Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

Posts Tagged ‘Benghazi

LIBYA – THE OBEIDAT (A third post about Libyan tribes) UPDATED 12th March 2017.

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The 17th February 2011 revolt against Muammar Gaddafi hinged, to some extent, on tribal loyalties. Following his fall from power tribal loyalties are reasserting themselves. Whilst a great deal of attention has been focussed on the armed militias which are hijacking the Libyan democratic process the importance of tribal allegiance tends to be overlooked. This ‘post’ sets out to examine the role of the Obeidat tribe in the rebellion and its aftermath. Firstly, members of the Obeidat tribe identify themselves by adding al Obeidi to their name. There is a spelling problem. Obeidat is the current form but Obaydat, Abaydat,Abaidat or ‘Ubaydat are also correct and appear occasionally.

(The man who murdered 22 people and injured 59 others in Manchester on Monday 22nd May 2017 has been named as Salman Ramadan Abedi, a Mancunian of Libyan descent. It is very likley that Abedi is a corruption Abeid, a sub section of the Obeidat tribe originating from Derna.)

A young law student, Iman al-Obeidi, entered the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli on 26th March 2011 and found some members of the international press corps in the restaurant. She told them that she had been gang raped by Gaddafi’s soldiers who had arrested her on the Tripoli to Tajura road. Her story found its way on to international TV and the furore that ensued drew attention to the plight of rape victims in Libya and the brutality of Gaddafi’s loyalist. Iman was born in Tobruk, the port in Eastern Libya, where the late King Idris preferred to live quietly amongst the amongst loyal Obeidat tribesmen.

Also in February 2011 Maj. Gen. Suleiman Mahmud al-Obeidi, commander of the Tobruk military region, defected to the anti Gadaffi rebels along with the Tobruk military garrison. More significantly Staff Maj. Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis al-Obeidi, Gadaffi’s old friend and interior minister, announced his defection to the rebels on Al Arabiya television on 23rd February 2011. He became the front line commander of the rebel army but was murdered under strange circumstances on 29th July 2011.
The Obeidat tribe had opted to join the 17th February anti-Gaddafi rebel confederation based in Benghazi. Whilst acknowledging the role of personal ambition, I argue that both of these senior officers are very likely to have been under pressure from their tribe when they made their decisions. Both officers had clearly received assurances from their tribe that their actions on behalf of the Gaddafi regime would be forgotten; a not inconsiderable factor, especially in the case of a minister of the interior. As a result of their defection rifts occurred amongst the senior officers loyal to Gaddafi and his power began to crumble. Their defection also gave weight to the rebel claim for assistance from the NATO powers.
Maj. Gen. Suleiman Mahmud al-Obeidi’s defection secured for the rebels the port of Tobruk and the Marsa El Hariga oil terminal. Crude oil from Sarir field is pumped through a 400 km pipeline to the terminal which has three berths with a loading capacity of 8,000 tons/hour for tankers of up to 120,000 metric tons deadweight. (There was a loaded tanker in the port at the time of the major general’s defection and the oil it carried was sold with the aid of Qatar to help fund the rebellion.)
Al Obeidat is the largest tribe in East Libya and its homeland, its watan, is extensive, varied and often difficult. It stretches from the strategically important border with Egypt in the east to the highlands above Derna in the west and includes the key port of Tobruk. This was known as the Marmarica region of Eastern Libya.
During the 18th century it pushed the Awlad ‘Ali tribe out of Libya into Egypt’s western desert but cordial relations still exist between the two tribes though the Egyptian border has become unruly and arms and drug smuggling has increased alarmingly.
The Obeitat is a ‘Saadi’ tribe which traces its ancestry to the founding mother of the nine aristocratic tribes of Eastern Libya. In theory all the true members of the tribe own their territory by right and are, therefore, Hurr or free. Infact there are fifteen sub-tribes which have their own homelands and also their own sheiks. These sub-tribes tend to act independently and there are often disputes amongst them. When there is a major threat to the tribe as a whole they tend to act in unison but not always. This is the case for most of the Libyan tribes and that is one of the reasons it is difficult to govern the country. Other tribes that use the Obeidat territory do so as tenants. They are known as Marabtin or client tribes. There are a number of these client tribes, for example the Qat’an, the Taraki and the Huta, which use the Obiedat homeland on territory for which they have long ceased to pay a fee.

