when his government was overthrown in a civil war. His 42-year rule prior to the uprising made him the fourth longest-ruling non-royal leader since 1900, as well as the longest-ruling Arab leader. He variously styled himself as ‘the Brother Leader’ and ‘Guide of the Revolution’; in 2008 a meeting of traditional African rulers bestowed on him the title ‘King of Kings’.
After seizing power in 1969, he abolished the Libyan Constitution of 1951 and civil liberties enshrined in it. He imposed laws based on the political ideology he had formulated, called the Third International Theory and published in The Green Book. Rising oil prices and extraction in Libya led to increasing revenues. By exporting as much oil per capita as Saudi Arabia, Libya achieved the highest living standards in Africa. However, at the same time similarly oil-rich Gulf countries improved their living standards much further, and this fact was visible to ordinary Libyans. Early during his regime, Gaddafi and his relatives took over much of the economy. Gaddafi started several wars and acquired chemical weapons. Gaddafi also supplied weapons to the Provisional Irish Republican Army, a listed terrorist organisation in the United Kingdom and other countries. The United Nations called Libya under Gaddafi a pariah state. In the 1980s, countries around the world imposed sanctions against Gaddafi. Six days after the capture of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein by United States troops, Gaddafi renounced Tripoli’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and welcomed international inspections to verify that he would follow through on the commitment. A leading advocate for a United States of Africa, he served as Chairperson of the African Union (AU) from 2 February 2009 to 31 January 2010.
In February 2011, following revolutions in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia, protests against Gaddafi’s rule began. These escalated into an uprising that spread across the country, with the forces opposing Gaddafi establishing a government based in Benghazi named the National Transitional Council (NTC). This led to the 2011 Libyan Civil War, which included a military intervention by a NATO-led coalition to enforce a UN Security Council Resolution 1973 calling for a no-fly zone and protection of civilians in Libya. The assets of Gaddafi and his family were frozen, and both Interpol and the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants on 27 June for Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and his brother-in-law Abdullah al-Senussi, concerning crimes against humanity. Gaddafi and his forces lost the Battle of Tripoli in August, and on 16 September 2011 the NTC took Libya’s seat at the UN, replacing Gaddafi.  Gaddafi retained control over parts of Libya, most notably the city of Sirte, to which it was presumed that he had fled.  Although Gaddafi’s forces initially held out against the NTC’s advances, Gaddafi was captured as Sirte fell to the rebel forces on 20 October 2011, and died soon after.
Early life and military academy
Muammar al-Gaddafi was raised in a bedouin tent in the desert near Sirte (Sidra). According to many biographies, his family belongs to a small tribe of Arabs, the Qadhadhfa. They are mostly herders that live in the Hun Oasis. According to Gaddafi, his grandfather, Abdessalam Bouminyar, fought against the Italian occupation of Libya and died as the “first martyr in Khoms, in the first battle of 1911″. Gaddafi attended a Muslim elementary school far from home in Sabha, during which time he was profoundly influenced by major events in the Arab world. He was passionate about the success of the Palestinians and was deeply disappointed by their defeat by Israeli forces in 1948. He admired Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and looked to him as a hero during his rise to power in 1952. In 1956 Gaddafi took part in anti-Israeli protests during the Suez Crisis. In Sabha he was was briefly a member of Scouting. He finished his secondary school studies under a private tutor in Misrata, concentrating on the study of history.
Gaddafi entered the Libyan military academy at Benghazi in 1961, and graduated in 1966. Both towards the end of his course and after graduation, Gaddafi pursued further studies in Europe. False rumours have been propagated with regards to this part of his life, for example, the rumour that he attended the United Kingdom’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He did in fact receive four months further military training in the United Kingdom, and spent some time in London. After this, as a commissioned officer he joined the Signal Corps. Although often referred to as “Colonel Gaddafi”, he was in fact only a Lieutenant when he seized power in 1969. He was, nonetheless, a holder of the honorary rank of Major General, conferred upon him in 1976 by the Arab Socialist Union’s National Congress. Gaddafi accepted the honorary rank, but stated that he would continue to be known as ‘Colonel’ and to wear the rank insignia of a Colonel when in uniform.
