Who Is Moammar Gadhafi?

The eccentric leader with a unique fashion sense came to power in 1969.

ByABC News
February 21, 2011, 1:07 PM

Feb. 21, 2011 -- His name has more than 30 commonly used spellings, his fashion is flamboyant, he has a retinue of female bodyguards and insists on pitching a large Bedouin tent in which to stay when he travels.

Moammar Gadhafi is an eccentric leader who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1969 as the 27-year-old captain who deposed a king. He fancied himself the Arab world's answer to Mao or Castro, vowing to bring "Islamic socialism" to Libya.

Since his rise to power 42 years ago Gadhafi has been an erratic player on the international stage, continually switching policies and allegiances throughout the decades.

Long before Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden ever made America's most wanted list, Gadhafi, 68, was the world's top sponsor of international terrorism. President Ronald Reagan called him the "mad dog of the Middle East" and said that Gadhafi's goal was "a world revolution, a Muslim fundamentalist revolution."

In retaliation for Libya's bombing of a West German disco that killed two American soldiers in 1986, Reagan ordered an air strike on Gadhafi's compound. Gadhafi survived the strike but his adopted baby daughter died.

The United States and Libya would be at odds again in 1988 after the United States determined that Libyan agents were behind the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The bombing killed 270 people, including 189 Americans.

The terrorist attack resulted in the United States and the United Nations imposing strict sanctions on Libya. One year later, Libya would be blamed for another terrorist attack, the 1989 bombing of a French airliner over Niger in West Africa. That attack killed 170 people of 17 nationalities.