Another such is the Minifa tribe to which the Libyan hero Omar Mukhtar belonged.
Omar Mukhtar was a sheik of the Sufi Senussi order which was led by King Idris al Senussi. It formed a theocracy which knitted the tribes of Eastern Libya together. King Idris gave prominence to the Eastern tribes and the Obeidat was loyal to the Senussi order. Gaddafi destroyed the Senussi order along with the power of the nine Saadi tribes. These tribes will be looking to redress the balance of power in their favour, a factor for the new government to address soon.

John Oakes – 6th November 2012
For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Update 10th November 2012

A very interesting development in the trial of those accused of murdering  Staff Maj. Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis al-Obeidi. See this:-

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/11/10/younis-murder-judge-orders-jalil-to-appear-in-benghazi-court/

Update 8th January 2013

The trial of a member of the Obeidat has just commenced in Tripoli and will be worth following:
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/07/court-cases-adjourned/

Update 9th January 2013
Some details of the killing of Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis al-Obeidi
http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2013/01/02/feature-02

Update 25th January 2013

The Benghazi ‘hit list’ has become world news. One senior officer assassinated in that city in September 2012 was a member of the Obeidat. Air Force Colonel Badr Khamis Al-Obedi was assassinated by unknown gunmen as he left the city’s Saida Aisha mosque after prayers.

Update 30th July 2013

The new Libya Chief of Staff has just been announced. He is Colonel Abdulsalam Jad Allah Al-Salheen Al-Obaidi.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/30/new-chief-of-staff-appointed/

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/31/new-chief-of-staff-promoted-then-sworn-in/

Update 30th October 2013

Another twist to the mystery surrounding the killing of Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis al-Obeidi:
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/10/29/two-killed-five-critically-injured-in-shooting-at-benghazi-protest/#axzz2jCRu70X3

LIBYA – KHAMIS GADDAFI IS REPORTED DEAD AGAIN. HOW MANY TIMES CAN HE DIE AND ARE THERE MORE GADDAFI LOYALISTS AT LARGE?

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The Libya Herald’s George Grant has been reporting brilliantly from the vicinity of the desert stronghold of the Warfella tribe, Bani Walid, where a number of militia forces from Misurata and others have mounted an attack. The militias have been shelling the hilltop town of 70,000 people for several days. It is likely that 22 people had been killed and 200 wounded in the fighting. The refugee problem is becoming acute. The Bani Walid Crisis Management Centre has claimed that almost 10,000 families have fled the fighting in total.

There are four main reasons for the attack. The Warfella tribe was highly favoured by Muammar Gaddafi and has long been at odds with the Misurata tribe,though both are part of the Berber Hawwara confederacy. Bani Walid was the last town to submit to anti Gadaffi forces during the late civil war (It submitted unwillingly on 17th October 2011). There have been indications that Gaddafists have been hiding in Bani Walid. The Misuratan hero, Omran Shaban, who found the fugitive Colonel Muammar Gadaffi sheltering from a NATO air strike in a storm drain in Sirte on 20th October 2011 has been incarcerated and later killed in Bani Walid without trial. Libya’s congress gave Bani Walid a deadline to hand his killers over. They were unable to do so.
Gaddafi’s youngest son, Khamis, was the ruthless, Russian trained commander of the formidable 32nd (Khamis) Brigade. This was a fanatically loyal, heavily armed, highly mobile and elite force maintained by the Gadaffi family independently of the National Army Command Structure. It was used extensively and unscrupulously in the battle for Misurata. It lost the battle and Khamis Gaddafi was said to have been killed on 29 August 2011 during a NATO airstrike. This was never confirmed.
Rumours have long been circulating that he was still alive and had gone to ground, probably in Bani Walid or possibly in neighbouring Tarhuna where Gaddafist sympathisers may also lurk. The rumours may have been proved correct. On 20th October 2012 it was reported that Khamis Gaddafi was wounded in a fire fight in Bani Walid and captured by Misuratan militiamen. He was, it was announced, being transported to Misurata when he died en route. News that he was dead spread quickly and was received with jubilation in Misurata and Tripoli.

