On April 14, 1986, the US President, Ronald Reagan, had ordered the aerial campaign in retaliation for Libyan agents’ bombing of a West Berlin nightclub on April 5 that killed three people, including a U.S. serviceman. Operation El Dorado Canyon was the name of the operation. The United States Air Force F-111’s and Navy 15 A-6 and A-7 fighter planes launched a strategic bombardment of five targets in Libya. The strikes cantered at designated areas in Tripoli, and Benghazi. The specific targets included military barracks and bases, a training centre for underwater sabotage operations, and a military airfield. One of the targeted barracks contained a residential compound where Muammar al-Qaddafi lived with his family and targets within residential areas. Libya Libya
It is a never forgotten day in Libya’s history. The bombings had not only reflected on the ground and left people dead. Indeed, it reflected on how Libya was perceived internationally. In the making of this article, I am shedding light on the experiences of citizens with that attack. On the anniversary of the day, I always get to hear the story from my mother. She narrates the details of how they left Tripoli heading to our hometown in Nafousa Mountains early in the morning. She said that some things they had carried fell off the car. They couldn’t stop the car to get the falling items. This is how scary it was for many people at that time. Rumours spread about further bombings. The following stories are from people who lived in Tripoli during the raid. There are no stories from Benghazi.
Mr. Mohamed Alfigih, who was the head of the emergency committee at the National Oil Corporation, told me his story:
”In 1986, it was 2:15 am. I lived in Hay Al Andalus which was not far from Bab Alazizya, the residence of Muammar Al Gaddafi. I was informed beforehand that there were threats against Libya. The regime already knew the source of the attack. I turned the radio on and I listened carefully. During my studies in Cairo, I learned how to take early emergency measures. Therefore, I opened all the windows in the house. While president Ronald Reagan was on Television announcing that the US air jets are 15 minutes away from Tripoli. My cousin, who was based in the US at that time, called on the landline and told me that he was watching the raid. First, the jets attacked Banina airport in Benghazi and a person died as a result.
I went straight to the office and we had an emergency meeting. We wanted to study what would happen in relation to the oil sector. It was an emergency at that time from the technical aspect. We worked on making strategic storage for Libya. Thus, we had to create a stock that could cover cities for at least 90 days. However, where is the president in all of this? he was in an operating room under the ground! Libyans struggled after this event. Libya used the Air Force for two or three days and people were scared. You can imagine what 15 minutes raid could do. After 15 days things got back to normal. ”
The Libyan photographer Hiba Shalabi, originally from Tripoli, shared her story:
”I was 9 years old at that time. I was with her sister and were were listening to the radio and they went out to their garage. One bomb fell on Meshergi family residence. The house was shaking. My family and I kept on hearing cars moving and they didn’t understand what was happening. Followed by another bombing close the French Embassy’s area. Shirmit family whom their daughter passed away. The days three after the bombing, we stayed in the basement.”
Another resident in Tripoli shared the following:
”I was only 15, We lived in Ben Ashour Street Near the French Embassy. In front of the Msiherghi’s villa. I was in the bathroom having a shower after preparing pizza, cakes and sandwiches with my mother for my school trip the next day. While waiting for my turn to use the bath. My elder brother called me to listen to the statement by the US president. During the announcement, my brother was listening to music.
I remember my father knocking in the door telling me to quickly put on my clothes and come out. As we heard the sounds of airplanes flying close. I got out to find my elder sister waiting for me. We ran to the living room. She went to get my brothers. I went to the kitchen to get our cat. I saw an airplane from the kitchen window and went out shouting to my family ‘‘We are under attack’‘. For instance, the last thing I remember was looking at the door. My father standing next to my mother. She was sitting in the seat by the entrance with my younger sister in her lab. He was hugging them both in a protective way and calling for us to gather around them.
The re-birth of a family
An explosion happened. I remember my sister pulling me down and a shrapnel flying over my head to hit the wall of room. I think we went unconscious for few seconds or moments. Then my sister woke me up crying for me to answer her. She was calling for my parents and my siblings. I stood there and everything was dusty and hazy there was no doors or windows and my parents where no where near the door. We started screaming for them. Before we found that they were laying unconscious close from us covered with dust.
My father face and hands were covered with blood. He refused to let us clean his face and made sure we were all ok. My elder brother went out and tried to make sense of what was going on. He heard that our neighbours died. His long childhood friend was under a wall and people tried to pull him out. As a result , he is paralyzed ever since.
Then my brother got my mother’s car out of the garage and we sat inside the back seat letting my father and mother in the front seat while my elder brother drove us out. We arrived to the hospital. My father decided that the safest thing is to go to my grandmother’s house. We arrived there to the shook of the neighbours who thought the explosions were fireworks. We stayed there for sometime until we fixed the house and went back.”
Mr. Lutfi Shahawi, a loving father and grandfather, originally from the old city of Tripoli:
‘’I lived in Ben Ashour with my family. We left from Ben Ashour to my sister’s house. We were in Jeraba and we soon realized that the bombing was close to my sister! Only those originally from Tripoli stayed while the rest left to their origin cities. Many accidents happened because of fear as people were driving quickly. It is as if Tripoli was a desert. We went to a next door farm to stay under the tree. For two weeks, we remained waiting for a new raid and Gaddafi made new claims every single day. A Palestinian citizen, Bassam Al Wifani, his daughter died because of fear.’’