TRIPOLI, Libya -- Col. Muammar el Kadafi said yesterday that Libyan planes were preparing to defy the U.N. ban on flights to and from Libya and that his country might soon drop out of the United Nations.
In an interview in a Bedouin tent near the gutted remains of his former home, which was bombed in 1986 by U.S. warplanes, Mr. Kadafi said he had notified Egypt, the Sudan and Saudi Arabia that Libyan planes carrying Muslim pilgrims to Mecca would soon enter their airspace.
He vowed to retaliate against any country, including Libya's Arab neighbors, that prevented the Libyans from reaching the holy site of Mecca during the annual Muslim pilgrimage season known as hajj.
"If sanctions mean that pilgrims are unable to go to Mecca, then this calls for a holy war against not only the United States, France and Great Britain, but the rest of the Arab world," he said. "If the Libyan planes are shot down or destroyed, if anything happens to these pilgrims, then it will mean that the Prophet's tomb is under the control of the United States and that Saudi Arabia is not an independent country."
"This is not a political issue," the Libyan leader added. "These pilgrims are going not to a country, but to God's house. And those that prevent us from worshiping there confront us at their peril."
The two-hour interview was conducted in Arabic, although Mr. Kadafi occasionally switched to English.
The United Nations imposed the air embargo and banned the sale or transfer of military parts to Libya in April 1992, after the country refused to hand over two Libyans wanted in connection with the 1988 bombing of a Pan American World Airways flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which 270 people were killed.
Since the air links were cut off, Libyans have traveled by land to neighboring countries such as Egypt, then flown on to Saudi Arabia or other destinations.
Last year some Libyan religious pilgrims took a camel train through Egypt for the hajj to protest the sanctions.
A religious obligation that must be fulfilled at least once by every Muslim, the pilgrimage to Mecca involves millions of people each year, usually beginning in May.
The Libyan threat to ignore the ban on flights to and from Libya is a delicate issue for Egypt, the Sudan and Saudi Arabia, which abide by the sanctions but are sensitive to Muslim concerns. Egyptian diplomats said they did not know what Cairo's reaction would be if Libyan planes appeared in Egyptian airspace.
In his customary style of mixing threats and accusations, the Libyan leader asserted in the interview that the CIA carried out the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 as part of a smear campaign against Libya.