The Second Italo-Senussi War, also referred to as the Pacification of Libya, was a conflict that occurred during the Italian colonization of Libya between Italian military forces (composed mainly of colonial troops from Libya,
Eritrea Eritrea ( ), officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in Eastern Africa, with its capital at Asmara. It is bordered by Ethiopia in the south, Sudan in the west, and Djibouti in the southeast. The northeastern and eastern parts of Eritr ...
, and
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) and indigenous rebels associated with the Senussi Order. The war lasted from 1923 until 1932, when the principal Senussi leader, Omar al-Mukhtar, was captured and executed. Fighting took place in all three of Libya's provinces ( Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica), but was most intense and prolonged in the mountainous Jebel Akhdar region of Cyrenaica. The war led to the mass deaths of the indigenous people of
, totalling one quarter of the region's population of 225,000. Italian war crimes included the use of chemical weapons, execution of surrendering combatants, and the mass killing of civilians, while the Senussis were accused of torture and mutilation of captured Italians and refusal to take prisoners since the late 1910s. Italian authorities forcibly expelled 100,000
Bedouin The Bedouin, Beduin or Bedu (; , singular ; , singular ) are nomadic Arab Tribes who have historically inhabited the desert regions in the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula, Upper Mesopotamia, and North Africa. However, the Arabian Peninsula i ...
Cyrenaicans, half the population of Cyrenaica, from their settlements, many of which were then given to Italian
settlers A settler is a person who has migrated to an area and established a permanent residence there, often to colonize the area. A settler who migrates to an area previously uninhabited or sparsely inhabited may be described as a pioneer. Settle ...


Italy had seized military control of Libya from the
Ottoman Empire The Ottoman Empire (; ota, دولت عليه عثمانيه ', literally "The Sublime Ottoman State"; Modern Turkish: ' or '; french: Empire ottoman) (''Osmanean Têrut´iwn'', meaning "Ottoman Authority/Governance/Rule"), Օսմանյան ...

Ottoman Empire
during the Italo-Turkish War in 1912, but the new colony had swiftly revolted, transferring large swaths of territory to local Libyan rule. Conflict between Italy and the Senussis a Muslim political-religious tariqa based in Libya erupted into major violence during World War I, when Senussis in Libya began collaborating with the Ottomans against Italian troops. The Libyan Senussis also escalated the conflict with attacks on British forces in Egypt. Warfare between the British and the Senussis continued until 1917. In 1917, an exhausted Italy signed the Treaty of Acroma, which acknowledged the effective independence of Libya from Italian control.Melvin E. Page. Colonialism. Santa Barbara, California, USA: ABC-CLIO, 2003. P749. In 1918, Tripolitanian rebels founded the Tripolitanian Republic, though the rest of the country remained under nominal Italian rule. Local resistance against Italy continued, such that by 1920, the Italian government was forced to recognize Senussi leader Idris of Libya, Sayid Idris as Emir of Cyrenaica and grant him autonomy. In 1922, Tripolitanian leaders offered Idris the position of Emir of Tripolitania; however, before Idris could accept the position, the new Italian government of Benito Mussolini initiated a campaign of reconquest. Since 1911, claims had been made of killings of Italian soldiers and civilians by Ottoman and local Muslim guerrillas, such as a slaughter in Shar al-Shatt, Sciara Sciat: Reports of these killings led to cries for retaliation and revenge in Italy, and in the early 1920s the rise to power of Benito Mussolini, leader of the National Fascist Party, as Prime Minister of Italy led to a much more aggressive approach to foreign policy. Given the importance that the Fascists gave to Libya as part of a new Italian imperialism under Fascism, Italian Empire, this incident served as a useful pretext for large-scale military action to reclaim it.