Libyan revolution of 1969
In Libya, as in a number of other Arab countries, admission to a military academy and a career as an army officer only became available to members of the lower economic strata after independence. A military career offered an opportunity for higher education, for upward economic and social mobility, and was for many the only available means of political action. For Gaddafi and many of his fellow officers, who were inspired by Nasser’s brand of Arab nationalism, a military career was a revolutionary vocation.
As a cadet, Gaddafi associated with the Free Officers Movement. Most of his future colleagues on the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) were fellow members of his graduating class at the military academy. The frustration and shame felt by Libyan officers by Israel’s massive defeat of the Arab armies on three fronts in 1967 fuelled their determination to contribute to Arab unity by overthrowing the Libyan monarchy. An early conspirator, Gaddafi first started planning the overthrow of the monarchy while a cadet.
On 1 September 1969 a small group of junior military officers led by Gaddafi staged a bloodless coup d’état against King Idris of Libya while the king was in Turkey for medical treatment. Idris’s nephew, Crown Prince Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Sanussi, was formally deposed by the revolutionary army officers and put under house arrest; they abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the Libyan Arab Republic.
Gaddafi (left) with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1969
On gaining power he immediately ordered the shutdown of American and British military bases, including Wheelus Air Base. He told Western officials that he would expel their companies from Libya’s oil fields unless they shared more revenue. In his warning, he alluded to consultation with Nasser. The oil companies complied with the demand, increasing Libya’s share from 50 to 79 percent. In December 1969, Egyptian intelligence thwarted a planned coup against Gaddafi from high-ranking members of his leadership. Many of the dissenters had grown uneasy with his growing relationship to Egypt. In response to the failed coup, Gaddafi criminalized all political dissent and shared power only with his family and closest associates.
Gaddafi committed ethnic cleansing, expelling Italian settlers in Libya in 1970. Despising the Christian calendar, he replaced it as the country’s official with an Islamic calendar. He renamed the months of the calendar. August, named for Augustus Caesar, was renamed Hannibal, and July, after Julius Caesar, was renamed Nasser, for Gamal Abdel Nasser. From 1971 to 1977, Gaddafi approved the Arab Socialist Union, modeled on Egypt’s Arab Socialist Union (Egypt), to function as a political party in Libya.
Gaddafi increasingly devoted himself to “contemplative exile” over the next months, caught up in apocalyptic visions of revolutionary pan-Arabism and Islam locked in a mortal struggle with what he termed the encircling, demonic forces of reaction, imperialism, and Zionism. As a result, routine administrative tasks fell to Major Jallud who became prime minister in place of Gaddafi in 1972. Two years later Jallud assumed Gaddafi’s remaining administrative and protocol duties to allow Gaddafi to devote his time to revolutionary theorizing. Gaddafi remained the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the effective head of state. The foreign press speculated about an eclipse of his authority within the RCC, but Gaddafi soon dispelled such theories by imposing measures to restructure Libyan society.
Elimination of dissent
In 1969, Gaddafi created Revolutionary committees to keep tight control over internal dissent. Ten to twenty percent of Libyans worked as informants for these committees. Surveillance took place in the government, in factories, and in the education sector. People who formed a political party were executed, and talking about politics with foreigners was punishable by up to 3 years in jail. Arbitrary arrests were common and Libyans were hesitant to speak with foreigners. The government conducted executions and mutilations of political opponents in public and broadcast recordings of the proceedings on state television. Dissent was illegal under Law 75 of 1973, which denied freedom of expression. In 2010, Libya’s press was rated as 160th out of 178 nations in the Press Freedom Index by Reporters without borders.
During the 1970s, Libya executed members of the Islamist fundamentalist Hizb-ut Tahrir faction, and Gaddafi often personally presided over the executions. Libya faced internal opposition during the 1980s because of its highly unpopular war with Chad. Numerous young men cut off a fingertip to avoid conscription at the time. A mutiny by the Libyan Army in Tobruk was violently suppressed in August 1980.
