LIBYA – BIG GAME HUNTING FOR KHADAFI'S MEN
Abdallah Senussi, Khadafi's brother in law, more than anyone else represented the ruthlessness of the Libyan regime. He was the man of the repression, the most renown case was the uprising in the Abu Salim prison (1200 deaths in 1996), but also of the several opposition members who disappeared or were eliminated at home or abroad. He was also the man for terrorism against the West as his involvement in the bombing of the UTA flight over Niger in 1989 and in the attack against the Pan Am airplane downed over Lockerbie in December 1988 show.
Sentenced in absentia to life in jail by French authorities, Senussi has an international arrest warrant pending over his head. On May 16 2011, following the presentation of a report by the Libyan National Council (LNC), the International Criminal Court in The Hague had issued another arrest warrant for crimes against humanity.
With the help of Tuareg tribes, following the killing of Khadafi Abdallah Senussi had fled to Mali crossing the desert and passing through Niger. He brought along huge quantities of money and gold to make his absconding more pleasant and safer.
During the years in power, Senussi had created a network of contacts and connivance both in North Africa and in the Sub-Saharan belt: Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Egypt and Chad. From Abdallah Senussi's point of view, these countries were all safe havens. After years of political and financial support bestowed by the past regime, he also had a special relationship with the Tuareg tribes in Mali and Niger and its independence movements. The ties were particularly strong with the National Liberation Movement of the Azawad (NLMA) and Senussi used to stay in the Kidal region under the group's protection. It might not be accidental that Senussi's money could have helped the NLMA extend its military control over a good portion of Northern Mali.
Abdallah Senussi with Khadafi
But Abdallah Senussi also aimed at re-establishing a network of former regime members that could have re-started an armed struggle in Libya. To do so he meant to contact former officials who had found refuge in other countries in the region. One of them was Kweldi al Humaidi, member of the Revolutionary Council and one of the closest people to Khadafi with who he had taken over power in the 1969 revolution and who became related to the Rais when his daughter married Saadi al Khadafi, who sojourned in Morocco. Along with him were other former regime members who had fled the uprising.
Abdallah Senussi decided to take a trip to Casablanca, he had a passport from Mali for cover (a formal precaution since everyone in the area knew him for his intense activities over the last 40 years), had let his hair and beard grow more than usual to be less identifiable, reached the Mauritanian capital escorted by members of the NLMA and boarded an Air Maroc flight from Nouakchott. Senussi has nothing to fear in Mauritania: President Ould Abdelaziz had a huge debt of gratitude towards Khadafi who had been the only leader granting the Mauritanian regime a return in the African Union after the August 2008 military coup.
But since the 1989 attack, the French secret services had never given up the idea of catching Senussi, even though they had their representatives in Tripoli and held a stable relationship with their Libyan counterparts, including Abdallah Senussi himself when he headed the military intelligence. The hunt for Senussi had regained new energy when President Nicolas Sarkozy, after having lead the international support to the Libyan uprising, was looking for new arguments for his electoral campaign against François Hollande. A tip off to the French signaled Senussi's presence in Casablanca.
Regardless of the pressure from Paris, Moroccan authorities did not stop Senussi, refusing to meddle with Libyan affairs. The Direction Générale des Etudes et de la Documentation (the Moroccan counter espionage) controlled his movements, but did not give in to the arrest/extradition requests. Rabat has always had a fair relationship with Khadafi, despite the divergence on the Libyan support to the Polisario and its RASD (the Moroccan delegation had left the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Libyan revolution in Tripoli when it realized a delegation from the Saharawi Arabic Democratic Republic was in the authorities' stand).
French pressure then moved onto Mauritania. On March 17 2012, when Abdallah Senussi and a relative got off the plane that from Casablanca brought them back to Nouakchott he was stopped by Mauritanian authorities. Libya immediately asked for his extradition, France demanded his hand over to the International Criminal Court. The Mauritanian regime bought time, torn between the gratitude and sympathy towards the Khadafi regime and the pressure coming from abroad (the French were joined by the Americans).
Abdallah Senussi was put in a residence under surveillance, sparing him from prison. Without an extradition treaty between Libya and Mauritania, juridical quibbles blocked his transfer to other nations when Senussi should have been tried in Mauritania for illegal immigration.
