Secrets may surface as Libya aims to try Gaddafi’s spy chief
THE forthcoming trial of Libya’s former intelligence chief, Abdulla al-Senussi, extradited to Tripoli from Mauritania yesterday, will throw light into some dark corners of the country’s past – and that of Britain’s relations with the former dictatorship.
Senussi was Muammar al-Gaddafi’s right-hand man for more than quarter of a century, a thuggish enforcer with intimate knowledge of a string of outrages, including the Lockerbie bombing, the supply of arms to the IRA and the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher.
Senussi was captured in Mauritania in March, triggering a tug of war between Libya, France and the International Criminal Court for his extradition.
Taha Ba’ra, spokesman for the prosecutor general in Tripoli, said: “The office of the prosecutor general has received Senussi and he will undergo a number of medical tests. Soon he will also undergo interrogation.”
A heavily bearded Senussi, recognisable from his characteristic tightly curled hair, was shown in a press photograph getting out of a helicopter in Libya. A soldier stood behind him, steadying him on the steps.
Senussi was arrested six months ago after arriving with a falsified Malian passport on a flight into the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, from Morocco.
“He is the ‘black box’ of Gaddafi’s crimes; he knows every single crime committed by the Gaddafi regime, even crimes committed outside Libya,” said Giuma Bukleb, press attache of Libya’s embassy in London who spent ten years in a regime jail before being freed and fleeing to Britain in 1988.
“If you want to know links to Lockerbie, about the Manchester bombings, you can have it now.”
Mr Bukleb was himself freed on the personal order of Senussi, who met him in jail in 1988 to tell him he would be released if he signed a promise not to commit crimes against the regime.
That regime, which ruled Libya for 42 years, was as notorious at home as abroad: Senussi ran the intelligence system that was central to Gaddafi’s iron grip on power in a state riddled with informers. He is also blamed for supervising the single greatest atrocity of the Gaddafi years, the massacre of 1,200 prisoners machine-gunned in Tripoli’s Abu Salem prison, where Bukleb was himself detained.
“He was a killer, he was the worst,” said Mr Bukleb, who gained asylum in the UK after being sponsored by human rights group Amnesty International.
What makes Senussi’s trial so anticipated is the answers he has to the campaign of terrorism he sponsored world-wide: Libya supplied weapons for the IRA and Senussi has already been convicted by a Paris court for the bombing in 1989 of a French UTA airliner over Niger with the loss of more than 100 lives.
He was also central to the orders to shoot protestors outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984 in which WPC Fletcher was killed. Former dissidents say he knows the identity of her murderer.
Yet his trial may also make some feel uncomfortable – he may reveal the details of the rapprochement brokered during the famous “meeting in the desert” between Gaddafi and former prime minister Tony Blair in 2004, which saw international sanctions lifted.
Senussi will also have the answers to what part Abdulbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, who died in Tripoli earlier this year, played in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing – and will be able to answer questions about whether the deal to send Megrahi back to Libya was linked to concessions for British oil companies.
For France, which took the lead with Britain in last year’s Nato bombing campaign of Libya, there is the prospect of finding out whether claims made in sections of the French press that Gaddafi bankrolled the election of former president Nicolas Sarkozy are true.
Further controversy is expected if Libya ignores calls by the International Criminal Court to hold Senussi’s trial in The Hague.
Libya has already ignored ICC claims on Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, who it will try this month in Tripoli for war crimes, and is likely to demand the right to try Senussi too.
And Libya itself may be traumatised by the trial: For thousands of ordinary Libyans, the litany of charges will bring back memories of torture, public executions and terror stretching back four decades.
But many senior figures of the Gaddafi administration remain in Tripoli, and if Senussi chooses to name names, a far wider investigation may be inevitable.
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