From time to time Gaddafi responded to external opposition with violence. Between 1980 and 1987, Gaddafi employed his network of diplomats and recruits to assassinate at least 25 critics living abroad. His revolutionary committees called for the assassination of Libyan dissidents living abroad in April 1980, sending Libyan hit squads abroad to murder them. On 26 April 1980 Gaddafi set a deadline of 11 June 1980 for dissidents to return home or be “in the hands of the revolutionary committees”. Gaddafi stated explicitly in 1982 that “It is the Libyan people’s responsibility to liquidate such scums who are distorting Libya’s image abroad.” Libyan agents have assassinated dissidents in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. As of 2004 Libya still provided bounties on critics, including $1 million for one journalist. During the 2005 civil unrest in France, Gaddafi called Chirac and offered him his help in quelling the resistors, who were largely North African. There is growing indication that Libya’s Gaddafi-era intelligence service had a cozy relationship with western spy organizations including the CIA, who voluntarily provided information on Libyan dissidents to the regime in exchange for using Libya as a base for extraordinary renditions.
Following an abortive 1986 attempt to replace English with Russian as the primary foreign language in education, English has been taught in recent years in Libyan schools from primary level, and students have access to English-language media.
Campaign against Berber culture
Gaddafi often expressed an overt contempt for the Berbers, a non-Arab people of North Africa, and for their language, maintaining that the very existence of Berbers in North Africa is a myth created by colonialists. He adopted new names for Berber towns, and on official Libyan maps, referred to the Nafusa Mountains as the “Western mountains”. In a 1985 speech, he said of the Berber language, “If your mother transmits you this language, she nourishes you with the milk of the colonialist, she feeds you their poison” (1985). The Berber language was banned from schools and up until 2009, it was illegal for parents to name their children with Berber names. Berbers living in ancient mud-brick caravan towns such as Ghadames were forced out and moved into modern government-constructed apartments in the 1980s. During the 2011 civil war, Berber towns rebelled against Gaddafi’s rule and sought to reaffirm their ancient identity as Berbers. Gaddafi’s government strengthened anti-Berber sentiment among Libyan Arabs, weakening their opposition.
Libya enjoys large natural resources, but the high gross domestic product was concentrated on Gaddafi’s family and his elites, who amassed vast fortunes. Most of the business enterprises were controlled by Gaddafi and his family. Meanwhile, a large section of the population lives in poverty. One of the worst situations is in the eastern parts of the country.
When the rising international oil prices began to raise Gaddafi’s revenues in the 1970s, Gaddafi spent much of the revenues on arms purchases and on sponsoring his political projects abroad. Gaddafi’s relatives adopted lavish lifestyles, including luxurious homes, Hollywood film investments and private parties with American pop stars.
The Economy of Libya was centrally planned and followed Gaddafi’s socialist ideals. It benefited greatly from revenues from the petroleum sector, which contributed practically all export earnings and 30% of its GDP. These oil revenues, combined with a small population and by far Africa’s highest Education Index gave Libya the highest nominal GDP per capita in Africa. Between 2000 and 2011, Libya recorded favourable growth rates with an estimated 10.6 percent growth of GDP in 2010, the highest of any state in Africa. Gaddafi had promised “a home for all Libyans” and during his rule, new residential areas rose in empty Saharan regions. Entire populations living in mud-brick caravan towns were moved into modern homes with running water, electricity, and satellite TV. A leaked diplomatic cable describes Libyan economy as “a kleptocracy in which the government — either the al-Gaddafi family itself or its close political allies — has a direct stake in anything worth buying, selling or owning”.
At the time Gaddafi died, some of the worst economic conditions were in the eastern parts of the state. The sewage facilities in Banghazi were over 40 years old, and untreated sewage flowed into ground and coast. 97% of urban dwellers have access to “improved sanitation facilities” in Libya, this was 2% points lower than the OECD average, or 21% points above the world average. In the first 15 years of Gaddafi rule, the number of doctors per 1000/citizens increased by seven times, with the number of hospital beds increasing by three time. During Gaddafi’s rule, infant mortality rates went from 125/1000 live births, about average for Africa at the time, to 15.04/1,000, the best rate in Africa. Libyans who could afford it often had to seek medical care in neighboring countries such as Tunisia and Egypt because of lack of decent medical care in Libya.