Update 24th Octover 2012 -The fall of Bani Walid to Libyan government troops was announced today, 24th October 2012, along with the capture of a number of Khamis Brigade fighters who had been hiding in the town. A Libyan government spokesman apologised for the premature announcement of Khamis Gaddafi’s death. The Khamis Gaddafi legend lives on it seems.

The striking coincidence is that on 20th October 2011 the dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, was caught by a NATO air strike attempting to leave Sirte and subsequently executed in a summery fashion after being captured by Misuratan militiamen. Whilst his capture and his last living minutes were recorded his execution was not.
There has been plenty of speculation about Muammar Gadaffi’s death. One extreme view is that he was killed by NATO Special Forces to ensure that he would not reveal damaging information to try to save his skin. I suspect that he was shot in anger and in the heat of the moment but there are questions to be answered about how he was spotted and targeted.

As Michel Cousins, the editor of the Libya Herald wrote; ‘Khamis’s death occurred exactly a year after that of his father, the dictator who was captured, then killed, in Sirte. Given the mystery and conspiracy theories that have arisen about Gaddafi’s death, the fact that, like him, Khamis was captured by Misuratan forces and then died will certainly trigger a mass of allegations about his demise.’ Michel Cousins is right. Rumours arouse dangerous emotions. For example, even now Gadaafist sources are suggesting that the Misuratans are preparing to ‘fake’ Khamis Gaddaf’s death.

About 500 protesters broke into the grounds of Libya’s parliament building in Tripoli on Sunday to demand an end to violence in Bani Walid. They were said to be Tripoli residents with roots on Bani Walid. They were prevented from entering the building where the General National Congress was in session.The former Khamis Brigade base to the west of Tripoli was attacked last Saturday. It was later retaken by government forces from the Thunderbolt Battalion.  The attackers may have been from the Wirshefana  tribe seeking weapons or attempting to divert the armed forces from the attack on Bani Walid. Also on Saturday around 400 protesters stormed the offices of the Al Hurra television station in Benghazi after it announced the arrest of Gaddafi’s spokesman Moussa Ibrahim and the capture and death of Khamis Gaddafi.

Two of Gadaffi’s other sons are still the focus attention. Saif al Islam Gaddafi is incarnated about 85 miles south west of Tripoli in the Berber town of Zintan. The Libyan government has not been able to have him transported to Tripoli and nor is it yet able to bring him to trial. His brother, the ‘play boy’ Saadi Gadaffi, is under nominal house arrest in Niger. He has been seen with a coterie of ex Gaddafist army officers enjoying the high life in Niamey. The government of Niger appears to be reluctant to extradite him to Libya.

The killings in Benghazi of senior military officers and policemen who defected from the Gadaffi regime are still unsolved. Around 15 have been killed so far. Are the killers attempting to purge the army and police force of Gaddafists? There is another hypothesis which gains strength in the light of Khamis Gadaffi’s sojourn in Bani Walid. Are the Benghazi ‘hit list’ killers undercover Gaddafists who are attemting to eliminate those they consider traitors?

BENGHAZI, AL QAEDA HIT LISTS AND US POLITCAL BAND WAGONS (UPDATED 21ST NOVEMBER 2012)

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To lose and ambassador is not a good thing to do and the Obama administration must be held to account for allowing a popular one to be killed in Benghazi on 11th September 2012. It seems that the Governor Romney’s campaign people have focused their spotlight on Obama’s apparent parsimony in the matter of the diplomatic security budget and suggested that was the prime cause of Ambassador Stevens’ untimely death in Benghazi. However, I argue that this manufactured furore is a white elephant – if the GOP stalwarts will excuse the pun.

