Turkey arrests four members of alleged French spy ring in Istanbul

French consulate in Istanbul TurkeyFour men have been arrested by Turkish authorities in Istanbul, allegedly for being members of a spy ring operated by an agent who collected information on extremist groups for France’s external spy agency. The arrests were reported on Tuesday by a newspaper with close links to the Turkish government. It is worth noting, however, that the reports have not been confirmed by Turkish officials. If true, the incident points to further deterioration in the relations between the two nations, which are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The Turkish daily newspaper Sabah said on Tuesday that the leader of the French-handled spy ring is named Metin Özdemir. He is reportedly a Turkish citizen who worked in the security department of the French consulate in Istanbul. According to the paper, Özdemir admitted to Turkish police that he was sent to France where he took an eight-month-long surveillance and counter-surveillance training course. He was then sent to Georgia by France’s General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), where he gathered intelligence for his French handlers. In exchange for his services, the DGSE allegedly gave Özdemir regular cash payments and offered him a job in the French Foreign Legion.

Özdemir eventually returned to Turkey and was allegedly handled by two DGSE officials that he named as “Virginia” and “Sebastian”. He recruited three more Turkish citizens, including two utility workers, who formed a spy ring. The spy ring members were supplied by the DGSE with forged credentials, identifying them as employees of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT). According to Sabah, the spy ring supplied the DGSE with information on 120 individuals, most of whom were members of ultra-conservative religious organizations with alleged links to the Islamic State. The spy ring also allegedly spied on the Directorate of Religious Affairs, Turkey’s state-funded religious authority. Recently, however, Özdemir reportedly fell out with his French handlers and approached Turkish authorities, who promptly arrested him and the rest of the members of his spy ring.

The Sabah report comes just days after France filed a formal complaint with NATO, alleging that one of its warships was threatened in the open seas by a Turkish Navy vessel on June 10. According to French officials, the warship Courbet attempted to approach a Turkish Navy ship named Cirkin, which was believed to be smuggling weapons to Libya. The Turkish vessel refused to identify itself to the Courbet, which was inquiring on behalf of the NATO alliance. It also flashed its radar lights at the French ship, which is usually seen as a sign of impending confrontation, while its crew members were seen wearing bullet-proof vests and standing behind the ship’s mounted weapons. Turkey has denied the French allegations, but NATO said it will launch an investigation into the incident.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 June 2020 | Permalink

Russia flew unmarked military aircraft to Libya to evacuate mercenaries, US claims

Libyan National Army LibyaThe United States has alleged that the Russian military flew over a dozen unmarked aircraft to Libya, in an attempt to provide air support for Russian mercenaries who are fighting in Tripoli. If true, this development marks a major escalation of Russia’s military intervention in the Libyan civil war.

The war has been raging in Libya since 2011, when a popular uprising backed by the West and its allies led to the demise of the country’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. Much of the east of the country is controlled by the United States-backed Tobruk-led Government, which is affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA) and its commander, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Russia also backs the LNA and is vying with the United States for influence among Haftar’s commanders and troops. The LNA is fighting against the United Nations-recognized Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), which is supported by Qatar and Turkey.

On Tuesday, the Africa Command of the United States Department of Defense alleged that Russian pilots had flown military planes to Jufra, an LNA stronghold. The Americans claimed that the jets had been repainted in Syria to hide their Russian Federation insignia, before being flown first to Tobruk, in Libya’s east, and from there to Jufra. According to the Pentagon, the Russian planes were flown to Libya in order to provide air support to over 1,000 Russian mercenaries who are fighting alongside the LNA.

The mercenaries reportedly belong to the PMC Wagner (also known as the Wagner Group), a Russian security contractor with presence on the ground in Syria, eastern Ukraine, the Central African Republic, and elsewhere. Western officials allege that Russian private contractor firms like Wagner could not operate without permission from the Kremlin. According to recent reports, Wagner personnel have been participating in the LNA’s year-long effort to take Tripoli from the hands of the GNA and by doing so put an end to the Libyan civil war. But the offensive has not been going well in recent days, and Wagner forces were reportedly pushed back by Turkish- and Qatari-supported GNA troops.