Gaddafi described the Great Manmade River as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.
Gaddafi ordered the Libyan National Telescope Project, costing about 10 million euros.
On 4 March 2008 Gaddafi announced his intention to dissolve the country’s existing administrative structure and disburse oil revenue directly to the people. The plan included abolishing all ministries; except those of defence, internal security, and foreign affairs, and departments implementing strategic projects. In 2009, Gaddafi personally told government officials that Libya would soon experience a “new political period” and would have elections for important positions such as minister-level roles and the National Security Advisor position (a Prime Minister equivalent). He also promised to include international monitors to ensure fair elections. His speech was said to have caused quite a stir.
Libya’s society became increasingly Islamic during Gaddafi’s rule. His “purification laws” were put into effect in 1994, punishing theft by the amputation of limbs, and fornication and adultery by flogging. Under the Libyan constitution, homosexual relations are punishable by up to 5 years in jail. A Westerner was shocked in 2005 to see Libyan society, saying it was:
… a country without alcohol, where the population abides by strict codes of male-female conduct that require both sexes to stay virgins until marriage—there are no dance clubs, no bars, no young couples strolling down the street, holding hands…I go in search of the town hotspot and discover it to be the local internet café, where crowds of young men play video games, enter English-language chat rooms, and examine—however surreptitiously—Western porn sites. It takes me a few minutes to notice that there’s not a single woman in the place. Away from the progressive cities of Tripoli and Benghazi, women stay largely in the home, out of sight. A local man, Mahmud, tells me that women here aren’t allowed to see or interact with males outside of their immediate family, including any would-be husband.”
Activities in Sudan and Chad
Gaddafi, Algerian President Houari Boumediene, and Syrian President Assad attending the Summit in Libya in December 1977.
Gaddafi (right) with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in 1977
After Nasser’s death, Gaddafi attempted to become the leader of Arab nationalism. He wanted to create a “Great Islamic State of the Sahel”, unifying the Arab states of North Africa into one. As early as 1969, Gaddafi contributed to the Islamization of Sudan and Chad, granting military bases and support to the FROLINAT revolutionary forces. In 1971, when Muslims took power in Sudan, he offered to merge Libya with Sudan. Gaafar Nimeiry, the President of Sudan, turned him down and angered Gaddafi by signing a peace settlement with the Sudanese Christians. Gaddafi took matters into his own hands in 1972, organizing the Islamic Legion, a paramilitary group, to arabize the region. He dispatched The Islamic Legion to Lebanon, Syria, Uganda, and Palestine to take active measures to ensure Islamic control. The Islamic Legion was highly active in Sudan and Chad, and nearly removed the Toubou population of southern Libya through violence. Through the 1970s and 1980s, Gaddafi led an armed conflict against Chad, and occupied the Aouzou strip. During the 1970s, two Muslim leaders, Goukouni Oueddei and Habre, were fighting against the Christian southerners for control of Chad. Gaddafi supported them, and when they seized control in 1979, he offered to merge with Chad. Goukouni turned him down, and Gaddafi withdrew Libyan troops in 1981 because of growing opposition from France and neighboring African nations. Gaddafi’s withdrawal left Goukouni vulnerable in Chad, and in 1982, his former partner, Habre, led a coup to remove him from Chad. Gaddafi helped Goukouni regain territory in Chad, and fought with Habre’s forces. As a side note, Gaddafi’s occupation of Chad led to the liberation of French archeologist Françoise Claustre in 1977. In 1987, Gaddafi engaged in a full-out war with Chad, suffering a humiliating loss in 1987 during the Toyota War. Libya took heavy casualties, losing one tenth of its army (7,500 troops) and 1.5 billion dollars worth of military equipment. Chad lost 1,000 troops, and was supported by both the United States and France. During the war, Gaddafi lost his long-time ally, Goukouni Oueddei, who repaired his relationship with Habre in 1987. Gaddafi gave Habre an offer to make complete peace, and promised to return all Chadian prisoners in Libya. He also promised to pay reparations for the damage done to Chad, and promised financial support to fight poverty. He also announced that he would push to end the death penalty in Libya, end “revolutionary” courts, free hundreds of political prisoners, and warmed relations with African leaders concerned about his “Green revolution.” Former Libyan soldiers and rebel groups supported by Libya continued to fight the Chadian government independent of Gaddafi. Their organization, the Arab Gathering, was an Arab supremacist group that also contributing to violence in Sudan. Members of this group later developed into leaders of the Janjaweed.