I suggest that the question Secretary Clinton should be required to answer is not, primarily, about the funding of security arrangements at the US Consulate in Benghazi. It is about a failure in old fashioned management and local knowledge which allowed Ambassador Stevens to visit Benghazi at such a sensitive time; made all the more dangerous by the violent feelings resulting from the publication in the US of an ill-conceived anti-Islamic video.

Firstly Benghazi is a volatile and, right now, a lawless city. Its citizens have often taken their grievances to the streets, sometimes violently. It was the seat of the 17th February uprising against the Gaddafi regime. It was the provincial capital of Cyrenaica, now called Eastern Libya. The oil fields are mostly within Eastern Libya, as is the source of water for the Great Man Made River which supplies Libya’s major cities. Benghazi’s people feel that they ‘own’ the oil and the water and that they were the first to risk their lives to rid the country of Gaddafi. There is an air of paranoia and Tripoli envy in the city.

There are a number of independent and heavily armed militias in Benghazi. They have developed a taste for summery justice. They were first raised in February and March 2011 to fight against Gadaffi and have neither been disbanded nor absorbed into the National Army or police force. They are employed by the Libya’s embryo government as de facto army units and police forces. One of them was called Ansar Sharia, the most likely perpetrator of the well organised attack on the US consulate during which Ambassador Stevens died of smoke inhalation and the later attack on the CIA annex. The ambassadors’ death seems to have been a deplorable but secondary outcome of the planned attack. There were connections between the Ansar Sharia militia in Benghazi and Derna and the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. This must have been clear before 11th September 2012.

There was no US Consul in Benghazi. Ambassador Stevens appears to have covered the duties himself, mostly from his embassy in Tripoli. The consulate is housed in a rented villa and appears to have been guarded by a five man security team from the US diplomatic protection service and a rota of Libyan guards employed by a small British security company called Blue Mountain. This company had a Libya partner and other security contracts in Benghazi. The Blue Mountain guards were armed with Tasers and were thus not employed or equipped to defend the consulate against a heavily armed attack. Their British manager appears to have left Benghazi following a difference of views with the company’s Libyan partner. Two of his sometime employees had earlier blown a substantial hole in the consulates perimeter wall with an IED in revenge for their dismissal. The vetting and oversight of Blue Mountain may have been less than rigorous. The consulate was also guarded by members of a local armed militia.

The US consulate in Benghazi was the last to fly a foreign flag. The British had evacuated their diplomatic personnel from their Benghazi consulate after an attempt on their ambassador’s life in broad daylight in a well-guarded part of the city. This incident must surely have focused the attention of Secretary Clinton’s Libya watchers in Washington. The British have been useful allies of the US with whom they exchanged intelligence in the past. They have long and well-earned experience of diplomacy in Benghazi. The Red Cross had also left the city after its premises were attacked. They are usually the last to leave in such circumstances.

The Ansar al Sharia militia brigade is, therefore, the most likely perpetrator of the well organised attack on the US consulate and the CIA annex during which Ambassador Stevens died of smoke inhalation. His death seems to have been a deplorable but secondary outcome of the planned attack. There are said to have been connections between Ansar Sharia and the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Its rhetoric had been aimed at the US for some time. This must have been well known before 11th September 2012.

There were other pointers which must have alerted the US diplomats in Libya to potential dangers. The 11th September was the anniversary of the killing by the US in Pakistan of Abou Yahya al-Libi the al Qaeda second in command. He was a Libyan and revenge taken in Libya for his killing would have been gruesome publicity for the reach and power of al Qaeda.

