ROME – Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi on Thursday urged the world to understand what motivates terrorists, and likened the 1986 U.S. strikes on Libya to Usama bin Laden's terror attacks.
Qaddafi, who was long accused of sponsoring terrorism, got tepid applause from the Italian lawmakers he addressed on the second day of a trip to Italy, Libya's former colonial ruler.
"It is not very intelligent to chase terrorists down the Afghan mountains or central Asia," Qaddafi said in the hour-long speech. "That's impossible. We must look at their reasons."
He called for dialogue with terrorists, saying, "One must talk to the devil, if it brings about a solution."
Sarcastically, he asked, "What's the difference between the U.S. airstrikes on our homes and bin Laden's actions?" If anything, he said, bin Laden is an outlaw, while the United States is a country that should abide by international law.
Former President Ronald Reagan ordered airstrikes on Tripoli and Benghazi in April 1986 after an attack on a disco in Germany killed three people, including two U.S. servicemen. The Libyans say the retaliatory attacks killed 41 people, including Qaddafi's adopted daughter, and injured 226 others.
The Libyan leader told the lawmakers he was being intentionally provocative "in order to try and understand acts of terrorism."
Qaddafi had long been ostracized by the West for sponsoring terrorism, but in recent years sought to emerge from his pariah status by abandoning weapons of mass destruction and renouncing terrorism in 2003.
Libya has since agreed to pay compensation to the families of the Berlin disco victims as well as the families of the victims of the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, including 189 Americans. Libyan Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi was convicted of blowing up the plane.
The United States restored diplomatic ties with Libya in 2006 and removed the North African nation from the State Department list of countries that sponsor terrorism.
Qaddafi's visit to Italy continued that process of emergence from international isolation. But it also drew protests, including at La Sapienza university, where Qaddafi was addressing a group of few hundred students.
The speech to lawmakers was likely to raise more controversy.
He had been set to speak inside the Italian Senate, a rare honor for visiting dignitaries. But opposition lawmakers balked, forcing the speech to be moved to a palazzo next door.
Enrico Morando, a senator of the opposition Democratic Party, said Qaddafi's presence at the Senate would have been a "humiliation of this country's democratic and republican spirit."
"Only those who have the credentials — in terms of democracy and protection of human rights — are entitled to speak to Parliament, the inviolable temple of democracy," he told La Repubblica newspaper.
Human rights organizations and other critics have also denounced a recent deal that allows Italy to send immigrants back to Libya if they are intercepted at sea. They also decried Libya's treatment of the migrants and its poor human rights record.