War against Egypt
The disappointment and failure Nasser faced for his lost Six-Day War motivated Gaddafi to better coordinate Arab attacks on Israel. Beginning in 1972, Gaddafi granted financial support and military training to Palestinian militant groups against Israel. He also strengthened his unity with Egypt, and in 1972, convinced Anwar Sadat to share the same flag and join a partial union with Libya. Gaddafi had offered a fully unified state where Sadat would be president and he would be defense minister. Sadat distrusted Gaddafi and refused. Gaddafi was further disappointed with Egypt’s political system, as he spoke to Egypt’s Arab Socialist Union and was suggested “a partial merger, in order to allow time for thorough and careful study”. Gaddafi quipped back, saying “There’s no such thing as a partial merger”. In 1973, Gaddafi secretly sent Libyan military planes to join the Egyptian Air Force. The outbreak of the Yom Kippur War surprised Gaddafi, as Egypt and Syria planned it without his knowledge. Gaddafi felt that the war wasted resources and manpower to chase limited objectives, and accused Sadat of trying to weaken the FAR by launching the War. According to Gaddafi, Assad and Sadat were foolish to fight for small areas of Israeli-occupied territory when the entire land could be returned to the Palestinians outright. He said, “I will participate only in a war if the aim is to oust the usurpers and send the Jews back to Europe from where they have come since 1948 to colonize an Arab land.” Gaddafi’s relationship with Egypt further weakened because he opposed a cease-fire with Israel and called Sadat a coward for giving up after one Israeli counteroffensive. Gaddafi also believed that the Soviet Union and the United States would join forces with Israel, and would deploy troops on the demarcation lines to invade and “colonize” the Arab nations. Anwar Sadat was equally angry with Gaddafi and revealed that he was responsible for foiling a 1973 submarine attack Libya planned for sinking the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 during an Israeli cruise. Gaddafi fired back, saying the Arabs could have destroyed Israel within 12 hours if they had adopted a sound strategy. Gaddafi charged Egyptian reporters with the breakdown of Libyan-Egyptian relations in 1973, and said Sadat was in-part to blame because he had “no control” of Egyptian information media. Egypt’s peace talks in 1977 led to the Steadfastness and Confrontation Front, a group Gaddafi formed to reject the recognition of the Israeli state. Libya’s relations with Egypt broke down entirely that year, leading to the short-lived Libyan–Egyptian War. During the war, Libya sent its military across the border, but Egyptian forces fought back and forced them to retreat. Gaddafi’s animosity with Sadat was so high that in 1981, Gaddafi declared his death a national holiday. He called it a just “punishment” for his role in the Camp David Accords.
Gaddafi’s signed an agreement with Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba to merge nations in 1974. The pact came as a surprise because Bouguiba had rebuked similar offers for over two years previously. Weeks after the agreement, he postponed a referendum on the issue, effectively ending it weeks later. The idea of merging states was highly unpopular in Tunisia, and cost Bourguiba much of his people’s respect. The agreement was said to allow Bourguiba the presidency while Gaddafi would be defense minister. A later treaty with Morocco’s Hassan II in 1984 broke down in two years when Hassan II met with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Gaddafi said recognition of Israel was “an act of treason”. In 1989, Gaddafi was overjoyed by the Maghreb Pact between Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya. Gaddafi saw the Pact as a first step towards the formation of “one invincible Arab nation” and shouted for a state “from Marrakesh to Bahrain”, pumping his fists in the air.
