Moammar Kadafi

Moammar Kadafi in 1987. (John Redman / Associated Press / September 1, 1987)

The final rebellion against Kadafi was years in the making, and it burst forth as part of the wave of uprisings against autocrats and kings that has swept North Africa and the Middle East this year.

Kadafi underestimated the rage against him as protests that began in eastern Libya flared across the country. Rebels pushed toward Tripoli from the east and west and battled his beleaguered army and band of mercenaries.

The leader's vicious assaults on his own people — his forces fired antiaircraft guns at civilians and shot worshipers near mosques — stunned the world. Much of the military and many Libyan diplomats and officials abandoned him as tens of thousands of people died.

As the revolt spread over the ensuing months, Kadafi became increasingly cornered. He was indicted by the International Criminal Court, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombardments of government military forces strengthened the bands of poorly equipped and ill-trained rebels.

Yet, the leader remained defiant. Addressing thousands of Libyans in Tripoli's Green Square in July, he threatened to dispatch Libyan suicide bombers to Europe in retaliation for the NATO bombings. "I told you it is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," Kadafi said.

He disappeared from public view, releasing video speeches until finally, as rebels closed in, transmitting only audio messages from hiding.

"I say to crusader cowards, I live in a place you cannot reach," he said during one broadcast. "I live in the hearts of millions.... If you kill my body, you cannot kill my soul."

All along, he was unmoved by calls for his ouster, arguing that his authority transcended any official title.

"Moammar is not a president to leave his post," he said. "Moammar is leader of the revolution until the end of time."

PHOTOS: Moammar Kadafi | 1942 - 2011

Fleishman reported from Cairo and Kraft from Los Angeles.

Former Los Angeles Times Africa correspondent David Lamb contributed to this report.