American planes streaking through a hail of anti-aircraft fire bombed Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi's barracks residence in Tripoli early today along with four other targets in the capital and the eastern city of Benghazi.
Later in the morning, a Libyan government spokesman announced that Kadafi had survived the attack.
In a deafening roar, F-111 fighter-bombers flew in low over the capital, awakening residents just minutes after 2 a.m. Seconds later, the sound of explosions rattled and shattered windows, while the sound of anti-aircraft fire peppered the air.
Flashes of Lights
Flashes of lights illuminated the southern and eastern sectors of the city, where Kadafi's residence and headquarters, in the Aziziya Barracks, and the military airfield that was once the United States' Wheelus Air Force Base, are located.
Bright orange tracer shells streaked across the sky. Tripoli's stubby skyline was quickly lit up with the reddish glow of fires as columns of smoke rose to merge with the night sky from the direction of the military barracks.
The attack was over in about 15 minutes. Electricity, which was cut to some parts of the city during the raid, went out all over the city afterward.
About three hours later, the sounds of what appeared to be heavy street fighting erupted in the capital. Heavy machine-gun fire, small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenade explosions could be heard from the direction of the Aziziya Barracks. The noise spread northward toward the port area and the El Kabir Hotel, where American and other Western journalists are staying.
It was not clear if the shooting was the sound of fighting among Libyan military units or merely firearms still being discharged in delayed reaction to the attack.
About an hour after the raid, Tripoli radio interrupted its newscast to announce that Kadafi's residence in the Aziziya Barracks, in southern Tripoli, had been attacked. It said there were "many wounded," including members of Kadafi's family and other civilians, some of them foreigners.
East Bloc Advisers
It was not clear from the radio's brief announcement who the injured foreigners were. A number of East Bloc advisers are believed to live in the sprawling military barracks, where Kadafi resides with his wife and seven children behind cement walls guarded by tanks.
"The savage American invaders carried out a treacherous and barbaric air strike this morning against the residence of the brother leader of the revolution (Kadafi)," the broadcast said. "A number of members of the family of the brother leader were injured as a result of this raid.
"The concentrated American barbaric air strike is continuing against populated and civilian quarters of Tripoli. A number of civilians, most of them foreign nationals, have fallen," the radio said.
The broadcast also claimed that three U.S. planes had been shot down and their crews killed by outraged Libyans.
Plane Unaccounted For
In Washington, Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger said in a press conference that one of the Air Force F-111s was unaccounted for but that it had not necessarily been shot down.
An emotional Libyan announcer later interrupted Tripoli radio programming again to call on Arabs to attack American targets, both military and civilian, throughout Europe and the Middle East.
"Now is the time for revenge," he said. "Get the Americans in their homes, in their embassies, in their factories. We should hit civilian and military targets all over the area because they did this to us."
'A Cycle of Violence'
During the confrontation between Libya and U.S. forces in the Gulf of Sidra last month, Tripoli radio made similarly emotional threats that were later discounted by diplomats here. But "this time, Libyans, given all they have said, will have to strike back now," one senior diplomat here said.
"Now a cycle of violence has started that may not stop," he said.
Earlier, on Monday, Libya was already stepping up its military preparations in the capital against a possible U.S. attack.
The extent of the preparations was not clear, but they included movements by air and naval forces and an order to hospitals to store blood plasma and other medical supplies needed to treat casualties in the event of an attack.
Naval vessels moved into Tripoli's harbor, taking up positions alongside civilian cargo ships, and there was an unusual amount of air activity over the capital as military jets and transports flew in and out of the old Wheelus Air Force Base, just outside the city.
Shield Against Attack
Over the past few days, there were signs that Kadafi might seek to use the presence of Americans and other foreigners from U.S.-allied nations as a shield against a U.S. military strike.
In an interview two days ago, Kadafi said he planned to move foreign oil company workers, including an estimated 1,000 Americans, into a number of military camps that he said had been targeted for attack by the United States.
This had not happened by the time of today's attack, according to Western diplomats, who added that they did not take the announcement seriously. However, they said, the attitudes of Libyan officials towards foreigners had become noticeably more hostile in recent days.
One diplomat said the Libyan officials with whom his embassy deals had suddenly become "very irrational and unpredictable. One moment they are very sweet, the next moment they are very hostile.
'Very, Very Nervous'
"The Libyans are very, very nervous," he added.
Also on Monday, Libyan officials reacted angrily to the results of a meeting of the 12 foreign ministers of the European Communities in The Hague. The Common Market ministers, seeking to forestall a U.S. military strike against Libya with political action of their own, passed a resolution accusing Libya of sponsoring terrorism and agreeing to lower the number of Libyan diplomats in their countries. They also imposed travel and visa restrictions on the remaining diplomats and called for closer intelligence cooperation to combat terrorism.
Libya, apparently taken by surprise, strongly criticized the European move.
Switching of Roles
"There is no excuse to take military or economic action against Libya," a government statement said. "There is no excuse to accuse Libya. But it is very clear that Europe and the U.S. are switching roles. The U.S. is playing the role of military terrorist while Europe is playing the role of political and economic terrorists.
"Libya is not afraid of an American attack but will face it and defeat it with the help of all Arab countries," the statement added. It was signed by Jadallah Azzuz Talhi, chairman of the General People's Committee, who is nominally the Libyan equivalent of prime minister.
However, one diplomat said that the Libyans were "seriously worried about the possibility of an American strike. They know they have no defense against it."
Libya's 73,000-member armed forces are well equipped but regarded as poorly trained, despite the presence of about 3,000 to 6,000 Russian military advisers.
Although the army has about 3,000 tanks and an air force of 535 combat aircraft, Western diplomats estimate that no more than 20% of Libya's military equipment is operational at any given time because of poor maintenance and the lack of personnel trained to operate it.