The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged lybia
If the NTC can't control Tripoli's airport...

Tripoli International Airport was seized by an National Transition Council-aligned militia from the city of Tarhouna on June 4th. The militia members were protesting the alleged kidnapping of their commander, one Abu-Ajilah Habshi, who reportedly disappeared on Sunday while traveling along the Tripoli Airport Road.

After holding the airport for several hours and forcing passengers to debark from planes on the runways, a deal was brokered to have the militia withdraw from the airport, and the troops and vehicles left on the same day.

The Tahroun militia organization advanced on the airport after a 24-hour notice demanding Habshi’s release apparently went unheeded (the militia stated it had reason to believe their leader was being held captive in the airport itself). Libya al-Ahrar reports that NTC Chairman Mustafa abd-al-Jalil, along with a delegation from Tahroun, reached an agreement with the militia to withdraw their troops and vehicles from the airport[1]. Earlier, Jalil had been told by the militia to “intervene to reveal the details surrounding the disappearance of chairman of the Tarhunah military council.”

No group has claimed responsibility for Habshi’s disappearance.The NTC blames Qadhafi loyalists for his disappearance, while the Tarhouna militia blames the Tripoli Security Committee.

The standoff, despite ending with the return of the airport to NTC control, is deeply embarrassing for the interim government. Earlier this year, NTC-aligned militiamen from the western town of Zintan had, after some delays, formally handed control of the Tripoli International Airport over to the NTC. The NTC had marked this changing of the guard - following several earlier handovers that broke down (or are still ongoing) - as a major success in asserting its rule over the country.

And this incident comes at a tense time as summer approaches. In an earlier move not related to the kidnapping, Libya’s national elections, are reportedly going to be pushed back a month, into July, in order to allow the election authorities, who had just approved the [inclusion( of Islamist parties in the elections, to vet 4,000+ candidates eligibility. In the meantime, the NTC has reportedly tried to set up a political body to oversee the practice of journalism in the country - drawing protests from Libyan journalists - as well as pass a controversial law setting up government-mandated press standards:

Law 37 prohibits “damaging” the 17 February revolution and also criminalises any insults to Islam, or the “prestige of the state or its institutions or judiciary, and every person who publicly insults the Libyan people, slogan or flag”.

The NTC passed Law 37 last month. Its backers argues that the law is necessary going into the elections because it also bans “glorification” of Qadhafi and that it will be repealed upon their conclusion. Journalist have countered by noting that it represents a reversal of the interim government’s earlier declarations on press freedoms and that the vagaries of the charges would leave reporters open to politically-motivated criticism.

The broadness of the law, and opposition from reporters and some members of the NTC, has led to a court review. Given the broadness of Law 37, factually reporting on a Libyan’s ties to the former regime - e.g., the fact that the founder of a new Libyan political party, Al-Watan, was a “former Libyan military commander” - might even be “construed” as an attack on the NTC’s legitimacy. Allowing such security officials to return to public life has been a deeply contested issue after decades of patronage and suppression. “In July 2011, militiamen killed Maj. Gen. ‘Abd al-Fattah Younis, Qaddafi’s former interior minister, whom the NTC had appointed commander-in-chief of rebel forces,” Nicholas Pelham notes, while “32,000 of Qaddafi’s 88,000-strong police force have returned to work” as well. The trials of top Qadhafi loyalists, including his former intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Sennussi, are set to begin this month. Concurrently, and controversially, “national reconciliation” talks might be building up in Cairo with a group of Libyan émigrés in Egypt represented by Ahmad Qadhafi, who defected from his late uncle’s regime last February, have drawn criticism: “[the meeting] would increase the tyranny of Al-Qadhafi’s supporters and their persistence in pursuing their actions of old,” a petition to the NTC read, arguing that the interim government “should have put real pressure on the Egyptian authorities to hand over these figures” instead of negotiating their possible return to Libya and politics. Multiple NTC members denied that the interim government had as a whole approved these talks, placing responsibility (and blame) on Jalil.

At the same time alleged ties to the Qadhafis have been used to order the arrest Libyans accused of collaboration.

The airport march by the Tarhouna militia is taking place in the context of national reconciliation efforts. Tarhouna and the region it is, the Bani Walid District, have been bastions of Qadhafi rule for years; some of the fiercest opposition to the anti-Qadhafi militias came from the area. This has made critics of the former regime even more leery of former Qadhafi loyalists, who in the past have clashed with local NTC-aligned fighters in Tarhoun itself. Additionally, members of the Tarhouna Military Council were apparently targeted in an assassination attempt by unknown parties this April.

  1. There were reports that another NTC-aligned militia, from Misrata, had been dispatched to the airport to compel the Tahroun militia to withdraw and, perhaps, to keep them from next marching on a key NTC compound by surrounding the airport. Smoke and gunshots were seen and heard from observers outside of the airport, though it is not clear who was firing on whom.  ↩

PostsPaul Mutterlybia
On Mediapart's Libya-Sarkozy scoop

The French news site Mediapart has released another document it claims shows that French President Nicholas Sarkozy and his close associates had maintained backdoor ties to the Libyan government from 2005 to 2011, including a 2005–6 agreement to allegedly funnel 50 million Euros worth of Libyan money into Sarkozy’s campaign chest.

