Omar Mukhtar (Arabic عمر المختار ‘Umar Al-Mukhtār) (1862 - September 16, 1931) was from the tribe of Mnifa, born in a small village called Janzour located in the 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 battleships reached the shores of Libya. The Italian’s 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 thereafter 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.
A teacher of the quran by profession, Mukhtar was also skilled in desert tactics. He knew his country’s 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. Mukhtar’s 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."qwere
In an effort to weaken the resistance movement led by Mukhtar, the Italians imprisoned Libyan men, women and children in concentration camps. By holding these people in the camps, the Italians were attempting to weaken the Libyan resistance in two ways: one, they were cutting of all food supplies so they would starve , and two, they were preventing more men from joining omar mukhtar's forces. About 125,000 Libyans were forced into these camps, about two-thirds of whom died.
Despite the imprisonment of his people, Mukhtar was determined to continue the struggle, to continue fighting for the liberation of his country and people.
Capture and Execution
Omar Mokhtar's arrest
Mukhtar’s 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.
Though in his sixties, Mukhtar was shackled with heavy chains from his waist and wrists because of the army’s fear that he just might escape. Mukhtar’s capture was a serious blow to his people. However, his resilience had an impact on his jailors, 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 Quran clause: "From God we have come, and to God we will return." On September 16, 1931, in the hope that the Libyan resistance movement would wither and die without him, Mukhtar was hanged in front of his followers 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.