Omar Mokhtar was from the tribe of Mnifa, born in a small village called Janzour located in the eastern part of Barqa not to be confused with the city of western Libya called Janzour which is more well known. He was the leader of the resistance movement against the Italian military occupation of Libya for more than twenty years.
A teacher of the Quran by profession, Mukhtar was also skilled in desert tactics. He knew his country’s geography well, and used that knowledge to his advantage in battles against the Italians, who were not accustomed to desert warfare. He repeatedly led his small, highly alert groups in successful attacks against the Italians, after which they would fade back into the desert terrain. Mukhtar’s men skillfully attacked outposts, ambushed troops, and cut lines of supply and communication. The Italians were left astonished and embarrassed to have been outsmarted and tricked by mere “Bedouin.”
In 1922 he reorganized the Mojahideen and re-ignited the resistance against Italy after World War I when the Italians thought that they succeeded in silencing the Libyan resistance. Omar Al-Mokhtar, was ill couple of times and many of his comrades asked him to retire and leave the country, he was about 83 years old. But he refused and kept fighting and he deserved a name given to him as “The Lion of the Desert.”
Italian Invasion in Libya:
In October of 1911, Italian colonial battleships reached the shores of Tripoli, Libya. The Italian’s fleet leader, Farafelli, made a demand to the Libyans to surrender Libya to the Italians or the city would be destroyed at once. The Libyans fled, but the Italians attacked Tripoli anyway, bombing the city for three days and thereafter proclaiming the Libyan population in Tripoli to be “committed and strongly bound to Italy.” The event marked the beginning of a series of battles between the Italian occupiers and the Libyan Omar Mukhtar’s forces.
Feeling that they may lose Libya to the Mojahideen, the Italian authorities sent one of their bloodiest high ranking officers Badolio who used the most inhuman measures to end the resistance. He did not just lead the fight against Omar Al-Moktar and his comrades, but he also punished even those who were living peacefully in the cities and villages accusing them of helping the Mojahideen. Badolio was not the only one whome the Italian government thought able to end the Libyan resistance through using the most inhumane and blodiest measures. Mosoliny, the infamous Italian dictator, sent another high ranking officer to kill thousands and thousands of inocent Libyans, young and old. fighters and non-fighters. Mosolini thought that the solution to the Libyan problem was Rodolfo Grasiani and by sending him to lead the fight against the Libyans he was telling his cabinet that anything and everything must be done to control Libya.
The Italians first concentrated their attack on the coast cities, Tripoli, Benghazi, Misrata and Derna. Major battles took place in Al-Hani near Tripoli (October 23, 1911) , Ar-Rmaila near Misrata, Al-Fwaihat near Benghazi (March 1912) and Wadi Ash-Shwaer near Derna. Other battles took place on the coast and in other cities, villages, mountains and desert. One of the major battles was Al-Gherthabiya near Sirt (April 1915) where the Italians lost thousands of their soldiers.
Although the Italians succeeded in controling most of Libya after years of resistance and struggle (Jihad), they could not control the whole country because the Libyan fighters (Mojahideen) left their homes and headed for the mountains where they planned their attacks against the Italian armies. Some of the major Libyan fighters (Mojahideen) against the Italians were Omar Al-Moktar, Ramazan As-Swaihli, Mohammad Farhat Az-Zawi, Al-Fadeel Bo-Omar, Solaiman Al-Barouni and Silima An-Nailiah to name a few. Omar Al-Moktar is considered the great symbol for the Libyan resistance (Jihad) against the Italian occupation. He reorganized the Mojahideen in The Green Mountain (Aj-Jabal Al-Akdar) North East Libya and he re-ignited the resistance against Italy after World War I when the Italians thought that they succeeded in silencing the Libyan resistance.
The Original Rebel and Plannings of Omar and Italians Army:
In the mountainous region of Jebel Akhdar (the Green Mountain) Italian Governor Mombelli succeeded in 1924 in activating a counter-guerrilla force that inflicted a harsh defeat on the rebels in April 1925. Omar then quickly modified his own tactics. In March 1927, notwithstanding the occupation of Giarabub (February 1926) and the reenforcement of the oppression under then Governor Teruzzi, Omar surprised an Italian military force at Raheiba. Between 1927 and 1928 Omar fully reorganized the Senusite forces, who were being hunted constantly by the Italians.
Even General Teruzzi recognized Omar’s qualities of “exceptional perseverance and strong will power.” Pietro Badoglio, the new governor of Libya (January 1929), after extensive negotiations was able to reach a compromise with Omar similar to previous Italo-Senusite accords. Italian sources falsely described the situation as an act of complete submission by Omar.
At the end of October 1929 Omar denounced the compromise and reestablished a unity of action among Libyan forces, preparing himself for the ultimate confrontation with General Rodolfo Graziani, the military commander from March 1930. Having failed in a massive offensive in June against Omar’s forces, Graziani, in full accord with Badoglio, De Bono (minister of the colonies), and Benito Mussolini, initiated a strong plan to decisively break off the Cirenaica resistance. The plan was to transfer the Gebel population (around 100,000 persons) to concentration camps on the coast and to close the borders. Grasiani built a wired wall 300 Kilometers long, 2 meters high and 3 meters wide from Bardiyat Slaiman port North Libya to Al-Jagboub South East Libya, thus preventing any foreign(Egypt) help to the fighters and breaking up the solidarity of the population.