The US Pentagon alleged that Moscow sent the Russian military aircraft to Libya in order to “provide close air support and offensive fires for the Wagner Group PMC that is supporting the LNA’s fight”. Other commentators have argued that the main purpose of the mission was to reach the outskirts of Tripoli and airlift the Russian mercenaries to safety. But Ahmed Mismari, a spokesman for the LNA, rejected reports of the arrival of Russian military aircraft to Libya as “media rumors and lies”. He said that all aircraft used by the LNA were “repaired […] old Libyan jets”. The Russian military has not commented on the allegations by the US Pentagon.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 May 2020 | Permalink

UAE arming Libyan warlord using covert flights, United Nations panel concludes

Libyan National Army LNAThe United Arab Emirates is behind a “covert air bridge” to supply weapons to Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, according to a leaked report by a United Nations investigative panel. A war has been raging in Libya since 2011, when a popular uprising backed by the West and its allies led to the demise of the country’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. Much of the east of the country is controlled by the United States-backed Tobruk-led Government, which is affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA) and its commander, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar (pictured). The LNA is fighting against the UN-recognized Libyan Government of National Accord.

In February of 2011, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1970, which —among other things— forbids the export of war materiel to Libya. The resolution was further-strengthened in 2014 and remains in place today. But weapons keep flowing into Libya. In 2017, it was disclosed that the LNA was receiving secret military assistance from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, in violation of the embargo. Now another report alleges that much of the military assistance to the LNA arrives in Libya via a “covert air bridge” operated by the UAE. According to the Bloomberg news agency, the information comes from a leaked report by a UN panel, excerpts of which were presented to the US Security Council earlier in May.

The report is said to allege that there has been a substantial increase in “secret flights” from airports in the UAE and from the Gulf country’s military airbase in Eritrea. In early January alone, at least 37 of these secret flights landed at Libyan airfields in areas under the control of the LNA, said the report. These secret deliveries were operated by “a complex network for companies”, which were registered in the UAE, the British Virgin Islands and Kazakhstan, according to the UN panel.

Bloomberg contacted the ambassador of the UAE to the UN, Lana Nusseibeh, who blasted the claims as “false” and said that the government of the UAE denied them “in their entirety”. She added that UAE officials would continue to work with UN panels investigating alleged violations of UN Resolution 1970. Bloomberg said it also contacted LNA officials with questions about the alleged secret UAE flights, but received no response.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 May 2020 | Permalink

Turkey offers to send troops to Libya as tensions rise with Greece, Egypt

Turkey LibyaTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said his country is prepared to deploy troops to Libya, just days after Ankara surprised analysts by announcing an agreement with the embattled Libyan government in Tripoli. The Turkish-Libyan agreement has spurred angry reactions from Israel, Greece and Egypt, all of which are competing with Turkey for control of newly discovered gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean seabed.

The Turkish-Libyan agreement merges the two countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and ostensibly prevents other players in the area, including Greece, Egypt, Israel and Cyprus, from drilling for natural gas without the consent of Ankara and Tripoli. However, according to Greece, the agreement disregards the presence of several Greek islands —including the largest one, Crete— in the Turkish-Libyan EEZ. Athens says that it views the Turkish-Libyan agreement as a direct claim against its territory. Last week the Greek government summarily expelled the Libyan ambassador from the country, marking a dramatic deterioration in the historically close relationship between Athens and Tripoli.

To further-complicate matters, several European countries, as well as Russia and the United States, do not support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), with which Turkey has signed its agreement. Instead, they support the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is commanded by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of the Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. Haftar lived in the United States under Washington’s protection for several decades before returning to Libya in 2011. The LNA, which is based in eastern Libya, is also supported by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other American allies in the Persian Gulf.

