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British intelligence inquiry to study Gaddafi links

Documents found after rebels took Tripoli have shown cooperation between British and US intelligence operatives and Gaddafi’s regime.

British Prime Minister David Cameron addressing the House of Commons today on Libya.
British Prime Minister David Cameron addressing the House of Commons today on Libya.
Image: PA/PA Wire

A BRITISH INQUIRY into the country’s pursuit of terrorism suspects will examine new allegations about cozy ties between UK intelligence officials and Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, Prime Minister David Cameron said today.

Security documents discovered after the fall of Tripoli have offered embarrassing examples of the warm relationships that British and American spies had developed with their Libyan counterparts.

The trove of files document efforts by the CIA and Britain’s overseas intelligence agency MI6 in advising Gaddafi’s regime on ending its international isolation. In return, the Western agencies won close cooperation as they hunted al-Qaida linked terrorism suspects.

Files discovered among tens of thousands of papers collected from an External Security building in Tripoli show how Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, now Libya’s rebel military commander, was targeted for rendition.

Belhaj, who was seized in Bangkok in 2004 and delivered to Tripoli, alleges that US and British intelligence planned his capture and were later involved in his interrogation.

The Detainee Inquiry

Cameron said a government-commissioned study — known as the Detainee Inquiry — being led by retired appeals court judge Peter Gibson must consider the allegations in its examination of Britain’s conduct in the years after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The British leader said there were significant accusations “that under the last government relations between the British and Libyan security services became too close, particularly in 2003.”

Lawmaker Jack Straw, who was Britain’s foreign secretary in 2003, said that his previous Labour Party government opposed torture or mistreatment, but acknowledged that it was “entirely right” that the inquiry examine claims Britain offered inappropriate support to Tripoli.

In one letter uncovered in Tripoli, dated 24 December, 2003, a British official thanks Gaddafi’s then-spy chief Moussa Koussa for a gift of a “very large quantity of dates and oranges.”

Koussa defected from Gaddafi’s regime and flew to Britain in March, where he was questioned for several weeks by intelligence officials.

In a public statement in April, Koussa — who also served as Libya’s foreign minister — acknowledged he had strong ties with a number of British officials.

“I personally have relations, and good relations, with so many Britons. We worked together against terrorism and we succeeded,” said Koussa, who later left Britain for Doha, Qatar.

Inquiry’s focus

Cameron said that Gibson’s inquiry panel would examine issues around relations with Libya. The inquiry’s primary focus is to consider allegations put forward by former Guantanamo Bay detainees who accuse Britain of being complicit in their mistreatment.

“The inquiry has already said it will look at these latest accusations very carefully,” Cameron told the House of Commons.

In a statement, the inquiry said it would look “at the extent of the UK government’s involvement in, or awareness of, improper treatment of detainees — including rendition.”

Andrew Tyrie, a British lawmaker who heads a group of legislators investigating so-called extraordinary rendition, said he hoped the British inquiry would get to “the truth about alleged British complicity in the kidnap and torture of detainees.”

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Cameron confirmed that Mahmoud Jibril, the head of the Libyan rebels’ acting Cabinet, has assured Britain that the country’s post-Gaddafi regime would assist British police hunting the killer of a policewoman shot dead outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984.

Since the NATO-led air campaign began in Libya on 19 March British fighter jets have flown 2,400 sorties — about one fifth of the total, Cameron told the House of Commons. He said that the mission would not end until the threat from Gaddafi loyalists had been fully suppressed.

“Those thinking NATO will somehow pull out or pull back must think again. We are ready to extend the NATO mandate for as long as is necessary,” he said.

Britain and NATO partners will also assist Libya’s interim government is bringing Gaddafi to justice, Cameron said.

“This is a man whose crimes are becoming ever more apparent every day and who is wanted by the International Criminal Court. There must be no bolthole, no pampered hiding place from justice. He must face the consequences of his actions, under international and Libyan law,” he told legislators.

Cameron said Britain’s top diplomat in Libya and other officials would move from a current base in Benghazi to Tripoli to prepare to reopen the UK embassy.

He also repeated calls for Syrian President Bashar Assad to stand down, and to halt violence which the United Nations estimates has seen 2,200 people killed since a crackdown on protests began mid-March

“The achievement of the Libyan people gives hope to those across the wider region who want a job, a voice and a stake in how their society is run,” Cameron said. “The message to President Assad must be clear: he has lost all legitimacy and can no longer claim to lead Syria. The violence must end.”

Read: Talks fail over surrender of pro-Gaddafi forces in Bani Walid stronghold >

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