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musa kusa
Musa Kusa

During the golden days of his reign as chief of the Libyan External Security Service (Jihaz al Aman al Kharigi), Musa Kusa appeared arrogant and presumptuous when he met with his foreign colleagues. He loved posing as an academic and wanted to be called “professor”. When he spoke, he only did so in Arabic, although he spoke both Italian and English fluently. His hauteur made him feel untouchable. He became bitter when Israel or the opposition to Muammar Khadafi were mentioned. Musa Kusa was a man who knew a lot of secrets and that had risen before his leader by dirtying his hands in blood.

The fall

But something had changed during the last years of the regime. The raìs did not appreciate him as much anymore, at times he would even burst at him. Some claimed Musa Kusa had had some frictions with Khadafi's sons. He acted as a sort of “tutor” for Seif al Islam (competing with his brother Mutassim in the fight for succession) and Khamis and could have ended up being embroiled in a family feud. In fact, Mutassim was named in 2006 at the head of the newly formed organism to coordinate intelligence activities, the Committee for National Security. Mutassim was also allegedly involved in a physical fight with Kusa and the talk in Tripoli had it that he had slapped the old bureaucrat. Musa Kusa had not reacted, he was strong with the weak and weak with the strong.

There were also other circumstances that had lead to the sidelining of Musa Kusa. One was that Khadafi had decided to cleanse the image of his country. Kusa was too involved in the elimination of dissidents abroad, the torture and persecution of the opponents to the regime; he had become useless, an obstacle in the eyes of the Libyan dictator. It is for this reason that he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs on March 5, 2009 and hence booted out of the External Security Service. Despite a desperate attempt by Kusa to retain his post at the ESS – at least formally the agency was under the control of what was then known as the Popular General Committee for External Relations – when Abu Zied Durda was finally appointed Kusa's defeat was complete.

Durda was a prestigious figure in Khadafi's hierarchy, he had been in cahoots with the dictator ever since his coup in 1969 and had accumulated a vast political experience (Governor of Misrata, deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Municipalities', Economics, Agriculture Minister, mayor of Jabal al Gharbi, Prime Minister, deputy Speaker of Parliament, ambassador at the UN and in Canada). During the embargo on Libya and until 2003 (when the relationship with Washington returned to normal) Durda, although an ambassador at the UN, was in the black list of the US Department of Treasury.

Even though his successor didn't have any prior experience in the intelligence sector, Musa Kusa had no chance to compete with him. The choice of appointing Durda, as a matter of fact, was dictated by the need to nominate someone who had never been involved in the regime's dirtiest affairs. Musa Kusa knew his reign was dawning. This was confirmed during Khadafi's first official visit to Italy in the summer of 2009. Kusa played a minor role in the delegation. He also knew that he could not rely on his clan for support. The Ghemanda are small compared to other Libyan tribes and could have not spared him from the imminent political disgrace.

abdallah senoussi

The escape

Once his decline and lack of consideration from his leader became a fact, Musa Kusa realized that both escape and betrayal were almost inevitable. He knew that his post at the ministry of Foreign Affairs was just the last step before his final defenestration. A last gesture of respect from his leader. Kusa was also conscious that his lucky star was gone, He had already relied on it in November 1998 when he was sentenced to 7 years of detention for a series of “wrongdoings” (probably embezzlement of some sort). Kusa was pardoned and became a resource for his dictator who then needed a loyal, albeit dishonest, executor.

When the civil war broke out on February 15, 2011, Musa Kusa is one of the first ones to abandon the sinking ship. Betrayal has never been an ethical issue for him. Nor is it playing on multiple tables at once to determine his fate. He craftily starts elaborating solutions to his problems.

He doesn't trust the Italians. The friendship between Muammar Khadafi and Silvio Berlusconi would surely compromise any asylum requests to Italy. It is not clear whether he went for the French, but it seems they turned him down. France is still after Abdallah Senussi, partner to Musa Kusa, for the attack against the UTA flight that exploded over Niger while flying from Brazzaville to Paris on September 19, 1989 (156 passengers and 14 crew members killed). An international arrest warrant against Senussi was issued at the time.