It follows that, if Turkey deploys troops to Libya, it may be entering a collision course with several of its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies. Ankara’s move will also be confronted by Russia, which is purported to have troops in eastern Libya. On Tuesday, however, Turkish President Erdoğan seemed determined to proceed with his plan. In a speech at a university in Ankara, the Turkish leader proclaimed that, “if Libya were to make a request, we would send a sufficient number of troops”, adding that “there is no hurdle” to doing so “after the signing of the security agreement” between Ankara and Tripoli.

This is the first time that Turkey has secured an agreement with a regional ally in the matter of energy exploration rights. Previously, Greece, Israel, Egypt and Cyprus struck a deal to coordinate their gas exploration activities, and eventually supply Europe with Israeli and Cypriot natural gas via a projected gas pipeline that would pass through Greece. But the Turkish move raises doubts about the prospects of such a project, with some analysts even speculating whether centuries-old rivals Greece and Turkey may be getting closer to war.

In a speech on Monday, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos warned Ankara that “Greece will defend its borders [and] territory”. Meanwhile European Union leaders met on Monday behind closed doors to discuss the imposition of sanctions on Turkey as punishment for disputing the maritime territorial boundaries of Cyprus, a European Union member.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 December 2019 | Permalink

France admits ownership of missiles found in Libyan rebels’ hands

FGM-148 JavelinThe French government has admitted that four anti-tank missiles found in a Libyan rebel camp belonged to its Special Forces units, but denied accusations that it deliberately breached the United Nations-imposed weapons embargo on Libya. Libya’s UN-recognized government, the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, announced in June that it discovered a cache of FGM-148 Javelin portable anti-tank missiles during a raid on a rebel camp. The camp belonged to forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a rogue Libyan warlord who is supported by a group of Western-led nations that includes the United States, France, Israel, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

The GNA released photographs of the laser-guided missiles and their shipping containers, which showed that the weapons were property of the “Armed Forces of the United Arab Emirates”. This appeared to constitute a clear breach of the UN-imposed weapons embargo on Libya, which has been in place since 2011. Last week, officials in Abu Dhabi said that the weapons did not belong to the Emirates, and claimed that the government of the oil kingdom was upholding the UN embargo on the North African country. On Tuesday, The New York Times cited anonymous French government sources, who said that Paris had purchased the four Javelin missiles from the US in 2010 for nearly $700,000. Finally, yesterday the French Armed Forces Ministry issued a statement admitting that it had indeed purchased the missiles from the US in 2010, and that they had been transferred to Libya for “the self-protection of a French military unit deployed to carry out counter-terrorism operations” there (incidentally, France does not officially have troops in Libya, so this statement is Paris’ second admission of the presence of French Special Forces in the country). The Ministry’s statement went on to claim that the missiles were “defective” and had been marked for destruction. The statement insisted that the missiles were not meant to be “transferred to local forces”. Instead, like all “damaged and unusable armaments, they were being temporarily stocked at a depot ahead of their destruction”, it said.

In 2017, two leading American experts, including a former special counsel for the US Department of Defense and a Harvard University law professor, accused Haftar of having committed large-scale war crimes. Unfazed by such criticisms, Haftar launched a large-scale offensive in April of this year, with the aim of conquering Tripoli and ousting the GNA. Several UN reports have since indicated that Haftar’s forces are secretly supported by several Western countries, Israel, Egypt and the Emirates, but this is denied by officials from those countries. In April of this year, a number European Union member states led by Italy criticized France for blocking a joint resolution calling on all warring factions in Libya to cease all hostilities and return to the negotiating table.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 July 2019 | Permalink

Italy rebukes France for blocking EU resolution calling for end to Libyan war

khalifa haftarSeveral European Union member states, led by Italy, have criticized France for blocking a joint resolution calling on all warring factions in Libya to cease all hostilities and return to the negotiations table. The latest round of hostilities was sparked by an all-out attack by a group calling itself the Libyan National Army (LNA). The commander of the LNA is Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of the Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, who lived in the United States under Washington’s protection for several decades. In 2011, following an uprising that toppled Gaddafi, Haftar returned to Libya and launch a military campaign from the eastern city of Tobruk. Since that time, he has led the LNA in a war of attrition against the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), which is based in the Libyan capital Tripoli.

