Omar Al-Mukhtar: The lion of the Libyan desert

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Omar Al-Mukhtar

Libya has been engaged in violence since its uprising of 2011 and the assassination of Gaddafi. Now, this large tribal society of about 6.70 million people suffers the curse of civil war.

Ironically, Libyans are manipulated by some foreign powers for their own benefits. Ironically, the country is torn apart by the battle primarily between the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) headquartered in Benghazi.

At this crucial time, the Libyans must remember their national hero… Omar al-Mukhtar. He was also known as Sidi Omar, and his only vision was to free and unite Libya. This remarkable figure will always remain an apostle for nationalism for the whole Arab world.

The early life of Omar al-Mukhtar

Omar al-Mukhtar was born between 1856 and 1862 in a poor family. His birthplace was Zanzur town near Tobruk. Omar’s father died on the holy pilgrimage of Hajj towards Mecca. Thus, he was raised by his mother and uncle.

Al-Mukhtar received his early education in the local mosque and madrasa. Then, after completing it he went to the Senussi university of Jaghbub. Omar was a true Muslim. He spent his youth studying our peaceful religion. He was so good at it that he became a hafidh at a very young age.

The invasion of Libya by the Italian forces

In October 1911, during the Italian Turkish war, the Italian Royal navy or Regia Marina bombarded the city of Tripoli and Benghazi for three days. Thus the Ottoman administration surrendered their territory to the Italians.

Omar al-Mukhtar was a teacher of the Quran when the Italian forces invaded Libya in 1911. He was in his fifties then. Life began to change for him. He was determined to save his nation from the toxic grip of the Italian fascists. The Italians used to call their invasion Roman Reconquista. Omar took a vow to end it.

Omar’s guerrilla warfare

He established a small yet crafty group of rebels. They skilfully attacked military outposts, ambushed troops. They used to cut supply routes and destroy train lines also. For Omar, this was the jihad. He was skilled in desert warfare. Hence, he repeatedly led his small, highly alert groups in successful attacks against the Italian army. After the attack, they would fade back into the desert. They were named the ‘Ghost army’. Omar was called the Lion of the Libyan desert.

For the highly advanced Italian army, Omar al-Mukhtar was like a needle in the hay. They were unable to trace him. Even unable to resist his guerrilla attacks. For the next two and half decades, Omar was the face of the Libyan resistance. He always fought against injustice, oppression, and exploitation.

It is said that he picked up the ammunition to protect his motherland from fascism. He was not after any political power. Omar inflicted a strong sense of nationalism and love for motherland among his followers.

The execution of Omar al-Mukhtar

Omar’s struggle of nearly 21 years ended on 11th September 1931. He was wounded in a battle near Slonta. As a consequence, the Italian army captured him. He was asked to surrender and become the advisory of the Italian Army, as a true Muslim, Omar politely refused.

On 16th September 1931, the Italian court order the death penalty of Omar. Mukhtar was hanged before his followers in the Suluq prisoner of war camp. He was 73 years old then.

Despite his death, the Libyan resistance continued. Omar trained a number of eligible leaders, they never stopped resisting. The Italians hoped that the Libyan resistance would die with Omar al-Mukhtar, but he is the true example of the proverb… Ideas are bulletproof.