Hana's death may be a myth to spark sympathy. She very much seems to have lived in the family compound, writes MARY FITZGERALDin Tripoli
FOR DECADES her name was invoked by Muammar Gadafy and his apologists as proof of his personal suffering as a result of the US bombing of his Tripoli compound in 1986.
After US aircraft struck the Bab al-Azizia complex on April 14th that year, in revenge for the bombing of the La Belle nightclub in Berlin by Libyan agents, the regime announced that an adopted infant daughter of Col Gadafy, named Hana, had died in the raid.
The news was carried on Libya’s radio, TV and print media, despite claims that Col Gadafy had moved his family to safety, having received prior warning of the strikes.
An American journalist at the time was shown the body of a baby and told it was Hana. Since then, Col Gadafy has repeatedly referred to her supposed death to bolster the notion that he had been a victim of western military aggression.
On the 20th anniversary of the US attack, the Libyan regime organised the “Hana Festival of Freedom and Peace” to commemorate the incident.
Hana’s existence was debated by intelligence agencies in the aftermath of the bombing, which then US president Ronald Reagan ordered to strike back at what he called the “mad dog of the Middle East”.
Many Libyans have long doubted the story. In the rebel stronghold of Benghazi earlier this year, I heard constant claims that Hana had studied medicine and was working as a doctor in Tripoli. “The whole story that she was killed was just more of Gadafy’s propaganda,” one man told me.
Libyan web forums have buzzed with allegations that Hana was still alive and living in the capital. “When I asked who she was, I was told she was Hana Gadafy, Gadafy’s adopted daughter who was supposedly killed in 1986,” wrote an anonymous online commentator who claimed to have studied medicine at Tripoli’s main university at the same time. Diplomatic circles in Tripoli are said to have known about Hana’s existence for several years.
Yesterday in the terracotta-coloured section of Bab al-Azizia where the Gadafy family lived, I came across a room which seemed to be part-study, part-lounge. Its contents – including a Sex and the CityDVD box set; CDs of the Backstreet Boys; cellulite treatments; WellWoman vitamin supplements and stuffed toys – hinted that it belonged to a young woman.
Amid the bookshelves lined with medical textbooks and copies of Col Gadafy's Green Book, I found passport photographs of a woman, dressed in medical garb, who appeared to be in her mid- 20s.
Some of the rebels sifting through the room’s contents shouted excitedly: “It’s Hana, it’s Hana, the daughter Gadafy lied about. This was her room.”
I found an examination paper from a Libyan university medical faculty which was signed “Hana Muammar Gadafy” in Arabic. A photograph showed a woman who seemed to be Hana with a group of people, including Col Gadafy’s blood daughter Aisha.
A British Council certificate, dated July 19th, 2007, showed that a Hana Muammar Gadafy had completed an English language course at its Libyan centre, achieving an A grade.
A small envelope marked “Miss Hana Muammar, Room 510” contained undated notes from Mohamad Azwai, who referred to himself as Libya’s ambassador to the UK, and his wife, wishing Hana a pleasant stay in London.
A postcard sent from a woman named Katia in Rome was addressed only to Room No 140, Hotel President Wilson, Geneva.
In February, the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag obtained a copy of a document related to the freezing of Muammar Gadafy’s assets in Switzerland after Libya’s uprising began. The document listed 23 members of the Gadafy clan. The seventh name on the list is Hana Gadafy. A Swiss government spokesperson told Welt am Sonntag: “There are reasons why the name is on the list, which we are not revealing publicly.”
Hana’s date of birth is listed as November 11th, 1985, which would have made her six months old at the time of the US air strike, which was carried out shortly after the Berlin bombing in which three people, including two American soldiers, were killed.
The newspaper reported that Hana was a doctor working for the country’s health ministry. Libyan exiles said she was a powerful figure in the Libyan medical profession, who had used her status to hinder the promotions of colleagues.
“Several hospitals were under her guidance,” the newspaper said. “No one could make a career within the ministry of health, without her consent.” It reported that she was said to speak fluent English and that she had travelled frequently to London on shopping trips.
In 1999, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that “Gadafy’s wife, Safia Farkash al-Barassi, and Gadafy’s daughters Aisha and Hana” had had lunch with then South African president Nelson Mandela. Photographs showed a young girl with Mrs Gadafy and Aisha.
It now seems almost certain that Hana Muammar Gadafy did not die in the 1986 bombing of the Gadafy compound, but her current whereabouts, like those of her adoptive father, mother and siblings, remain a mystery.