Last week, Haftar launched an all-out attack to defeat the GNA and take Tripoli —a move that many observers have been expecting for several months. With the LNA receiving substantial military assistance from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries, most observers expected that Haftar would be the ruler of Tripoli within days. But his troops were unexpectedly pushed back by GNA troops on Monday, and have been unable to enter Tripoli from the south, as was their initial plan. Meanwhile the EU attempted on Wednesday to issue a joint statement calling on all warring sides to put down their weapons and enter into negotiations. But France blocked the draft statement, prompting heavy criticism.

On Thursday, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini criticized France for blocking the EU statement “for economic and commercial reasons” and warned that he would “not stand by and watch” France continue to support “a party that is fighting” in the Libyan Civil War. Salvini expressed the view that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s military intervention in Libya in 2011, which was strongly supported by France, was “triggered more by economic and commercial interests than by humanitarian concerns”. Unlike France, which has been a strong supporter of Haftar, Italy backs the UN-supported GNA and Libya’s legitimate Prime Minister, Fayez al-Sarraj.

In 2017, two leading international legal scholars accused Haftar of having ordered his troops to commit war crimes. Ryan Goodman, a professor and former special counsel to the general counsel of the United States Department of Defense, and Alex Whiting, a Harvard University law professor who served as an international criminal prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, said that in September of 2015, Haftar openly urged his troops to “to take no prisoners” in battle. The Libyan warlord denies these charges against him.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 April 2019 | Permalink

Western-supported Libyan warlord guilty of war crimes, say investigators

Khalifa HaftarLibya’s most powerful warlord, who was an asset of the United States Central Intelligence Agency before entering the Libyan Civil War, ordered his troops to commit war crimes, according to two American legal experts. Libya has remained in a state of war since 2011, when a popular uprising backed by the West and its allies led to the demise of the country’s dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Currently the strongest faction in the ongoing Libyan Civil War is the eastern-based Tobruk-led Government, which is affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA). The commander of the LNA is Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of Colonel Gaddafi, who lived in the United States under Washington’s protection for several decades before returning to Libya in 2011 to launch his military campaign.

But Haftar’s reputation as a military commander is now being challenged by two leading American legal experts. They are Ryan Goodman, a professor and former special counsel to the general counsel of the United States Department of Defense, and Alex Whiting, a Harvard University law professor who served as an international criminal prosecutor at the International Criminal Court. Together they have published a report on the Just Security blog, which is affiliated with several institutions, including the New York University School of Law. The two scholars argue that Haftar has publicly urged his troops to commit war crimes in several instances. Their report references a video that contains a brief given by Haftar in September 2015 to LNA commanders, in which he calls on them to take no prisoners. In a transcript of the LNA leader’s speech, he is reported to have told his audience: “Give no consideration to bringing prisoner[s] here. There is no prison here”. The two legal experts interpret Haftar’s statement as a clear case of “denial of quarter”, which they say is “a firmly settled part of the laws of war”. In another video, recorded in August 2016, Beleed al-Sheikhy, who is a spokesman for the LNA, is seen briefing LNA commanders about an upcoming battle in Ganfouda, a southern suburb of the port city of Benghazi. Al-Sheikhy says in the video that “anyone who is above 14 years of age will never get out [of Ganfouda] alive”. He tells the LNA troops that they should “consider this a confirmed notice”.