From March to September 2012 pressure to deliver Abdallah Senussi came from French and Libyan delegations. On September 5th the Mauritanian military junta gave in. Senussi is told he has to meet a high ranking Libyan official. He is picked up (he is dressed formally for the meeting) and is taken to the airport. When he realizes he is being duped, he tries to react but it's too late. Waiting for his extradition was a Libyan delegation headed by the Minister of Finance, Hassam Zaglam, and members of the new Security Services. A private flight takes Abdallah Senussi to the Mitiga airport (the ones used during Khadafi's times for the arrival of important delegations) in Tripoli where he lands at 14:45. He is immediately transferred via helicopter to the Al Hadbah al Khadra prison where other former members of the regime are awaiting trial.
Regardless the prompt and reassuring declarations of Libyan PM Abdurrahim al Kib that Senussi will receive a fair trial, there is no doubt that Abdallah Senussi is technically a dead man walking. He is accredited with so much brutality that any trial will only end with a death sentence. PM al Kib has also underlined, as for Seif al Islam, that there will be no extradition to The Hague.
There are 200 million dollars of good reasons why the Mauritanian military junta gave in to the Libyan requests. Money that authorities in Tripoli have promised (or already deposited as some claim) to invest in Mauritania. It cannot be ruled out that as many benefits could come from Paris to Nouakchott for the same reason. In a poor country like Mauritania that kind of sum has a strong persuasive impact. Little does it matter if Nouakchott's decision will imply the death of Senussi.
Abdallah Senussi definitely is the biggest prey of the big game Libyan authorities are carrying on to bring to justice the former members of the regime. In order to strengthen their power and discourage nostalgic come backs of people linked to Khadafi, their aim is to legitimate the new leadership through the trial of the old one. The risk is that the Tuareg tribes in Mali and Niger could fall under this spell.
The same persuasive system applied in Mauritania has been used by Libya to obtain the extradition from Tunisia of former Prime Minister Mahmoud al Baghdadi.
Al Baghdadi had fled to Tunisia after the collapse of the regime. He was tried for illegal immigration and then absolved. The promise of significant Libyan investments in that country together with the sale of oil products at discount prices has convinced Tunis to extradite Mahmoud al Baghdadi to Tripoli on June 24 2012. He is currently detained pending trial in the same prison where Senussi is held. In this case the sacrificial victim is rather a symbol of the past regime than a tormentor like Senussi.
Saif al Islam
Besides for Senussi and al Baghdadi, other relevant figures that will undergo trial in Libya sitting on the defendant's bench include Seif al Islam (like Senussi accused of crimes against humanity for his political role and currently detained in the Zintan jail) and Abu Zeid Durda, chief of the External Security Service since 2009. A bitter twist of fate will see Durda, who had been appointed to lead that organization to “clean up” the brutality of the past, undergo trial while Moussa Koussa, his predecessor at the ESS since 1994 and who physically committed those acts of cruelty, is a refugee under protection in the United Kingdom. But Koussa will have probably repaid his English host with good pieces of information on the deeds and misdeeds of the past.
But there are other important figures who are absent in the roll call for the Libyan game bag. One of them is Khaled Tuhami, chief of the Internal Security Service, an organism dedicated to the dirty jobs against the opponents of the regime. Tuhami has found refuge in Egypt and, regardless of Libyan requests, authorities in Cairo have not granted his extradition yet. Marshal Tantawi was openly criticized in Tripoli in January for the Egyptian refusal to extradite Khaled Tuhami. Overall Libyans are requesting around 40 members of the former regime including Khadafi's cousin, Ahmed Khadafi al Dam, a former Foreign Minister Ali al Treki, and a former military intelligence chief, Al Jabou Abu Zeid. But until now even President Mohamed Morsi has not expressed his view.
Then there is the big game to the few survivors from the Khadafi family. With Mutassim (in the battle for Sirte on October 20 2011), Khamis (August 29 2011), Seif al Arabi (November 30 2011) killed, Saadi, Hannibal, Mohamed and the daughter Aisha are the only ones left on the roll call.
