Muammar Gaddafi was born in the desert near Sirte in 1942. He first hatched plans to topple the Libyan monarchy at military college.
In 1969, Gaddafi seized power from King Idris in bloodless coup while the ruler was on a visit to Greece for health reasons.
At first, Col Gadaffi pursued Arab nationalist policies. Resources were brought under state control and alliances forged with nearby Arab nations.
In April 1986, US President Ronald Reagan ordered aircraft to bomb Tripoli, Benghazi and military bases. The raid was in response to the bombing of a Berlin nightclub, frequented by US soldiers.
The UK brought diplomatic links to an immediate end when Wpc Yvonne Fletcher was shot dead in St James's Square, London. The bullet which killed her was fired from inside the Libyan embassy.
In 1988, a Pan Am passenger jet exploded over the town of Lockerbie in Scotland, killing 270 people. Following an investigation the US said it had evidence Libyan agents planted a bomb on the plane.
But in April 1999, Libya started to mend relations with the West by handing over two secret agents accused of the Lockerbie bombing. One was convicted by a Scottish court, the other was acquitted.
Col Gadaffi then paid compensation to victims of the bombing and renounced plans to acquire weapons of mass destruction. He was rewarded by a full restoration of diplomatic ties.
In the meantime, Col Gadaffi had given up trying to unite the Arab world and concentrated on Africa instead. In 2008, he was named Africa's "king of kings" by a gathering of traditional rulers.
This was a prelude to him being elected African Union chairman. However, other African leaders are wary of his plans to create a United States of Africa, with a single government.