In June of this year, a report published by the United Nations suggested that the main reason for the LNA’s military prowess lies in the secret support it receives from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. In August, a British-based newspaper claimed that Haftar has been holding secret meetings with Israeli officials since 2015, and that the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, has secretly provided the LNA with military aid, including night vision equipment and various sniper rifles.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 September 2017 | Permalink

Israeli weapons, airpower, secretly given to Libyan warlord, source claims

Khalifa HaftarIsrael is secretly providing military assistance to Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, one of the factions in the Libyan Civil War, according to a British-based publication. Libya has remained in a state of war since 2011, when a popular uprising backed by the West and its allies led to the demise of the country’s dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Currently the strongest faction in the ongoing Libyan Civil War is the eastern-based Tobruk-led Government, which is affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA). The commander of the LNA is Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of Colonel Gaddafi, who lived in the United States under Washington’s protection for several decades before returning to Libya in 2011 to launch his military campaign.

In February of 2011, shortly after the popular uprising erupted in Libya, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1970, which —among other things— forbids the export of war materiel to Libya. In June of this year, the United Nations accused Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of violating the embargo by providing secret military assistance to Haftar and the LNA. Now a new report in a British-based Arab news outlet claims that, in addition to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, Israel too is helping the LNA. Allegedly, Tel Aviv has given the LNA war materiel and air power support, with the help of the United Arab Emirates.

Published in the London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (The New Arab) newspaper, the report claims that the Libyan strongman has been holding secret meetings with Israel since 2015. The publication cites a high-ranking official in the LNA, who spoke on condition of anonymity “out of fear for his safety”. The source, who is reportedly close to Haftar, told the newspaper that he is personally aware of two meetings held between Haftar and agents of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, in 2015 and 2016. The LNA official said the meetings between the LNA and the Mossad were held in Jordan “in strict secrecy”under the supervision of the United Arab Emirates. Soon after the meetings, said the unnamed official, Israel began to provide the LNA with military aid, including night vision equipment and various sniper rifles. He also claimed that this is known to the LNA fighters on the ground, because there are Israeli markings on the rifles issued to them. The official also claimed that Israel may have secretly provided air cover during at least one of the LNA’s offensive in recent years.

The claim of collusion between Israel and the LNA is bound to raise popular pressure against the pro-LNA government in Egypt, which borders with Libya. It will also increase tension between the LNA and Algeria, which borders Libya from the west. According to The New Arab, the government of Algeria issued “a strong warning” against Israel’s involvement in Libya, following reports of secret cooperation between the LNA and Tel Aviv.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 August 2017 | Permalink

Emiratis, Saudis, secretly assisting Libyan rebels with air power, says UN

Khalifa HaftarSecret military assistance from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which violates United Nations sanctions, is helping Libya’s eastern-based rebels prevail in the civil war there, according to a new report. Libya has remained in a state of anarchy since 2011, when a popular uprising backed by the West and its allies led to the demise of the country’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. Currently the strongest faction in the post-2011 Libyan Civil War is the eastern-based Tobruk-led Government, which is affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA). The commander of the LNA is Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of Colonel Gaddafi, who lived in the US under Washington’s protection for several decades before returning to Libya in 2011.

The Tobruk-led Government is ostensibly supported by the United States, but has also received Russian assistance. The status of the group is further-complicated by the fact that, in recent years, its military wing, led by Haftar, operates semi-autonomously. Some believe that Haftar has now stopped taking orders from Tobruk and has aspirations to lead his own armed faction in Libya.

In February of 2011, shortly after the popular uprising erupted in Libya, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1970, which —among other things— forbids the export of war materiel to Libya. The resolution was further-strengthened in 2014 and today remains in place. But the UN embargo did not appear to stop the military domination of Haftar’s LNA. In the past few months, the armed group has managed to extend its control over dozens of urban centers, oil installations and military bases and outposts throughout eastern and central Libya. Today, the LNA is seen as the dominant military authority in the war-torn country.

