Fouad Ajami: Gadhafi and the Vanished Imam

Roundup: Historians' Take

Mr. Ajami is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is co-chair of the Hoover Working Group on Islamism and the International Order.

The law has tarried, but a measure of justice has been served. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, for his favorite son Saif al-Islam, and for the head of the regime's security apparatus. They stand accused of "crimes against humanity" for targeting their own countrymen in a murderous effort to cling to power.

Crimes against humanity are nothing new for Gadhafi. They've been the staple of his regime. The prosecutors will not lack for evidence of brutalities, but they might want to begin with a Gadhafi crime that took place a little more than three decades ago—the kidnapping and murder of a luminary of the Shiite religious class, Imam Musa al-Sadr, and two of his companions.

In the summer of 1978, Sadr, the leader of Lebanon's Shiites, and two companions went to Libya to take part in a celebration of Gadhafi's military revolution. The charismatic cleric, who had all but remade the world of Shiite Lebanon, was never heard from again.

The Libyans insisted that the three men had left Tripoli for Rome on an Alitalia flight. But their claim was clearly bogus (no flight records could be found), and the matter of the "vanished imam" never went away. In 2009, Lebanon's Judicial Council indicted Gadhafi and 16 of his aides in the matter of kidnapping Imam Musa al-Sadr.

It was inevitable that the tumult in Libya would call up yet again the mystery of Sadr's disappearance...

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