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Is Gaddafi’s Daughter, Believed Killed by a U.S. Air Strike, Alive and Well?

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Die Welt / Worldcrunch

This post is in partnership with Worldcrunch, a new global-news site that translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. The article below was originally published in Die Welt.

After American planes bombed Tripoli on April 14, 1986, the Libyan Ministry of Information declared that an adopted daughter of Muammar Gaddafi, Hana, who was less than a year old, had died in the attack. The news was announced on Libyan radio, TV and print media.

Up until then, no one had heard of the existence of the child — Aisha, who was born in 1977, was thought to be Gaddafi’s only daughter.

The story of the adopted child killed by the Americans has persisted, although some doubted from the outset that Hana really existed and, if she did, that she died. An American journalist at the time was shown the body of a baby girl — but was she a Gaddafi daughter or a victim being passed off as such for propaganda reasons?

(See TIME’s Gaddafi cover “What if He Doesn’t Go?”)

Whatever the truth, the Libyan state propaganda machine kept milking the story, and on the 20th anniversary of the attack, organized the “Hana Festival of Freedom and Peace.”

Then in February 2011, Welt am Sonntag, the Sunday edition of Die Welt, obtained a copy of a document related to the case that came to light in Switzerland after fighting broke out in Libya and the Swiss government ordered Gaddafi’s assets in Switzerland frozen. The document lists 23 members of the Gaddafi clan. Seventh on the list: Hana Gaddafi. An official government spokesperson in the Swiss capital Bern told Welt am Sonntag, “There are reasons why the name is on the list, which we are not revealing publicly.” Hana’s date of birth is listed as Nov. 11, 1985. At the time of the U.S. bombing, she would have been six months old.

There were some previous clues in the case. On June 6, 1999, the Chinese Xinhua news agency reported that “Gaddafi’s wife, Safia Farkash al-Barassi, and Gaddafi’s daughters Aisha and Hana” had had lunch with then South African President Nelson Mandela. Indeed, photographs show a young girl with Mrs. Gaddafi and Aisha.

In recent information received by Welt am Sonntag, sources say Hana is alive, has spent considerable time in London as a teenager and speaks good English. Contacted by Welt am Sonntag, the British Foreign Office said it would not release information about Gaddafi’s family, and the MI5 intelligence agency would neither confirm nor deny Hana’s existence.

(See photos of the fighting in Libya.)

In Libya, it’s an open secret that a Hana Gaddafi studied medicine in Tripoli. The young woman was apparently protected by bodyguards. “When I asked who she was, I was told she was Hana Gaddafi, Gaddafi’s adopted daughter who was supposedly killed in 1986,” says an anonymous Internet commentator who claimed to have studied medicine at the university at the same time.

Libyan sources say that Hana became a doctor, that she still lives in Libya and holds an important position in the Libyan Ministry of Health. Diplomatic circles in Tripoli have known about Hana’s existence for several years.

Theories continue to swirl around the story. However, recent developments in Libya indicate that Colonel Gaddafi doesn’t shy away from using the supposed death of family members at the hands of Western aggressors to win sympathy from his people.

In May, after a NATO bombing raid, the Ministry of Information announced the death of a son, Saif al-Arab Gaddafi, 29, and three of the dictator’s grandchildren. A funeral took place several days after the attack, and the regime announced that an independent French doctor had confirmed the identity of the dead man.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi expressed doubt about the death of Gaddafi’s son on Italian TV. Information gathered by the secret service pointed to his not having been in Libya at the time of the attack. “Even the case of the three grandchildren appears to be unfounded,” Berlusconi said.

Read the full original article in German by Patrick Müller.

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