Now a new report published by the UN suggests that the main reason for the LNA’s military prowess lies in the secret support it receives from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The report was published on Friday by the “Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970”, a panel of experts appointed by the UN to oversee the implementation of the arms embargo. In its annual report, the panel asserts that Haftar’s forces received significant military assistance from the UAE in both ground and aerial support. Specifically, the LNA received nearly 650 armored and non-armored vehicles in April of 2016 alone, as well as helicopters and unmanned drones. The latter are now stationed the Al-Khadim air base, which was built by the LNA specifically in order to house the UAE-supplied aircraft. It is believed that the UAE operates the Al-Khadim air base, which is located approximately 60 miles east of Benghazi, Libya’s second most populous urban center.

The UN report goes on to state that much of the war materiel reaches Libya through ships that sail from Saudi Arabia, and that some Belarus-based companies are also involved in the illicit transfer of helicopters, non-armored vehicles and other items to Libya. It concludes that the materiel assistance provided by the UAE has “significantly increased the air support available to the LNA”, which in turn explains the group’s impressive military performance in the past year. The report’s authors noted that they contacted the government of the UAE in regards to the report’s findings, but received no response.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 June 2017 | Permalink

Russian special forces troops seen in Egypt and Libya, say reports

Khalifa HaftarRussia may have become the latest country to deploy special forces soldiers in Libya, according to news reports citing anonymous United States officials. Late on Tuesday, the Reuters news agency reported that Russian special forces troops had been seen on the border between Libya and Egypt. The news agency said that the information came from “two US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity”. The same article cited unnamed “Egyptian security forces”, who said that a 22-member Russian paramilitary team had set up an operations base in the Egyptian town of Sidi Barrani, which is located 60 miles from Libyan territory.

Libya has descended into a state of complete anarchy since the demise of the country’s dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The Libyan strongman was killed in 2011, as a result of a popular uprising backed by Western powers and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Arguably the strongest faction in the ongoing Libyan Civil War is the so-called Tobruk-led Government, which is affiliated with the Libyan National Army. The commander of the Libyan National Army is Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of Colonel Gaddafi, who lived in the US under Washington’s protection for many decades before returning to Libya in 2011 to participate in the war. The Tobruk-led Government is ostensibly supported by the US. However, its military wing, led by Haftar, operates semi-autonomously, and some believe that Haftar has aspirations to lead his own armed faction in Libya. Last November, Haftar visited Moscow, where he met with senior government officials, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. There are reports that the Russian special forces troops alleged seen in Egypt are operating in support of Haftar.

Earlier this week, a spokesman for the Tobruk-led government told Russian media that Moscow had promised to provide it with funding and military aid. Earlier this year, it was confirmed that a number of Russian private security contractors were in Libya and were providing services to Haftar’s militias. But there are no confirmed reports of the presence of Russian government troops on the ground in Libya. On Tuesday, Moscow denied the Reuters report and accused “certain Western mass media” of “spreading false information from anonymous sources” in order to “smear Russia”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 March 2017 | Permalink

Gaddafi’s spy chief could be executed before revealing Libya’s terror past

Abdullah al-SenussiA group of American, British and Irish citizens are pressuring their respective governments to prevent the impending execution of Libya’s former intelligence strongman. Abdullah al-Senussi, 65, led Libya’s intelligence services during the regime of the country’s late dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi. Last week, however, he was sentenced to death by a court in Tripoli for his role in “inciting genocide” during the 2011 civil war that toppled Gaddafi’s regime. American, British and Irish officials are being urged to intervene to stop Senussi’s execution, so that he can help shed light on Libya’s role in international terrorist plots in the 1980s and 1990s.

