TRIPOLI, Libya -- A defiant Moammar Gadhafi threatened Friday to carry out attacks in Europe against "homes, offices, families," unless NATO halts its campaign of airstrikes against his regime in Libya.
The Libyan leader, sought on a warrant by the International Criminal Court for a brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters, delivered the warning in a telephone message that was played to thousands of supporters gathered in the main square of the capital Tripoli.
It was one of the largest pro-government rallies in recent months, a sign that Gadhafi can still muster significant support.
A series of powerful explosions later rattled the heart of the capital, apparently from new NATO airstrikes, as Gadhafi supporters cheered, honked horns and fired into the air in the street. Black smoke could be seen rising from the area near Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound.
Gadhafi spoke from an unknown location. Addressing the West, Gadhafi warned that Libyans might take revenge for NATO bombings.
"These people [the Libyans] are able to one day take this battle . . . to Europe, to target your homes, offices, families, which would become legitimate military targets, like you have targeted our homes," he said.
"If we decide to, we are able to move to Europe like locusts, like bees. We advise you to retreat before you are dealt a disaster."
In the past, Gadhafi supported militant groups including the IRA and several Palestinian factions, while Libyan agents were blamed for attacks in Europe, including a Berlin disco bombing in 1986 and the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 that killed 270 people, mostly Americans. Libya later acknowledged responsibility for Lockerbie.
In recent years, however, Gadhafi was believed to have severed his ties with extremist groups when he moved to reconcile with Europe and the United States.
A State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said the United States would take Gadhafi's threat of attacks seriously, as his regime carried out such actions in the past. Toner said he did not know if there was intelligence to indicate Gadhafi's regime would be able to carry out such attacks.
"This is an individual who's obviously capable of carrying these kinds of threats, that's what makes him so dangerous, but he's also someone who's given to overblown rhetoric," Toner said in Washington.