There is now some speculation about Ambassador Stevens’ dairy in which he is supposed to have expressed his suspicion that he was in an Al Qaeda ‘hit list’. Perhaps he was. There is a hit list in Benghazi. He would not have been on it. It is aimed at killing senior police and military officers who had served in the Gaddafi regime. So far fifteen or so have been murdered but the killers have not yet been identified.
Ambassador Stevens was popular in Benghazi. He had been posted there very soon after the 17th February uprising and helped those who are attempting to form the new government in Libya immeasurably. He had earned the thanks of the people of Benghazi and, tragically, may have felt safe amongst them. Perhaps he was overconfident. His advisers and superiors in the State Department should have taken more care of him. So the real questions are these. Was the management of the US consulate in Benghazi effective? Was the ambassador’s visit to Benghazi necessary when the conditions there were so volatile? Was the CIA not aware of potential al Qaeda connections in Benghazi? Their expertise and effectiveness in Libya must surely be examined.

US citizens will be heartened to know that a 30,000 strong street protest in Benghazi led to the disbandment of ‘Ansar al Sharia’. However, there have since been a series armed attacks in Benghazi which indicate that many militiamen have gone to ground, taking their arms and ammunition with them.

John Oakes

amazon.com/author/johnoakeslibyastories

Update 16th October 2012

Republican senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte in a joint
statement said;

“We must remember that the events of Sept. 11 were preceded by an escalating
pattern of attacks this year in Benghazi, including a bomb that was thrown into
our consulate in April, another explosive device that was detonated outside of
our consulate in June and an assassination attempt on the British ambassador. If the President was truly not aware of this rising threat level in
Benghazi, then we have lost confidence in his national-security team, whose
responsibility it is to keep the President informed. But if the President was
aware of these earlier attacks in Benghazi prior to the events of Sept. 11,
2012, then he bears full responsibility for any security failures that occurred.
The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is
ultimately the job of the Commander in Chief. The buck stops there.”

Read
more: http://swampland.time.com/2012/10/15/hillary-clinton-takes-one-for-the-team/#ixzz29TGj0BYd

and also; http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timstanley/100185456/interrupted-by-the-moderator-denied-time-to-respond-the-debate-was-hard-on-mitt-but-he-was-right-about-libya/

Update 26th October 2012

There are a number of commentators who have never been to Libya who seem ready to write about the killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi. The tragedy has become embroiled in the US Presidential election campaign. The possibility of a premature reaction by the US must alarm us all.

The Libyan Prime Minster elect, Ali Zidan, is likely to appoint a cabinet member responsible for finding the killers. There is evidence that two of the possible culprits have been apprehended, one in Egypt and the other in Tunisia.

The flowing two pieces are, therefore, interesting. Let us hope that the US government is capable of sober judgment and measured responses;

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100186461/benghazi-will-do-to-obama-what-al-qaeda-did-to-chris-stevens/

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/10/25/stevens-murder-suspect-killed-in-cairo-tunisian-held-in-tunis-jail/

Updated 3rd October 2012

Further to the story of a suspect held in Tunis;

http://www.bradenton.com/2012/11/02/4263957/senators-us-gets-access-to-libya.html

Update 4th October

More on Libyan Al Qaeda suspect in Egypt

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/11/02/libyan-amongst-12-al-qaeda-suspects-arrested-in-cairo/

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/suspect-in-libya-us-mission-attack-killed-in-cairo-police-.aspx?pageID=238&nid=33218

Update 12th November 2012.

The plot thickens as we await the Congressional hearing on Thursday.

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/concoughlin/100189203/was-petraeus-forced-out-to-silence-his-account-of-benghazi-killings/

http://www.eurasiareview.com/13112012-petraeus-resignation-sparks-speculation-oped/

Update 18th November 2012

The David Petraeus story becomes very intersting for Libyans. He has given evidence before a US Congressional Committe and the LIbyan Herald carried this yesterday.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/11/17/david-petraeus-claims-cia-knew-all-along-that-benghazi-attack-was-orchestrated-by-terrorists/

Update 21st Novemver 2012

Update 21st November 2012

This is the 18th assassination of high level security officials in Benghazi since the revolution. They were all sometime senior officials of the Gadaffi regime.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/11/21/benghazi-security-directorate-chief-assassinated/

LIBYA – THE BENGHAZI TREASURE – WHAT WAS IT AND WHO TOOK IT?

