His aides winced. But Col. Moammar Gadhafi simply leaned back inside his cavernous tent and laughed when questioned about American claims that he supports terrorism and is mentally unstable.
"I expect that I will go down in history as a person who has been misunderstood," the Libyan leader said.Gadhafi suggested the world would eventually come to accept his views. "All prophets have been accused of madness and terrorism," he said. "Even Christ was crucified, but after they crucified him, they converted to his religion."
Gadhafi spoke this week in an interview with Associated Press Television in a carpeted, low-slung tent in the center of a tightly guarded military complex in Tripoli. The tent stood in the shadow of the bombed-out remains of his private residence, destroyed by U.S. warplanes in 1986.
Dressed in light military fatigues and wearing a large brown head scarf to hold back his hair, Gadhafi appeared relaxed and confident throughout the 45-minute conversation.
He laughed off reports of an assassination attempt earlier this month, saying that no such attack had ever taken place. "I only hear rumors of these attempts. They're the same old lies."
Certainly there was no sign of heightened security on the streets of Tripoli this week. Few soldiers were visible outside military areas, and the atmosphere in the capital appeared easygoing. Traffic flowed normally, it was business as usual in the crowded souk, or market district, and open-air cafes were packed with people watching the World Cup on television.
During the interview, Gadhafi repeated demands that the West lift sanctions against Libya, denied involvement in the Lockerbie bombing, and belittled Western suggestions that he plans military uses for a desert pipeline.
The U.N. sanctions, which ban air travel to and from Libya, are aimed at forcing the surrender of two Libyans charged with blowing up an American airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988. The attack killed 270 people.
Asked if he had any message for the families of the Lockerbie victims, Gadhafi said: "We send our sincere condolences. And we are sorry for this catastrophe because we suffer likewise, for we lost our families and children during the joint U.S.-British raid in 1986 against our homes while we were asleep."