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This Happened

This Happened—December 21: An Attack In The Skies Over Scotland

Pan Am Flight 103 was heading from London to New York City. Shortly after takeoff, a bomb that had been planted onboard detonated, causing an explosion while the plane was in flight over Scotland.

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New COVID Variant, Black Friday Amazon Strikes, Tiny IKEA Flat

👋 Selamat pagi!*

Welcome to Friday, where a new fast-spreading coronavirus variant has been identified in South Africa, Amazon is hit by global protests on Black Friday and IKEA is renting a tiny apartment for a tiny rent in Japan. Meanwhile, boars, jaguars, pumas and bears invade our newsletter as we look at how wildlife is moving into cities around the world.


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Gaddafi And Marcos Jr., When A Dictator’s Son Runs For President

Over the past few weeks, the offspring of two of the 20th centuries most ruthless strongmen have announced they'd like to become the (democratically elected) leaders of Libya and the Philippines.


PARIS — The son of the brutal Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi announced this week he is running for president, which follows a similar headline last month from Ferdinand Marcos Jr. What does this say about the state of democracy?

It was about a half-century ago that two of the most brutal dictatorships of the modern era began.

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Libya Revisited: Young People Nudge Benghazi Back To Life

BENGHAZI — They call it the "Café of the Displaced," and it's always full. "It's because my customers followed me here," says Ahmed, a smile on his face as he pours a clever blend of coffee, cream, cocoa powder and sugar.

Everybody's known Ahmed for years. And they know his story, which is also the story of Benghazi — from war and pain to reconstruction. To resurrection.

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Maryline Dumas

Saving Sirte, Libyan City Returns To Life After Fall Of ISIS

SIRTE — If it were theater, it would be bad theater. Too incongruous, too unreal. The stage — buildings in ruins all along the boulevard — just doesn't fit the happiness on the people's faces. Some are busy decorating their cars with ribbons for a wedding. Others are drinking coffee or shopping. The cars are driving on the streets as if nothing had happened. And yet, 10 months ago, Sirte was a dead city.

That was when, after one year under ISIS domination and seven months of war, Muammar Gaddafi's former stronghold was liberated. Emptied of terrorists, as well as of its inhabitants. And destroyed.

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Migrant Lives
Michael Obert

Can A Libyan Warlord Help Europe Solve The Migrant Crisis?

Hundreds of thousands of refugees want to reach Europe via Libya, constituting a billion dollar trade option for smugglers. But a local warlord, armed with only one boat and plenty of opaque motives, has declared war on the trafficking gangs.

ZAWIJA — It's been 10 days since we've joined the patrol along the coast with Commander Al Bija of the Libyan Coast Guard. Our 16-meter-long vessel is cruising along the most dangerous border in the world.

According to the German government figures, nearly one million refugees and migrants are currently in Libya, which has become the gateway country-of-choice for people seeking to reach Europe by sea.

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Francesco Semprini

New Armed Faction Muscling Into Tripoli Reflects Chaos in Libya

TRIPOLI — As the sun sets on the Libyan capital, the sky takes on an ochre shade over the old city walls surrounding Martyr's Square. Children play on carousels and the muezzin's call to prayer fills the air, booming from loudspeakers in the streets. It's an arresting scene that — for a moment — makes you forget the political chaos that bedevils this country on the Mediterranean Sea.

The calm is shattered by the wailing of sirens that emanates from pickup trucks loaded with light artillery and machine guns and manned by Kalashnikov-wielding men in army fatigues. A trickle at first, the trucks grow in number until 50 or so stream across the square accompanied by other pickups that are painted white. They all display the same symbol: the name "Libyan National Guard" (LNG) superimposed on a map of the Gulf of Sirte.

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Giampiero Massolo

Libya Chaos: If Italy Fails To Lead, Watch Out For Russia (Again)


ROME — The ongoing crisis in Libya poses the gravest threat to Italian national security, for multiple reasons. Halting flows of undocumented migrants and maintaining energy security are important, but a far more fundamental interest is at stake: ensuring that Libya recovers from chronic instability and civil war and avoids becoming a safe haven for terrorist operations.

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Giordano Stabile

Libya's War Wounded And Promises Of An Italian Hospital

MISRATA — This Libyan coastal city is bearing the brunt of the ongoing offensive to defeat the Islamic State in its nearby stronghold of Sirte. Flooded with hundreds of injured people streaming in from the fighting, its recently renovated central hospital is buckling under the pressure.

With only 120 beds, two operating rooms, and a lack of trauma specialists, Misrata's hospital is overwhelmed every time a new wave of wounded arrives from the battlefield, forcing it to discharge other patients not in critical condition.

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Frédéric Bobin

A Libyan Family's Quiet Resilience

MISRATA — The weather is fair as the moon hangs over a family home in Misrata. The al-Rufai's tiled courtyard, with its table and plastic chairs, and a vine shoot wrapped around the arbor, feels strangely peaceful this evening. Inside a dismantled Libya, the enclosure is an unexpected oasis, a welcome safe-haven against the chaos.

Here, the words "peace" and "democracy" are still part of the conversation, more than ever as a matter of fact. The family wants visitors to see that "the people of Libya aren't strange, they're just like everyone else." On the red-checkered tablecloth, they first serve coffee and chocolate biscuits. Then comes the pizza. In the distance, we suddenly hear the echo of detonations. "Don't worry, it's just firecrackers!" Of course, there's nothing to fear here in the rosemary-scented night.

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Francesco Semprini

Trafficking Dreams And Death, The Migrant Smugglers Of Libya

SABRATHA — It's just past 10 p.m., and Omar, Mohammed and Isa are driving on the Mediterranean coast highway that links the Libyan capital of Tripoli with the Tunisian border. In the distance, flares of burning natural gas emanating from the Mellitah oil terminal light up the pitch black night.

The three men, all in their twenties, work in the migrant trafficking industry. They're on their way to their "jobs" in the stretch of coast between Sabratha and the city of Zawiya further to the east. This is one of the most dangerous roads in Libya, close to areas controlled by the Islamic State (ISIS) and constantly monitored by U.S. drones overhead, ready to strike at any moment. A drone strike in Sabratha killed the local ISIS cell leader, the Tunisian-born Noureddine Chouchane, in February.

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