Libya and Terrorism: An Enigma Wrapped in Mystery? Part -I
A Tumultuous Journey since Independence:
The North African State of Libya has been in news recently for reasons other than the controversial antics of its President, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The capture of the Al Qaeda operative, Abu Firaj al Libby, a Libyan citizen, in early May this year in Mardan (Pakistan), calls for a deeper study of the Al Qaeda-Libya connection. Almost exactly a month later, on June 3, 2005, Libya was in news again when it was reported that an Al Qaeda cell in Libya has threatened an attack on the north east coastal city of Darna, if one of its cell leaders was not released from prison. Besides this attack, the group, in its internet statement also mentioned a list of other targets including President Gaddafi.
In the context of these two developments it is time to take note of the complex relationship between Libya and terrorism and Libya’s place in the ‘global war on terror’. Ranked second in the CIA fact list among the richest countries in Africa with a GDP of $7900 US, per capita, Libya has been a pariah for most of the time since its independence from colonial rule in 1951 under King Idris al-Sanusi. The Gaddafi era emerged in 1969 when the King was deposed in a military coup led by Col. Gaddafi, who began to pursue a pan Arab agenda. Libya has no friends among the Arab countries because of its strong political stand against ‘soft regimes’ in the Arab world. It has been an outcast even in its relations with the Western world, having witnessed political and diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions because of its acknowledged sponsorship of terrorist activities against Western targets.
There are two dimensions of Libya’s involvement in terrorist activities. One is its state sponsored terrorism targeted against regimes in the Arab world and the West. The other is the presence of Al Qaeda and other jihadi elements within its territory.
State Sponsored Terrorism:
The Libyan Intelligence Service was accused by a German court of being involved in the 1986 bombing in Berlin that killed two American servicemen and a Turkish woman and wounded 229 other people. In August 2004, The Gaddafi Foundation for Charity Association, headed by Gaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, agreed to pay compensation of $35 million to the families of the non American victims of the attack, even though Libya did not accept responsibility for the attack and said it was only making a humanitarian gesture.
The 1989 bombing of a French UTA passenger aircraft which exploded in mid-air over Niger and killed all the 171 passengers onboard led to the conviction of four Libyans. In January 2004, the Gaddafi Foundation agreed to pay $170 million as compensation to the families of the non American victims of the attack. The cases filed by the families of American victims are still under scrutiny in the American courts.
In a third such case, Libya accepted responsibility for the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people on board. In 2003, Libya reached a deal with the families of the victims and agreed to pay $2.7 billion as compensation in return for the lifting of UN and US sanctions and its elimination from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. The UN sanctions imposed in 1992 were lifted in 2003 while the US imposed sanctions in 1986 were removed in April 2004. The EU also lifted sanctions against Libya in October 2004. Libya is expected to make the complete payments as soon as it is eliminated from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Apart from these specific acts of terrorism carried out by the Libyan Government on foreign soil, Libya has also been accused of terrorist activities against prominent political figures of moderate Arab and African countries. Plots uncovered were against President Habre of Chad in 1984 and President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire in 1985. There were also evidence of attacks against President Anwar Sadaat of Egypt, Jaafar al Numayri of Sudan, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia, King Hussein of Jordan and King Hassan II of Morocco.
In August 2004, Abdul Rahman al Amoudi, a native of Eritrea, a powerful political player in the Washington area Muslim community, pleaded guilty in federal court to illegal financial transactions with the Gaddafi regime and confirmed his participation in a Libyan conspiracy to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.
Further accusations against Gaddafi’s regime include training, arming and financing radical factions of the PLO. In the mid 80s, Gaddafi’s links to the Abu Nidal Organisation or the Fatah Revolutionary Council and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) were discovered. Apparently millions of dollars had been siphoned to these organisations by the Libyan state agencies. Libya has also provided material support to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Basque separatist group (ETA) of Spain, and Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front.
Libya’s tumultuous past continues to haunt its relations with the international community as the rest of the world struggles to come to terms with the Gaddafi regime.