The Libyan leader deliberately unleashed the floodgates of African immigrants desperate to reach Europe, as punishment for what he saw as Italy’s betrayal and its participation in the Nato-led air campaign.
He largely succeeded in his objective — nearly 50,000 migrants have arrived on Lampedusa since the beginning of the year, putting a huge strain on the tiny island’s resources.
They came from Libya but also Tunisia, after that country’s regime was toppled in a popular revolt which marked the start of the Arab Spring.
Hundreds were forced to live in a makeshift shanty camp, sleeping in the scrub under sheets of plastic stretched over driftwood, on what islanders dubbed “the hill of shame”.
“Italy has proof of orders given by Col Gaddafi to turn Lampedusa into hell,” said Franco Frattini, the foreign minister.
“There is proof Gaddafi gave the order to send thousands of desperate people on boats, in order to throw the island into chaos,” he said.
“We have terrible messages (in our possession) and they will be made public soon,” Mr Frattini said in an interview with Avvenire, a Catholic newspaper.
Hafez Gaddour, Libya’s ambassador in Italy, who defected from the regime in February, told Rai radio that Gaddafi controlled illegal immigration “in person, saying that he wanted to turn Lampedusa black with Africans,” to punish Italy for its role in the Nato campaign. The migrants would act as “human bombs”, he said.
Italy contributed warplanes to the air offensive and allowed British and other coalition aircraft to use its bases, with RAF Tornados and Typhoons based out of Gioia del Colle in the south-east of the country.
African refugees and economic migrants have for years tried to reach Lampedusa by sea in search of a new life in Europe.
The flow was blocked after Italy signed an accord with Libya providing for joint patrols in the Mediterranean.
That agreement collapsed when the Libyan revolt broke out earlier this year and relations soured between Col Gaddafi and Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister, who had previously had a close rapport.
There had long been suspicions — reported by The Daily Telegraph in April — that the Gaddafi regime was encouraging refugees to flee to Lampedusa as revenge for Italy’s support for military action.
This has shown up in several reputable sources, so although it's still allegations (without the confirming evidence), I thought it should be posted. Should it be either confirmed or discredited shortly, I'd edit this.
I keep looking for something reasonably incisive to add, but frankly, it just makes me want to vomit a stream of incoherent rage and disgust.