Saadi had fled to Niger in September 2011 after a failed attempt to negotiate his surrender to the Libyan rebels. He had obtained political asylum by authorities in Niamey whom, in the mean time, had rejected Libyan extradition requests. Having fled with a lot of money with him, Saadi had literally bought the solidarity of authorities in Niger and was living a lavish life while claiming, in television interviews, to be in contact with the armed opposition to the new Libyan authorities (and for this reason he had had some problems with his host country). With the extradition to Libya of his uncle Senussi, Saadi has immediately smelled a rat and how things could change for the worse. In fact, Libyan money, as easily as they have convinced Mauritania, could do the same in a poor country like Niger. And this will happen regardless of the strong bonds that have tied in the past President Mahamadou Issoufou and Khadafi himself.
Saadi has asked right away, through his Israeli lawyer Nick Kaufman, the authorization to quit Niger. Niamey has given the green light, but the UN (there is an international travel ban for the members of the Khadafi family) has yet to authorize Saadi to board a flight. He should probably go to South Africa where apparently part of his family's financial resources have already been set aside. Furthermore, during the conflict, authorities in Pretoria had tried to intercede to save Khadafi from defeat and had formally recognized the National Transitional Council only after the rebels had taken over Tripoli.
The remaining members of the family (his mother Safiyah, the sister Aysha, his brother Hannibal, the half brother Mohamed and the other relatives followed by a well nourished escort) are all under the protective wing of Algeria. They fled there on August 30 2011 crossing the Libya-Algeria desert near Ghadames and then pointed onto Djanet to allow Aisha to give birth to a girl. From there a private jet provided by Algerian authorities transferred them in the outskirts of Algiers. Asylum was granted for humanitarian reasons. The time to move on is approaching also for them.
Fearing a contagion and the growing presence of Islamic fundamentalists in the ranks of the rebels, Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his government, who have always been critical with regard to the Libyan rebellion, have now the interest to resume a constructive dialogue with Tripoli. The departure of the Khadafi family will surely bring renewed serenity to the bilateral relationship. Even in this case, given the UN travel ban (requested by the International Criminal Court whom Algiers does not recognize not having signed the Rome Treaty), any future movement is subject to an international authorization. Once again the final destination could be South Africa.
When the rebels finally broke into the Bab Azizya fortress in Tripoli, among the papers they found they recovered documents referring to Hana Khadafi, her passport and her studies in medicine. Hana had been adopted by the Rais and she had been officially declared dead during the US bombings of 1986. Where this person could now be (in Algeria together with the rest of the family or elsewhere) is presently unknown. Swiss authorities have ascertained that Hana had a bank account to her name in the Confederation.
Another member of the past regime is Shukri Ghanem. PM from 2003 to 2006, Minister for Oil until 2011, he represented the financial wing of all the elite surrounding the regime.
In May 2011 Ghanem fled to Tunisia with his family, passed through Italy (at that time thanks to Italian oil company ENI's intercessions he was offered the Italian citizenship, which was later refused after Khadafi's intervention) and then landed in Vienna, where he had spent quite some time during the OPEC meetings. From exile Ghanema had tried to befriend the rebellion, a move dictated more by opportunism than by conviction.
On April 29 2012 his body was fished out of the Danube. Accidental death caused by a stroke or an assassination? And, if it were the latter, who could have an interest in eliminating him? Surely enough Ghanem was a symbol of the old establishment, but he was also a holder of many secrets, especially financial ones, that someone wanted to polish off.
Well held secrets will determine the faith of several men linked to Khadafi and who have now fled abroad or have taken sides with the rebels. Someone who knows a lot and who could speak is Abdallah Senussi. When in Nouakchott a Lebanese delegation had approached him to know more about the disappearing of Shiite cleric Sheykh Moussa Sadr, who arrived in Libya in 1978 on Khadafi's invitation to celebrate the anniversary of the revolution and was never to be found again.
Libyan authorities are now preparing more reports on former members of the regime for crimes against humanity. There is a lot of talk about Khaled Tuhami, of Moussa Koussa and other high ranking officials, most of whom are survivors of the 26 people sanctions list put down by the EU in March 2011.
The more people from the past regime will be pursued, caught, convicted or physically eliminated, the stronger will the new Libyan leadership feel leading the country. The big game is still on.