Maria del Carmen Diaz was just 15 years old when terrorists in Tel Aviv’s Lod airport lobbed grenades at her Puerto Rican tour group on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, killing her aunt and severely wounding her. Six surgeries and 39 years of intense therapy later, she still gets nervous talking about the attack. “I couldn’t understand what was happening. I thought it was a nightmare,” del Carmen Diaz told TIME, the first time she’s ever told her story publicly. “It lasted only four minutes but for me it was an eternity. People were screaming, crying. There were explosions, gunshots.”
Though she’d never heard of him before that day, she soon came to know a lot about the man responsible for the attack: Muammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi at the time was only two years into his 42-year bloody reign. For decades, Gaddafi funded extremists in Ireland and the Philippines, in Palestine and, even, Saudi Arabia. He went so far right that he gave millions of dollars to uber nationalist politicians – the anti-Muslim, pro-Arian kind – in Austria and Serbia. He even tried to finance aboriginal and Maori revolts in Australia and New Zealand.
In the last decade, Gaddafi has overhauled his image, as his former prime minister put it in 2004, “paying for peace.” He apologized for the Pan Am Lockerbie bombing, set up a $2.7 billion fund for victims, and extradited two of the suspected terrorists responsible. He took responsibility for the 1984 killing of Yvonne Fletcher, a British policewoman shot – along with 11 others – during a protest in front of the Libyan embassy in London. These steps helped win him renewed relations with Great Britain. Two years later, or more importantly six days after U.S. troops dug his buddy Saddam Hussein out of his hole, he renounced all programs to make weapons of mass destruction, which helped get him off of George W. Bush’s axis of evil list in 2006.
But Gaddafi’s five minutes as a statesman were brief. And now that his regime has fallen, everyone wants a piece of the twine that will make up his noose. “I would love to him stand trial in the criminal court for all the things he’s done and all the death and murder so many people like my aunt and me and my friends that were there,” del Carmen Diaz says. “I’m elated.” And it’s not just him. Gaddafi’s legacy of terrorism has spawned a cast of characters who are much sought after by the rest of the world. If they can’t get a pound of Gaddafi’s flesh – which the Libyan people have first dibs on – they will settle for others responsible, simply finding out the truth of what happened and some of Gaddafi’s money.
Victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing were shocked and appalled to see images of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of planting a bomb on a Pan Am flight 103 from Geneva to New York that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people. In 2009, Scottish officials released al-Megrahi on humanitarian grounds as he was dying of cancer, though accusations flew that his release was actually a trade for a lucrative oil deal inked around that time. Either way, the fact that al-Megrahi, who Scottish doctors said had four months to live, is not only alive more than two years later but videotaped rallying to Gaddafi’s cause, has outraged the western world. The U.S. government has said it will seek his extradition from the new Libyan regime.
The British have their own bone to pick. The cover of London’s Evening Standard paper on Tuesday held a banner headline plea from Yvonne Fletcher’s mother to find her daughter’s killer and bring them to justice. Fletcher was a young British policewoman covering a relatively routine protest in front of the Libyan embassy in April 1984 when gunfire erupted from the building, killing her and wounding 11 others. Furious, Scotland Yard laid siege to the embassy for 10 days – prompting Gaddafi loyalists to lay siege to the British community in Tripoli — before Margaret Thatcher allowed all 30 Libyan staff to leave the country, the killer included. As part of the agreement to reestablish relations in 1999, Gaddafi accepted responsibility for Fletcher’s death and compensated her family. He also agreed to help British authorities pursue her killer, though that investigation has yet to yield an arrest. The U.K. will certainly ask the new Libyan government to help them find the killer and bring him to justice. “Yvonne Fletcher is probably one of the easier ones,” says Oliver Miles, who was Britain’s ambassador to Libya at that time who broke off relations in the wake of her killing. “I wouldn’t rule out finding her killer.”
The Lebanese, meanwhile, would very much like to know where their beloved leader is. In 1978, Shia imam Musa al-Sadr disappeared en route to Libya. The Libyan government denied having anything to do with his disappearance, but guilty or not the episode soured Gaddafi’s relations with much of the Arab world, especially the Shia (Libya is almost uniformly Sunni). Why would Gaddafi kill al-Sadr? Allegedly on behalf of Yasser Arafat, who was upset al-Sadr sided against the Palestinians in the Lebanese civil war. Al-Sadr devotees even hijacked two Libyan planes in 1981, demanding to know where he was. Rumors persist to this day that he’s languishing in a Libyan prison. Not only do the Lebanese want him back, but they want answers on what happened and who was responsible.
The bombings of the Vienna and Rome airports, Pan Am flight 73 in Karachi, UTA flight 772 over Africa, an Egypt Air flight, a disco in Berlin, IRA bombings in London – there is no shortage victims who would like to see Gaddafi and his goons brought to justice. But sorting out justice through the chaos of revolution will take time, if it’s possible at all. “We must hope that it will be possible but I’m rather skeptical that it will turn out like that,” Miles says. “Most of these events took place a long time ago and most of the people responsible are probably dead.”
In some cases, the victims will settle for the compensation they had been promised by Gaddafi. Del Carmen Diaz applied and has been approved for money from the $1.5 billion fund Gaddafi set up for U.S. victims of his terrorism – in all nine attacks. The problem is, that fund is short several hundred million dollars. Congress is likely to pass legislation demanding the shortfall be taken from the $30 billion in Gaddafi assets the U.S. froze months ago. Until then, del Carmen Diaz is still waiting. “When my claim was awarded I was really at peace,” del Carmen Diaz says. “I thought that finally there was at least some recognition for other survivors, for what we had lost.” Countless others, including the Libyans themselves, may never be so lucky as Gaddafi’s legacy of terror is unraveled.