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

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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