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On 1st November 2011 the readers of the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ may have been interested in Nick Meo’s piece headlined ‘Treasure of Benghazi…… theft may be one of biggest in history’. Nick told them; ‘A priceless collection of nearly 8000 ancient gold, silver and bronze coins has been stolen from a bank vault in the Libyan city of Benghazi’.
Since then the story of the ‘Treasure of Benghazi’ has reflected the unforeseen consequences of the Arab Spring and the damaging effects of the illicit trade in antiquities, said to be the third most lucrative crime after drug running and arms smuggling.
It may be useful to add something about the history of East Libya as a background to the Benghazi Treasure story. In 631 BC the fertile land east of Benghazi, known as the Jebel al Akhdar, received a colony from the Greek island of Thera, now Santorini, which had become overpopulated and was in the throes of a famine. The Therans were soon joined by other colonists from Aegean islands. The colony was successful and gave rise to four daughter colonies, Euhesperides (later Berenice and now Benghazi), Appolonia (the port of Cyrene on the coast below the great city itself), Taucheira (now called Tochra, the ruins of which guard the Tochra pass up into the Jebel al Akhdar) and Ptolemais. These five communities together were sometimes known as Libya Pentapolis.
The level of civilisation in Cyrene was notably high as the great ruins, still seen in the Jebel al Akhdar, amply testify. The fertile region, which surrounds it, was brilliantly cultivated and supplied the Greek city states with livestock, wine, apples and olive oil. In 96 BC the Greek influence in Cyrene began to dwindle, and the last Greek ruler, Ptolemy XII Apion, left it to the Romans in his will. It remained a Roman province for around 300 years.
The best inventory of the lost Benghazi Treasure is given by Martin Bailey in his piece entitled; ‘Interpol confirms Libyan treasure was looted’ in ‘The Art Newspaper’, Issue 229 dated November 2011. He states that it consists of three collections of archaeologically excavated material and is thought to comprise ’364 gold coins, 2,433 silver coins, 4,484 bronze coins, 306 pieces of jewellery and 43 other antiquities’. The coins come from the Mieleu collection.
The Benghazi Treasure contained the most important antiquities to be excavated in Eastern Libya during the Italian occupation which lasted from 1911 until 1942. The finest of the items were found in 1917 at the Temple of Artemis in Cyrene. Dating from the fifth and sixth centuries BC, they included gold earrings, embossed heads and a plaque depicting a battle. Other treasures were excavated in 1937 from the Palace of Columns in Ptolemais.
In 1942, when the British 8th Army was advancing on Libya, Italian archaeologists packed up the treasure and sent it to Rome. In 1961, during the reign of King Idris, the collection was returned to Benghazi were a museum to house it was planned. It failed to materialise. In the meantime the sealed boxes containing the treasure were placed in a vault in the National Commercial Bank on Omar al-Mukhtar Street where they remained until the February 2011 revolution when Gaddafi’s forces were removed from the city.
The bulk of the treasure has vanished, though who took it remains a mystery. Details of the robbery are slowly emerging. The Treasure was largely in sealed boxes placed in metal storage cupboards in a strong room at the National Commercial Bank of Benghazi. On 25th May 2011 thieves drilled a narrow hole through the concrete ceiling and entered the strong room. They broke open the metal storage cupboards and the red wax seals on the wooden trunks housing the collection. The thieves made away with all but ten per cent of the objects originally housed in the vault.
The story now takes a sinister turn. The bank officials did not report the theft until October 2011, over six months later. Fadel al-Hasi, Libya’s acting minister for antiquities, told the BBC there were suspicions that the robbery was an inside job. The robbers clearly knew where the boxes were and what was in them. They left other valuable items in the vault untouched. Suspicion falls on employees of the Libyan Department of Antiquities or the bank’s employees. The later have been questioned several times. Mr al-Hasi has, belatedly, alerted Interpol and international antiquities markets are being monitored.
There were a number of possibilities for the disposal of the treasure. If it was an inside job it might have been stolen to order. Looted and illegal antiquities pass from plunderers to dealers who value them and arrange for them to be moved on to the markets. The enormous increase in the volume of this trade over the past twenty years has caused the large-scale plundering of archaeological sites and museums around the world.
There are those, like Paul Bennett of ‘The Society for Libyan Studies’, who are certain that there are organized bands of antiquity thieves going across the Libya border into Egypt. A number of Roman antiquities was recovered last year when a convoy of forces loyal to Qaddafi were intercepted on the road to Tripoli airport. The loot included 17 stone heads and some terracotta fragments.