From the beginning of 1931 the measures taken by Graziani took their toll on the Senusist resistance. The rebels were deprived of help and reinforcements, spied upon, hit by Italian aircraft, and pursued by the Italian forces aided by local informers. In spite of hardships and increasing risks, Omar courageously continued the fight, but on September 11, 1931, he was ambushed near Zonta because they were out of food, out of mens, out of information and very little ammunations left.
Italian Army forced Libyians to live in Camps:
Italian Army built concentration camps where thousands of Libyans must live under complete control of the Italian army. Grasiany built concentration camps in: Al-Aghaila, Al-Maghroun, Solouq and Al-Abiyar to name a few. By the end of November 1929 all Libyans who live in tents in Al-Jabal Al-Akdar, Mortaf-Aat Al-Thahir from Beneena North to Ash-Shlaithemiya South, from Tawkera to the southern desert of Balt Abdel-Hafeeth and all the members of any tribe that has one or more of its sons fighting with Mojahideen, all those and more, thousands and thousands of Libyans were forced to leave their land and live in one of the concentration camps mentioned above.
In 1933, the Italian Army Health Department Chairman, Dr. Todesky wrote in his book (Cerinaica today): “From May 1930 to September 1930 more than 80,000 Libyans were forced to leave their land and live in concentration camps, they were taken 300 at a time watched by soldiers to make sure that the Libyans go directly to the concentration camps.
Peoples life in the Camps:
Life in the camps was miserable and thousands of Libyans died of hunger, illness and some of them were hanged or shot because they believed to be helping the Mojahideen. Dr. Todesky wrote (continued from his book) “By the end of 1930 all Libyans who live in tents were forced to go and live in the camps. 55% of the Libyans died in the camps.” The Libyan historian Mahmoud Ali At-Taeb said in an interview with the Libyan magazine Ash-Shoura (October 1979) that in November 1930 there were at least seventeen funerals a day in the camps due to hunger, illness and depression.
When some world newspapers talked about the inhumane life in the concentration camps in Libya, the Italian army started giving the Libyans some dry parley (22 Kilo-grams per person per month!…) which was too little to late. Outside the camps, in the mountains, the Mojahideen continued to fight the Italian occupation, but by the year 1931 the Mojahideen were out of food, out of information and out of ammunitions. The leader of the Mojahideen, Omar Al-Moktar, was ill couple of times and many of his comrades asked him to retire and leave the country, he was about 83 years old. But he refused and kept fighting.
No respect of human laws:
Grasiani agreed to go to Libya if and only if Mosolini let him do the job without any consideration or respect for rules and laws in Italy or in the World and Mosolini agreed immediately. He planned his murderous attack on the Libyans, all Libyans according to Mosoliny’s Motto “If you are not with me, you are against me!” which means the only way to control the country is by killing almost half of its population and the Italians did cause the death of half of Libya’s men, women, elderly and childern, directly through public hangings and shootings and indirectly (hunger, illness and horror) for the sake of one thing: showing the world that they have the power to invade and capture colonies just like the other powers in the world.
Capture and Execution:
Mukhtar’s nearly twenty years struggle came to an end when he became wounded in battle and was subsequently captured by the Italian army. The Libyan hero was treated like a prize catch by the Italians. Though in his late eighties, Mukhtar was shackled with heavy chains from his waist and wrists because of the army’s fear that he just might escape. Mukhtar’s capture was a serious blow to his people. However, his resilience had an impact on his jailers, who later said they were overwhelmed by his steadfastness. His interrogators later confessed that Mukhtar looked them in the eye and read verses of peace from the Qur’an as he was tortured and interrogated.
Mukhtar was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be executed by hanging in a public place. The fairness of his trial has been disputed by historians and scholars. When asked if he wished to say any last words, he replied with the Qur’anic clause:
“From Allah we have come, and to Allah we will return.”
On September 16, 1931, in the hope that the Libyan resistance movement would wither and die without him, Mukhtar was hanged in front of his followers in the concentration camp of Sollouq the orders of the Italian court. They forced the Libyans to watch their hero been hanged. There were no considerations of human rights in the Libya.
But, remember that the Italians caused the death of half of Libya’s population and killing Omar Al-Moktar to the Italians was ending the Libyan resistance which to them means finally taking control of the country after 20 years of struggle. Libya was under the Italian occupation till 1943 when Italy was defeated in World War II and Libya became under the Allies Armies occupation till December 24, 1951 when Libya achieved its independance after years and years of occupation.
Many peoples have taken inspiration from Omar Mokhtar struggle:
Today his face is shown on the Libyan 10 Dinar bill. His final years were immortalized in the movie The Lion of the Desert (1981), starring Anthony Quinn, Oliver Reed, and Irene Papas.
Streets are named for him not only in his native Libya but in many other Arab countries as well. In particular, many fighters which they are fighting for their rights have taken inspiration from his struggle.