Gaddafi’s image in the Arab world was damaged severely in 1978 when Shia imam Musa al-Sadr disappeared en route to Libya. The Libyan government consistently denied responsibility, but Lebanon held Gaddafi responsible, and continues to do so. Allegedly, Yasser Arafat asked Gaddafi to eliminate al-Sadr because of his opposition to Palestinians in the Lebanese Civil War. Shia Lebanese vigilantes hijacked two Libyan aircraft in 1981, demanding information on al-Sadr’s whereabouts. Shia Muslims across the Arab world continue to view Gaddafi negatively since this incident. His relations with Shia-populated Lebanon and Iran soured as a result. Lebanon formally indicted Gaddafi in 2008 for al-Sadr’s disappearance. Some reports claim that al-Sadr still lives and secretly remains in jail in Libya.
In 1995 Gaddafi expelled some 30,000 Palestinians living in Libya, a response to the peace negotiations that had commenced between Israel and the PLO.
Weapons of mass destruction programs
Gaddafi’s attempts to procure weapons of mass destruction began in 1972, when Gaddafi tried to get the People’s Republic of China to sell him a nuclear bomb.
In 1977, he tried to get a bomb from Pakistan, but Pakistan severed ties before Libya succeeded in building a weapon. After ties were restored, Gaddafi tried to buy a nuclear weapon from India, but instead, India and Libya agreed for a peaceful use of nuclear energy, in line with India’s “atoms for peace” policy.
Several people around the world were indicted for assisting Gaddafi in his chemical weapons programs. Thailand reported its citizens had helped build a storage facility for nerve gas. Germany sentenced a businessman, Jurgen Hippenstiel-Imhausen, to five years in prison for involvement in Libyan chemical weapons.
Inspectors from the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) verified in 2004 that Libya owned a stockpile of 23 metric tons of mustard gas and more than 1,300 metric tons of precursor chemicals. Disposing of such large quantities of chemical weapons was expected to be expensive. Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by US forces in 2003, Gaddafi announced that his nation had an active weapons of mass destruction program, but was willing to allow international inspectors into his country to observe and dismantle them. US President George W. Bush and other supporters of the Iraq War portrayed Gaddafi’s announcement as a direct consequence of the Iraq War. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a supporter of the Iraq War, was quoted as saying that Gaddafi had privately phoned him, admitting as much. Many foreign policy experts, however, contend that Gaddafi’s announcement was merely a continuation of his prior attempts at normalizing relations with the West and getting the sanctions removed. To support this, they point to the fact that Libya had already made similar offers starting four years before one was finally accepted. International inspectors turned up several tons of chemical weaponry in Libya, as well as an active nuclear weapons program.
From the beginning of his leadership, Gaddafi confronted foreign oil companies for increases in revenues. Immediately after assuming office, he demanded that oil companies pay 10 percent more taxes and an increased royalty of 44 cents per barrel. Gaddafi argued that Libyan oil was closer to Europe, and was cheaper to ship than oil from the Persian Gulf. Western companies refused his demands, and Gaddafi asserted himself by cutting the production of Occidental Petroleum, an American company in Libya, from 800,000 to 500,000 that year. Occidental Petroleum’s President, Armand Hammer, met with Gaddafi in Tripoli and had difficulty understanding exactly what he wanted at first. He said at one meeting, Prime Minister Abdessalam Jalloud finally took out his gun belt and left the loaded revolver in full view. Later, Hammer recalled that moment and said he felt then “that Gaddafi was ready to negotiate”. In The Age of Oil, historians considered Gaddafi’s success in 1970 to be the “decisive spark that set off an unprecedented chain reaction” in oil-producing nations. Libya continued a winning streak against the oil companies throughout the 1970s energy crisis; Later that year, the Shah of Iran raised his demands to match those of Gaddafi. OPEC nations began a game of “leap frogging” to win further concessions from the oil companies after following Gaddafi’s lead.
Gaddafi and the Shah of Iran both argued for quadrupling the cost of oil in 1975. In 1975, Gaddafi allegedly organized the hostage incident at OPEC in Vienna, Austria.