It was early on a Monday morning. Our church office was on the lower floor of our home in the capital of the West African nation of Ghana. I will never forget the date—June 4, 1979.
As I descended the stairs heading toward the office, our office clerk came running out shouting: "A coup! A coup!"
We were about to experience a classic African coup, the violent overthrow of a government. We listened to the radio that was playing martial music, interspersed with occasional gunfire as the government-controlled (and only) radio station changed hands two or three times during the day—with junior officers of the air force attempting to overthrow the senior officers of the army who had enjoyed power for more than six years.
Two days of fighting followed, during which time it was too dangerous to go anywhere. For more than four days we had no electricity—which meant that all the meat in our freezer was ruined, food that had been difficult to find. Our water supply was intermittent, which was a far greater concern. We had two children at the time, one only weeks old.
Four days after the coup, a Friday, the headline in our local paper was simply: "NO FOOD." The new revolutionary government of young, idealistic socialists had introduced price controls on food items, leading to inevitable shortages. A few days after this a number of senior Ghanaians, including former heads of state, were taken to a local beach and summarily shot.
Libyan fingerprints on events
It turned out later that this coup had been encouraged by Libya's revolutionary Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who had himself come to power in a coup 10 years earlier. His youthful zeal inspired others to follow suit. Ghana was one of three countries where successful violent coups had a Libyan connection.
A few months later, I made a second visit to Liberia. The first time I traveled there, the ruling president was a descendant of the African- American slaves who returned to Africa and founded the country in the early part of the 19th century. By my second visit, he and his government had been overthrown in a coup arguably more violent than Ghana's. Members of the old cabinet had been taken out to the beach, tied to stakes and executed.
Over two decades of violence and civil war was to follow before the country could start to rebuild. Again, Libya's hand was in the coup.
Similar events took place in Burkina Faso, Ghana's neighbor to the north, where Thomas Sankara came to power in 1983. To another young Marxist revolutionary with pan-Africanist ideals like those of Gaddafi, violence was the means to an end.
These three coups impacted me greatly. Exactly how many government overthrows throughout the region owed their origins to Libya's Gaddafi I cannot say, but these three assuredly did.
Will Gaddafi again turn to terrorism?
Scripture tells us that "those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52 Matthew 26:52Then said Jesus to him, Put up again your sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
American King James Version×). As I write this article, Libya's president is waging a fierce fight to keep his throne—and I do not use the term throne incorrectly. Although Gaddafi overthrew King Idris in 1969 and established a republic, he clearly wanted to start his own dynasty, planning on one of his sons taking over the reins when it's his time to go.
One thing is clear: If Gaddafi is not removed by the rebel forces on the ground—which would only be made possible by effective air raid strikes of the primarily Western coalition of forces that have come against him—he will seek to hit back against them with all the violent means at his disposal.
In the March 10, 2011, Security Weekly newsletter from Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting), Scott Stewart asked, "Will Libya again become the arsenal of terrorism?" He explained: "During the 1970s and 1980s, Libya served as the arsenal of terrorism. While this role may have received the most publicity when large shipments of weapons were intercepted that Libya was trying to send to the Provisional Irish Republican Army, Libyan involvement in arming terrorist groups was far more widespread. Traces conducted on the weapons used in terrorist attacks by groups such as the Abu Nidal Organization frequently showed that the weapons had come from Libya."
Because of Libya's continued involvement in terrorist acts, there were frequent tensions with Western nations. In 1981 the United States shot down two Libyan fighter planes trying to enforce Libya's claim to international waters in the Gulf of Sidra. In 1986, U.S. forces sank two Libyan ships and attacked missile bases that had fired at American aircraft.
In retaliation a bomb tore through the side of a TWA flight in Europe, killing four; three days later another bomb blew up a disco in Berlin frequented by U.S. servicemen. Three were killed, including two American military personnel, and some 200 others injured. In retaliation, U.S. planes bombed Libya.
Conflict with Britain and France
Gaddafi certainly gave Libya a higher profile than his predecessor. In 1983 a British policewoman was shot and killed by gunmen inside the London Libyan embassy in total violation of international laws that govern the conduct of embassies. A siege of 11 days followed until Britain allowed the Libyans to leave the country.