The December 10, 2006 letter in question is said to be an official correspondence between Bashir Saleh Bashir[1], then-head of the Libyan African Investment Portfolio, the LAP and Moussa Muhammad Koussa, former head of the Mukhabarat el-Jamahiriya (the intelligence service) who in March 2011 quit his post as Foreign Minister and fled to the UK. In the letter, Moussa informs Bashir that per the results of the two men’s October 6, 2006 meeting Sarkozy’s chief of staff Brice Hortefeux and the arms dealer Ziad Takieddine, the LAP would be responsible for making payment of 50 million Euros to Sarkozy’s election campaign. The Libyan document released last week is the first new piece of evidence to be presented by the outlet since French terrorism lawyer Jean-Charles Brisard’s walking back of testimony he gave that had described alleged secret 2005 conferences between Sarkozy’s people and the Libyan regime in 2005.

The document is the latest piece of evidence reported by Mediapart in a now 10 month-long investigation into Sarkozy’s alleged ties to the deceased Libyan dictator. Jean-Charles Brisard, a French counterterrorism expert, had previously provided Mediapart with testimony from a French doctor associate of Takieddine and documentation of contacts among French Interior Ministry staffers, Takieddine and members of Qadhafi’s family, notably Saif al-Islam, former director of the Qadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation, and former military intelligence head Abdullah Senussi, who is wanted in France for his alleged role in the bombing of UTA Flight 772 in 1989. Anonymous sources told Reuters last month that the French government is very interested in winning Senussi’s extradition to them because of his contacts with French officials and defense contractors.

This October 6, 2006 meeting would have taken place a year to the day following an alleged October 6, 2005 meeting between some of the principal players in this drama. That 2005 contact reportedly took place during Sarkozy’s only known official visit to Libya. The 2005 meeting recorded by Brisard is said to be where the 50 million Euros payment was first discussed with Hortefeux, with the option of using a front company in Panama and a Swiss bank account to conceal the transactions. Mediapart did not note how it came into possession of the 2006 memo; the outlet’s 2005 sourcing come Brisard, who has since sought to distance himself from the materials of his cited by Mediapart by stating that the testimonies he has gathered “have no probative value” and that Mediapart was misrepresenting his research.

For the record, Sarkozy’s official campaign spending for the 2007 election was approximately 20 million Euros, just short of the maximum spending ceiling for candidates.

Takieddine, according to Mediapart, was the primary fixer between Sarkozy’s team, in particular Hortefeux who made the 2005 visit, as well as Claude Guéant (who replaced Hortefeux as Minister of the Interior last year) and Thierry Gaubert , Hortefeux’s predecessor and a confidant of Sarkozy’s. Takieddine reportedly sought to advance his own agenda of securing sweet deals for French firms with him as the broker through these get-togethers. Amesys, a French IT firm, has also been implicated in these dealings, having sold “Internet-interception equipment” to the Libyan government in 2007, whoch until early 2011 the regime used to monitor dissidents. Takieddine is thought to have helped broker this agreement, and earned a cut of US$500,000 from the deal, which after Qadhafi’s fall became hugely embarrassing for the telecommunications firm. Takeiddine also reportedly tried to make arrangements for Sakrozy’s 2005 visit by getting to discuss refitting contracts for the Libyan Air Force, now no by the UN from making orders to European defense majors, outside of the purview of the French Defense Ministry.

The arms dealer denies being present at these meetings, but says he believe that this agreement is authentic, claiming to have spoken with an irate Saif al-Islam in March 2011 about the funding and having seen documents he thought Gaubert would fear becoming public. Takeiddine says he is not sure whether the transaction actually went through or not in the end, but Saif al-Islam told him it did and actually went on TV last spring to accuse Sarkozy of “stealing” from the Libyan people.

Takieddine’s testimony is suspect, of course, because he is currently being investigated by a French court for his possible role in a scandal over kickbacks and money-laundering from the sale of warships to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia going to French politican Edouard Balladur’s 1995 presidential campaign. Sarkozy acted as Balladur’s spokesman during that campaign, and Gaubert was investigated last September over his alleged role in securing kickbacks for the 1995 campaign. Takieddine is thought to have maintained contact with the Saudis to secure further kickbacks under Sarkozy’s watch. The Pakistani ties are currently being investigated as a possible motive in a 2002 terrorist attack in Karachi that left 11 French nationals dead. This isn’t the first time key Sarkozy asosicates have come under scrutiny for alleged financial wheelings and dealings: at least two of his associates have been investigated for influence peddling.

Sarkozy denies the allegations, as do all of his associates from the Interior Ministry. It is not clear what effect this election year scandal has had on Sarkozy’s 2012 presidential campaign, but he is widely expected to lose his reelection bid to the Socialist candidate François Hollande, coming in second to him in the first round of elections. The second round of voting, and expected Sarkozy defeat, will take place on May 5–6.

(Ed. note: Moussa has denied the validity of the document from Qatar, where he has asylum, and the Sarkozy campaign has accused of Mediapart of being manipulated for political purposes and acting as an “officine” — an unnoficial political intelligence plant. The Hollande campaign has not pushed forcefully on this issue, but simply used to cast attention to the overall series of scandals that have plagued the Sarkozy administration. Mediapart has, for years, taken an anti-Sarkozy line and claims to have been the subject of surveillance by the Sarkozy administration. Its editor, Edwy Plenel, is a former managing editor of Le Monde and a highly respected and influential journalist.)

  1. Bashir’s name, and that of other Libyan officials, have more recently come up in reports from the British press on foreign intelligence services abetting Qadhafi’s spies in keeping tabs on dissidents in the EU.  ↩

PostsPaul Mutterfrance, lybia