The war began with Italian forces rapidly occupying the Sirte desert separating Tripolitania from Cyrenaica. Using aircraft, motor transport, and good logistical organization, the Italians were able to occupy of territory in five months, cutting off the physical connection formerly held by the rebels between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. By late 1928, the Italians had taken control of Ghibla, and its tribes were disarmed. From 1923 to 1924, Italian troops regained all territory north of the Ghadames-Mizda-Beni Ulid region, with four-fifths of the estimated population of Tripolitania and Fezzan within the Italian area. In this period they also regained the northern lowlands of Cyrenaica, but attempts to occupy the forested hills of Jebel Akhdar, Libya, Jebel Akhtar were met with strong guerrilla resistance, led by Senussis, Senussi sheikh Omar Mukhtar. Attempted negotiations between Italy and Omar Mukhtar broke down and Italy then planned for the complete conquest of Libya. In 1930, Italian forces conquered Fezzan and raised the Italian flag in Tummo, the southernmost region of Fezzan. On 20 June 1930, Pietro Badoglio wrote to General Graziani: "As for overall strategy, it is necessary to create a significant and clear separation between the controlled population and the rebel formations. I do not hide the significance and seriousness of this measure, which might be the ruin of the subdued population...But now the course has been set, and we must carry it out to the end, even if the entire population of Cyrenaica must perish". By 1931, well over half the population of Cyrenaica were confined to 15 concentration camps where many died as result of overcrowding in combination with a lack of water, food and medicine while Badoglio had the Air Force use chemical warfare against the Bedouin rebels in the desert. 12,000 Cyrenaicans were executed in 1931 and all the nomadic peoples of northern Cyrenaica were forcefully removed from the region and relocated to huge concentration camps in the Cyrenaican lowlands. Italian military authorities carried out the forced migration and deportation of the entire population of Jebel Akhdar in Cyrenaica, resulting in 100,000 Bedouins, half the population of Cyrenaica, being expelled from their settlements. These 100,000 people, mostly women, children, and the elderly, were forced by Italian authorities to march across the desert to a series of barbed-wire concentration camp compounds erected near Benghazi, while stragglers who could not keep up with the march were shot by Italian authorities. Propaganda by the Fascist regime declared the camps to be oases of modern civilization that were hygienic and efficiently run - however in reality the camps had poor sanitary conditions as the camps had an average of about 20,000 Bedouins together with their camels and other animals, crowded into an area of . The camps held only rudimentary medical services, with the camps of Soluch and Sisi Ahmed el Magrun with 33,000 internees each having only one doctor between them. Typhus and other diseases spread rapidly in the camps as the people were physically weakened due to meagre food rations and forced labour. By the time the camps closed in September 1933, 40,000 of the 100,000 total internees had already died in the camps. To close rebel supply routes from Egypt, the Italians constructed a barbed wire fence on the border with Egypt that was patrolled by armoured cars and aircraft. The Italians persecuted the Senussi Order; zawiya (institution), zawias and mosques were closed, Senussi practices were forbidden, Senussi estates were confiscated, and preparations were made for Italian conquest of the Kufra Oasis, the last stronghold of the Senussi in Libya. In 1931, Italian forces seized Kufra where Senussi refugees were bombed and strafed by Italian aircraft as they fled into the desert. Mukhtar was captured by the Italians in 1931, followed by a court martial and his public execution by hanging at Suluq. Mukhtar's death effectively ended the resistance, and in January 1932, Badoglio proclaimed the end of the campaign. Mukhtar's aides were executed later that year on 24 September 1932.

Takeover of Kufra

The ''Frankfurter Zeitung'' reporter and author Muhammad Asad interviewed a man from Kufra after its seizure by the Italians in his book ''The Road to Mecca (book), The Road to Mecca''.

War crimes

Specific war crimes committed by the Italian armed forces against civilians include deliberate bombing of civilians, killing unarmed children, women, and the elderly, rape and disembowelment of women, throwing prisoners out of aircraft to their death and running over others with tanks, regular daily executions of civilians in some areas, and bombing tribal villages with mustard gas bombs beginning in 1930. The Senussi were accused by Italian sources of refusing to take prisoners from the Italian armed forces and torture including mutilation of Italian soldiers before death.


In 2008, Italy and Libya reached agreement on a document compensating Libya for damages caused by Italian colonial rule. Muammar Gaddafi, History of Libya under Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's ruler at the time, attended the signing ceremony wearing a historical photograph on his uniform that showed Cyrenaican rebel leader Omar Mukhtar in chains after being captured by Italian authorities during the war. At the ceremony, Prime Minister of Italy, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared: "In this historic document, Italy apologizes for its killing, destruction and repression of the Libyan people during the period of colonial rule." He went on to say that this was a "complete and moral acknowledgement of the damage inflicted on Libya by Italy during the colonial era." These declarations received harsh criticism from the Italian refugees from Libya, Associazione Rifugiati Italiani dalla Libia and from some Italian historians, who felt the agreement was "based on false assumptions created by Gaddafi propaganda".Critics to Berlusconi apologies (in Italian)

In popular culture

The 1981 film ''Lion of the Desert'' by Moustapha Akkad is about the conflict.

See also

*Pacification of Algeria *Day of Revenge *Shar al-Shatt *Italian concentration camps in Libya *Second Italo-Ethiopian War * Italo-Turkish War



*Grand, Alexander de "Mussolini's Follies: Fascism in Its Imperial and Racist Phase, 1935-1940" pages 127-147 from ''Contemporary European History'', Volume 13, No. 2 May 2004. {{Italian Libya Interwar period Italian colonisation in Africa Italian Libya 1920s in Italy 1930s in Italy 1920s in Libya 1930s in Libya Violence against Muslims Ethnic cleansing in Africa Mass murder in 1923 Mass murder in 1932 1930s conflicts 1920s conflicts Wars involving Italy African resistance to colonialism Senussi dynasty