In 1988 I was in Ghana when I heard the news of the midair explosion that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. I remember the date well because my wife had flown home to Detroit to visit her mother, and friends started calling thinking she might have been on the flight. I'm thankful to say she was not, but 259 people were—all of whom were killed, in addition to 11 other people on the ground.
Investigators traced the bomb back to Libyan agents. Only recently did a prominent Libyan make it clear that the bomb would not have been authorized by anybody but Colonel Gaddafi.
It's interesting to note that the French government first suggested the no-fly zone that went into effect in late March. More than 20 years ago it was France that thwarted Libya's plans to overthrow the government of neighboring Chad, a former French colony. In retaliation, Libyan agents placed a bomb on a French plane taking off from Chad's capital in September 1989, killing all 170 on board.
Clearly, Libya under Gaddafi has made many enemies, so it's not surprising that Western governments, notably the French and the British, have a vested interest in seeing him removed from power and are doing what they can to help the rebels fighting against him. However, this is fraught with danger for the major Western powers.
In his Stratfor analysis, Scott Stewart expressed concern that the current turmoil in Libya could boost Islamic jihadists. "The conflict in Libya could provide jihadists in Libya more room to operate than they have enjoyed for many years," he wrote. "This operational freedom for the jihadists might have an impact not only in Libya but also in the broader region, and one way this impact could manifest itself is in the supply of arms.
"The looting of the arms depots in Libya is reminiscent of the looting in Iraq following the U.S. invasion in 2003. There are also reports that foreign governments are discussing providing arms to the Libyan rebels . . . While it is far from clear if any of those discussions are serious or whether any potential patron would ever follow through, past operations to arm rebels have had long-lasting repercussions in places like Afghanistan and Central America."
Clearly, the attempted overthrow of Gaddafi is not simply an example of an oppressed people seeking freedom by overthrowing a tyrant. While many may want a democratic system, there are others who don't, including Gaddafi loyalists and jihadists seeking to take advantage of the situation.
In a further analysis by Stewart titled "Libya's Terrorism Option" (March 23), he speculated about further acts of terrorism against the Western nations intervening militarily in Libya: "Certainly, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has no doubt that the U.S. and European military operations against the Libyan military targets are attacks against his regime. He has specifically warned France and the United Kingdom that they would come to regret the intervention . . .
"Given Libya's past use of terrorist strikes to lash out when attacked by Western powers, Gadhafi's threats certainly raise the possibility that, desperate and hurting, he will once again return to terrorism as a means to seek retribution for the attacks against his regime. While threats of sanctions and retaliation have tempered Gadhafi's use of terrorism in recent years, his fear may evaporate if he comes to believe he has nothing to lose."
A coming clash between north and south
Those familiar with Bible prophecy must now ask if this could be a precursor to events prophesied in the last few verses of Daniel 11: "At the time of the end the king of the South shall attack him; and the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships" (verse 40).
References to the kings of the North and South in chapter 11 of Daniel refer to two great empires of the ancient world that came about following the premature death of Alexander the Great. After his demise, his empire was divided up among four of his generals.
One was Ptolemy, who founded the Ptolemaic dynasty of ancient Egypt that ended three centuries later with the death of Queen Cleopatra. This kingdom was to the south of Jerusalem, hence the references to the "king of the South." The "king of the North" referred to leaders of the empire of the Greek general Seleucus and the Seleucid dynasty, the capital of which was Antioch. These two powers were often in conflict.
At the time of the end, once again there will be two major powers in conflict in the region—a revived Roman Empire to the north in the form of a new European-centered superpower and an alliance from the Islamic world to the south. The former will invade North Africa, including Egypt and Libya, areas of so much recent turmoil. (For more details, see "Egypt in History and Prophecy" and "The Origins and Future of Mideast Conflict Over Israel".)
Major terrorist attacks against Europe sponsored by Gaddafi or other terrorist-friendly regimes could certainly lead to events gaining momentum towards fulfillment of these prophecies. With turmoil in the Middle East affecting many nations, it seems more likely that the outcome of the current crisis is going to be the coming to power of Islamic jihadists across the region who may then seek to attack Europe, bringing on a great war between civilizations.
We must keep our eyes on the Middle East, the ground zero of Bible prophecy!