Omar Mukhtar (Arabic ŕ„— «Š„ő «— ĎUmar Al-Mokhtār) (1862 - September 16, 1931) 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. In 1912, following the Italian capture of Libya from the occupying Turks the previous year, Omar Mukhtar organized and devised strategies for the Libyan resistance against the Italian colonization.
In October of 1911, Italian colonial battleships reached the shores of Libya. The Italianís 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 there after 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. (See Italian invasion of Libya)
In this war, Omar Al Mukhtar was arrested by the Italians but was still given the right to wash in order to cleanse himself before praying, as was traditional to the Muslim Religion. Because of this, the leader of the Italian Invasion Forces allowed him some water.
A teacher of the Qur'an by profession, Mukhtar was also skilled in desert tactics. He knew his countryís 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. Mukhtarís 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 the mountainous region of Gebel 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 and was able to count on constant help from Egypt. In March 1927, not with-standing 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 border with Egypt from the coast at Giarabub, thus preventing any foreign help to the fighters and breaking up the solidarity of the population.
Omar's implacable adversary, General Graziani, has given a physical and moral description, which is not lacking in admiration: "Of medium height, stout, with white hair, beard and mustache. Omar was endowed with a quick and lively intelligence; was knowledgeable in religious matters, and revealed an energetic and impetuous character, unselfish and uncompromising; ultimately, he remained very religious and poor, even though he had been one of the most important Senusist figures."
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 continued the fight, but on September 11, 1931, he was ambushed near Zonta.
Mukhtarís nearly twenty year 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. Despite his being an old man, Mukhtar was shackled with heavy chains from his waist and wrists because of the armyís fear that he just might escape. Mukhtarís 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 hung in front of his followers in the concentration camp of Solluqon on the orders of the Italian court.
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. After being executed, his glasses fell on the floor, and a little boy with his mother took them to keep them as a memory before anyone could see them.