Senussi rose rapidly through the ranks of Gaddafi’s regime in the 1970s after marrying the Libyan leader’s sister-in-law. Eventually, he became one of Gaddafi’s most trusted aides, escorting him on most international trips and seeing to the medical needs of the dictator. Throughout that time he is believed to have led at various times Libya’s internal security agency, its external spy organization, and the country’s military intelligence agency. It is unclear however, whether he actually held any official posts in the Libyan government, especially after 1977, when Gaddafi abolished official titles and declared that his country was a Jamahiriya —a “state of the masses” not ruled by officials, but by “revolutionary” popular councils and communes.

During Senussi’s reign, especially in the 1980s, Libya deepened its connections with militant groups in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, prompting some European and American officials to describe him as “the world’s most wanted man”. On Tuesday of last month, Senussi was among nine former Gaddafi aides and officials to be sentenced to death by a court in the Libyan capital. They include one of Gaddafi’s sons, Seif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, as well as the late Libyan dictator’s Prime Minister, Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi. Ironically, the sentence imposed on Gaddafi’s son cannot be implemented, as he is being kept prisoner by a militia in western Libya, which has refused to surrender him to the central government in Tripoli since 2011. Senussi however, is being held in Tripoli, having been captured at the Nouakchott International Airport in Mauritanian in March 2012 in what is believed to have been a successful French-led intelligence operation.

Critics of Libya’s past dealings with terrorist groups believe that the jailed former spy director is aware of crucial details relating to the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people in 1988. He is also thought to possess information relating to Libya’s support for the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The militant group is said to have received training, weapons and cash from the Libyan government in the 1980s and 1990s. Victims of IRA operations and their families have continued to pressure London to intervene to prevent Senussi’s execution since his extradition to Libya from Mauritania in 2013. The Libyan government has said that it intends to execute Senussi in September.

Former Libyan oil minister found dead in Vienna [updated]

Shukri GhanemBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The former Prime Minister of Libya, who defected from the government of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi last summer during the peak of the Libyan civil war, has been found dead in Vienna, Austria. Shukri Ghanem, a former member of the General People’s Committee of Libya, had for years been a close friend and trusted aide of Colonel Gaddafi. Having previously served as a Director of Libya’s state-owned National Oil Corporation, he was appointed Prime Minister of the country in 2003. In 2006, he assumed the post of undersecretary at the Ministry of Petroleum —arguably Libya’s most powerful government ministry— from which he resigned in 2009. In May of 2011, he made international headlines when he abruptly appeared in Tunisia, saying he had defected from Libya. Soon afterwards, on June 1, he reappeared in Rome, Italy, where he held a press conference and announced that he was joining the Libyan rebel Transitional National Council. His public defection delivered a heavy blow to the regime of Colonel Gaddafi, which was eventually brought down a few months later. Ghanem was one of Libya’s most internationally recognizable government officials. He held advanced degrees in international law and economics from American universities and had lived and worked in Vienna, Austria, for years, as Director of Research for the international secretariat of the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries. Following his defection, he ended up back in Vienna, where he owned an apartment from his days working for OPEC. He was employed as a consultant for energy companies. But on Sunday, the high-profile Libyan defector was found dead in the Austrian capital. Vienna police spokesman Roman Hahslinger told Austrian media that Ghanem’s body was found “floating in the river Danube” in the early morning hours of Sunday. Read more of this post