Musa Kusa knows instead that he has some credit to spend with both the Americans and the British. After all, he was the one that negotiated the compensation for the victims of the PAN AM 103 flight, a bomb exploded on board over Lockerbie on December 21, 1988 (243 passengers and 16 members of the crew killed), Libya giving up on its programs for the production and stockage of Weapons of Mass Destruction in 2003, the release of two Austrian hostages in Mali in 2008 and the freeing of the Bulgarian nurses and doctors in Benghazi. Furthermore, Khadafi's sudden pro-western mood allowed Musa Kusa to join the fight against terrorism. Representatives of the CIA and the MI6 were welcomed and stationed in Tripoli since 2004. Libya was at the forefront of the war on terror in sub-saharan Africa. Kusa was the man to know, since he had been at the center of regional affairs for almost two decades. For this reason he was often invited to Langley, at the CIA's headquarters, for a visit.

catherine ashton
Catherine Ashton


As the war broke out in Libya, Musa Kusa knew he could exploit his knowledge and the relationships he had built over the years. He knew about the Libyan army, the dictator's hideouts and paranoias, the security apparatus. His dowry could be traded for a laissez-passer to his future life. The transaction hastily put a lid over his past killings, tortures, persecutions. Everything is forgotten, together with the radical member of the Revolutionary Committees whose extremist stances attracted the attention of his leader. Kusa was one of the founders, in 1985, of the Mathaba (also known as the Center for the fight against imperialism, zionism, racism and fascism), the organism that Libyans used to fund international terrorism and that was lead until 1994, when he was appointed at the head of the External Security Service, by Musa Kusa. While leading the Mathaba, Kusa was responsible for activities abroad, including the support to terrorism and the elimination of dissidents. Musa Kusa's task was to send the regime's hit-men around the world to quell the voices of the opposition. He was allegedly even involved in an attack in Great Britain in 1985. Who else was in a better position to take over the intelligence agency and continue in this path to glory?

The British have forgotten all of this. They don't recall they expelled Kusa in June 1980 because he had conspired from the Libyan embassy to eliminate to Libyan expats and had established contacts with the IRA in Northern Ireland. In an interview with The Times, Musa Kusa had then claimed his right to use violence against the opposition. The memory of Yvonne Fletcher, the policewoman killed by a shot fired from the Libyan embassy in London against a crowd of anti-Khadafi protesters, has also been erased. Being at the head of the Mathaba, Kusa was authorized to license such actions.

Then again, London never had an issue negotiating with Musa Kusa the release on humanitarian grounds of Ali Mohamed Megrahi, the Libyan intelligence agent sentenced for the Lockerbie bombing. Megrahi was allegedly terminally ill and with a few weeks left to live when he was set free and welcomed as a hero in Tripoli on August 20, 2009. Yet, his “imminent” death only came about three years later. The US also dealt with Kusa to negotiate the compensation to the victims of Lockerbie. Did the United States ever wonder that Musa Kusa's role had been in that terrorist attack?

On March 28, 2011 Musa Kusa flees, crosses into Tunisia and stops over in Djerba. On March 30 he takes a flight tot he UK where his nephews reside. The regime clumsily attempts to pretend he has not defected, but is out on a diplomatic mission, but the truth soon emerges. On April 5 the US decide to release his frozen assets abroad, thus allowing Kusa to exploit his (ill-gotten, who knows) wealth and live in peace. Even the European Union, namely its ”Foreign Minister”, the British Catherine Ashton, declares that Musa Kusa will not be targeted by sanctions. British officials state that he is free to move to and fro the UK when and how he wants.

Following his escape, his wife, Naima Mohamed al Zarroug, is arrested in Tripoli. The same fate awaits his children (two sons, Sager and Jamal, and two daughters, Belkis and al Kansa) whose whereabouts are still unknown. After spending a few days inside an MI6 safe-house, Musa Kusa leaves the UK for Doha, in Qatar, where he currently lives. He was staying in a luxurious hotel at first, he has now rented a flat. Kusa is still pretty young (he was born in Tajura, in the outskirts of Tripoli, on December 15, 1947) and will have plenty of time to live through his betrayal.

Abdel Salam Mohammed Musa Kusa, the man who ordered and possibly executed a number of crimes, hunted dissidents abroad to eliminate or torture them, financier of international terrorism in any part of the world, part of all the bloodsheds perpetrated by the Libyan regime for over 40 years, does not exist anymore. His memory will last solely in the families of his victims.

In the trial against the main actors in Khadafi's dictatorship whose predictable outcome in most cases is a guilty sentence to death, Musa Kusa's seat is empty. For some reason, even the new leadership that has emerged following the conflict has forgotten (or voluntarily agreed not to) issue or request Kusa's extradition. No one has asked for him to be tried by the International Criminal Court. Silence and oblivion are the prices paid to betrayal.