Rumours are beginning to emerge. Some early reports indicated that 500 coins from the Benghazi Treasure turned up in Egypt and others have appeared on the black market in Libya. Nick Meo (see above) has reported that an Egyptian farmer was caught with over 500 coins and a gold figurine that may to have come from the Benghazi Treasure.
We have a fair idea of what the ‘treasure’ was but not of who took it or where it has gone.
John Oakes

WILL PRESIDENT OBAMA BE FORCED INTO A ‘SHOW OF STRENGTH’ IN LIBYA?

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As President Obama strives for re-election, pressures may be mounting on him to strike at those who killed the US ambassador and his colleagues in Benghazi on 11th September. The process of identifying and selecting the possible assassins in Libya is well advanced. The President’s reactions in this matter will be guided by public opinion at home as well as by strategic imperatives. To allow the killer of one of his ambassadors to go unpunished will have both domestic and international repercussions. Whatever the outcome, the killing of Ambassador Stevens will change the way US diplomats conduct their business abroad and security considerations will limit their effectiveness.
There is no shortage of those who suggest that the USA has lost influence in Africa as a result of President Obama’s weakness. There are indications, for example, that the Egyptian army is ‘retiring’ many officers suspected of being too close to the USA. The al Qaeda led destabilisation of Mali is likely to affect Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. The tension between the Muslim north and the Christian south of Nigeria will open up many opportunities for the promoters of violence, notably the al Qaeda franchise Boko Haram.
The US policy in Libya must be seen in the wider context. ‘Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’, now in de facto control of much of Mali, has been seeking a foothold in Libya and has found friends in the Salafist ‘Ansar al Sharia’ militia brigade in Benghazi and Derna. The US has long been interested in Derna, the seaport some miles to the east of Benghazi, where a number of young men were recruited to fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan and some have been returned to Libya by way of Guantanamo.
One Derna resident in particular has a most interesting profile according to Wikileaks. He is Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda Bin Qumu who was a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay for six years. He was a member of the ‘Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’ and later trained in an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and fought there as a commander of Arab volunteers. When in 2007 the Guantanamo Bay issue became and embarrassment to the Obama administration Bin Qumu was released and returned to Libya where the Gadaffi regime agreed to keep him in prison. However, in 2010 he was released from the notorious Abu Salim jail as part of an amnesty for anti-regime prisoners. He is one of founders of the ‘Ansar al Sharia’ militia in Derna and Benghazi and it is this group which is suspected of the attack on the US embassy on 11th September. A 30,000 strong street protest in Benghazi led to the disbandment of ‘Ansar al Sharia’ but there have recently been a series armed attacks in Benghazi which indicate that many militiamen have gone to ground, taking their arms and ammunition with them.
The investigation which followed the killings on 11th September is not yet complete but an interesting hypothesis is developing along the following lines. Soon after the civil war in Libya got underway the US established a CIA post in an annex near the US embassy in Benghazi. From here signals traffic between Libyan suspects and al Qaeda units were monitored. It is probable that the location and function of this annex became known to the Ansar al Sharia militia. It is also supposed, on good grounds, that this militia was recruited by ‘Al Qaeda in the Arab Maghreb’.
It is argued that ‘Ansar al Sharia’ made a plan to attack the embassy and the annex which were surrounded by high walls and guarded by some US security specialists and some locally employed contract personnel. The plan was left ‘on the vine’ to await an opportune moment for its execution.
That came on 11th September when angry crowds demonstrated outside the US embassy against a now notorious and ill-conceived anti-Islamic video. Ambassador Stevens was also visiting the embassy on 11th September, apparently to interview a Lebanese contractor. Did Ansar al Sharia have foreknowledge of the ambassador’s presence in Benghazi?
When the protest started outside the embassy ‘Ansar al Sharia’ militiamen launched their attack. They were appropriately armed and used mortars to lob bombs over the high walls. The nature of the attack in which weapons were used skilfully means that experienced fighters were involved. It was well planned operation which took the form of two assaults, the first on the embassy and the second on the so called annex situated about half a mile distant.
US drones launched above Benghazi and Derna soon after the attack picked up telecoms between ‘Ansar al Sharia’ operatives in Benghazi and known al Qaeda units. It is, therefore, likely that the attackers were linked with ‘Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’. Among the American personnel evacuated from Benghazi after the attack were about a dozen C.I.A. operatives and contractors whose presence may have been betrayed to ‘Ansar al Sharia’. There are few foreigners in Benghazi at the moment and the presence of so many Americans must have been obvious. It is has always been a city where news spreads rapidly by word of mouth. Unless the US personnel lived without locally employed domestic servants their lives would have been subject to the closest scrutiny.
President Obama will have a number of options to consider. He has, however, made it clear that the US will punish the killer of Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues. What will he do?