Libya’s spy chief was lured by French-Mauritanian intelligence trap

Abdullah al-SenussiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
The arrest of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s spy chief in Mauritania last week was the culmination of a carefully planned French intelligence operation, which was secretly aided by the Mauritanian government, according to informed insiders. Abdullah al-Senussi, Colonel Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, who used to head the Mukhabarat el-Jamahiriya, Libya’s intelligence agency, was captured at the Nouakchott International Airport in the Mauritanian capital on March 17. He was detained as soon as he arrived there on a chartered flight from Mali. He had previously entered Mali from Niger, and was reportedly under the government’s protection. But the ongoing uprising of the pro-Gaddafi Tuareg in the north of the country, which has now resulted in a military coup in Bamako, caused the former Libyan spy chief to seek refuge elsewhere. According to a well-researched article by Reuters news agency, al-Senussi was gradually convinced to travel to Mauritania by the al-Me’edani clan, a pro-Gaddafi nomadic tribe that had previously worked for the Libyan security agencies and whose members had been given Libyan nationality by Colonel Gaddafi’s regime. The clan, says the Reuters article, was persuaded to turn its back on al-Senussi as part of a behind-the-scenes agreement between French and Mauritanian intelligence agencies. The deal was struck after a high-level agreement between the Nicolas Sarkozy government in Paris and the Mauritanian government of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. A career soldier and high-ranking officer, Abdel Aziz assumed power in the country in a 2008 military coup that was widely condemned by international bodies, including the United Nations. But the military regime in Nouakchott was pleased to see Paris engineer a thaw in relations between the two countries in 2009. Ever since then, the French government has publicly praised the regime of President Abdel Aziz as a “key partner” in combating terrorism. Mauritania’s decision to help France capture al-Senussi was a repayment to the country’s former colonial master for its support after the 2008 military coup, according to Reuters. Following his arrest, al-Senussi is believed to be held at the headquarters of the Mauritanian intelligence service in Nouakchott. Read more of this post

Research: Spies increasingly using Facebook, Twitter to gather data

Spying on social networkingBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
During the past four years, this blog has reported several incidents pointing to the increasing frequency with which spy agencies of various countries are utilizing social networking media as sources of tactical intelligence. But are we at a point where we can speak of a trend? In other words, is the rapid rise of social networking creating the conditions for the emergence of a new domain in tactical intelligence collection? This past week saw the publication of a new research paper (.pdf), which I co-authored with Micah-Sage Bolden, entitled “Social Networking as a Paradigm Shift in Tactical Intelligence Collection”. In it, we argue that recent case studies point to social networking as the new cutting edge in open-source tactical intelligence collection. We explain that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a host of other social networking platforms are increasingly viewed by intelligence agencies as invaluable channels of information acquisition. We base our findings on three recent case studies, which we believe highlight the intelligence function of social networking. The first case study comes out of the Arab Spring, which, according to one report, “prompted the US government to begin developing guidelines for culling intelligence from social media networks”. We also examine NATO’s operations during the 2011 Libyan civil war (Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR), when Western military forces systematically resorted to social networking media to gather actionable intelligence, by utilizing open sources like Twitter to pinpoint targets for attack. Finally, we examine the sabotage by Israeli security services of the 2011 “Welcome to Palestine Air Flotilla” initiative, a campaign organized by several European groups aiming to draw worldwide attention to the travel restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities on the Occupied Territories. Read more of this post

Maltese government secretly helped British spy operations in Libya

Libya and MaltaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In the 1980s, Malta was one of the world’s closest allies with the Libyan regime of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. For this reason, during the recent Libyan civil war, it was generally presumed that the island nation’s strong cultural and strategic links with Tripoli would prevent it from joining other European nations in actively supporting the Libyan opposition. But internal British government documents, which have been acquired by the BBC, show that Malta was secretly supportive of Western efforts to undermine the regime of Colonel Gaddafi, and went so far as to help smuggle British intelligence operatives into Libya. According to a recent exposé aired by the BBC’s flagship factual program Newsnight, the Maltese government took advantage of its active role as a hub for distributing United Nations humanitarian and logistical assistance to Libyan civilians during the war. In one specific case, Malta offered to work with British external intelligence agency MI6, to fly a group of British intelligence officers to an unspecified location in Libya. The British operatives’ ultimate goal was to meet up with leading members of the opposition Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), at a predetermined location near Libya’s second-largest city of Benghazi. According to the BBC, the Maltese government secretly authorized the transportation of the MI6 officers into Libya, using a Chinook helicopter, which took off in the middle of the night from Maltese territory. Unfortunately for the British, the mission was intercepted by NTC forces at the Benina International Airport, near Benghazi. Read more of this post