Omar Mukhtar was from the tribe of Mnifa, born in a small town called Zawia Janzou. Little is known of Omar al-Mukhtar’s early age, even date of birth is uncertain, somewhere between 1856 and 1862. He was a teacher of the Quran by profession.
A thorn in Italian army’s side
In October of 1911, Italian reached Tripoli and attack the city. After severe bombardment, they managed to take the city. The Italians thought that they have conquered the nation but their troubles were not over yet. In 1922, Omar Mukhtar reorganized the Mujahideen and re-ignited the resistance against Italy.
In 1923 he went to Egypt asking for aid, military supplies and food. During his stay in Egypt one Italian agent tried to bribe him to surrender but he refused, preferring to return to Libya to fight. In 1924, Italian Governor Mombelli launched attacks on the Mujahideen. As a result, Omar planned to better his own tactics in order to outfox the outnumbered and better equipped Italians. Italians often led their convoy of armored carriers and tanks through Muslim villages, tearing apart tents and huts, crushing men, women, and children as punishment for “helping” the guerrilla fighters of Omar Mukhtar. One eyewitness who survived the fall of his village said,
“They came upon us in three columns, from three sides, with many armored cars and heavy cannons. Their aeroplanes came down low and bombed houses and mosques and palm groves … Our rifles were useless against their armoured car. I hid myself in the palm orchards waiting for a chance to make my way through the Italian lines. The next day, the Italian general, ordered the palm trees of the oasis to be cut down and the wells destroyed and all the books of Sayid Ahmad’s library burned. And on the next day he commanded that some of our elders and ulama be taken up in an aeroplane - and they were hurled out of the plane high above the ground to be smashed to death … And all through the second night I heard from my hiding place the cries of our women and the laughter of the soldiers”.
A temporary truce was reached but due to the brutality of the Italianss, Omar denounced the compromise and re-established a unity of action among Libyan forces, preparing himself for the ultimate confrontation with General Rodolfo Graziani, the military commander from March 1930. General Graziani soon brought tanks and other superior weapons from Italy and erected barbed-wire fences along the Egyptian border, cutting off all supplies to Mukhtar. Without supplies, Mukhtar’s forces faced heavy casualty against the Italian army, and started dwindling until only a few hundred of his men remained and he lost control of all areas except his own base.
Libyans in concentration camps
Italian Army built concentration camps where thousands of Libyans were forced to live under Italian army’s watch. Some of the notorious camps were Al-Aghaila, Al-Maghroun, Solouq and Al-Abiyar. It is estimated that between May 1930 to September 1930 more than 80,000 Libyans were forced to live in concentration camp. Life in the camps was inhumane and unbearable for the most of the people. As a result nearly 55% of the Libyans died in the camps
Capture and Execution
After the capture of Mukhtar, the Italians decided to try him in a military court but the decision to hang him was made before the court met. On September 16, 1931, in the town of Sloug, they put the rope around the neck of Sheikh Omar Al Mukhtar and hung him until he was dead. But even a dead Omar Al Mukhtar was respected by his enemy: the officer in charge of the hanging saluted his lifeless body. In his book “Cyrenaica Pacified” (published in Italy in 1932 as “Cirenaica pacificata”, and in Libya in 1998 as “Barqah al-hadi’ah”), General Graziani wrote that the Sheikh of the Martyrs was confident, intelligent, educated, a true believer, and a man whom he admired.
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:
“Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.”
"From Allah we have come, and to Allah we will return."