LIBYA – A GOOD START IN THE VOLUNTARY SURRENDER OF ARMS AND AMMUNITION

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There has been some success with the planned weapons amnesty in Benghazi. On Saturday and today Tahir Square has been the venue for citizens to hand over arms and ammunition to the Libyan National Army. At a similar event in Tripoli’s Martyrs Square two tanks were handed in by the Triq Asour militia brigade.
The hope is that the amnesty will be expanded to other parts of the country. It may not be as readily accepted in Libya’s third city, Misurata, where a large number of militia brigades have become deeply entrenched. The Misuratans are wary of their neighbours, the Warfella tribal confederation based in Beni Walid, and may be reluctant to believe that the National Army will be capable of keeping the peace. Many members of the Warfella federation held out for Gaddafi until the last days of the civil war. They are suspected by many of being pro-Gadaffi still. The Misuratans may feel that the Libyan National Army is still tainted by ‘Gadaffism’ and will favour the Warfella.
In the eastern sea port of Derna, Salafist militias are in power at the moment but may not be popular. The prominent families in Derna are unlikely to live with the situation for too long but may still feel powerless. The Libyan Navy has recently stationed a warship there. It may help to tilt the balance of power in favour of ordinary citizens. In the meantime there are known to be a number of radical Islamists in town.
In the Jebel Nefusa, the mountain range south west of Tripoli, there were serious clashes in June between a Zintan militia and the Mashasha tribe. More than 100 people were killed and several thousand displaced. This area will remain tense for some time.
In Kufra in the south east the long standing differences between the Sway tribe and the Tebu minority is still simmering and neither party is likely to hand in its weapons. This is a region troubled by arms, drug and people smuggling.
The successes in Tripoli and Benghazi must be heartening for ordinary Libyans. Many are stating openly that the killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi was the catalyst which started a reaction against heavy handed militias. If that is so, Ambassador Stevens will not have died in vain.

LIBYA – WHAT IS GOING ON IN BENGHAZI? (UPDATED 29TH JUNE 2016)

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Muammar Gaddafi did not like Benghazi much. The city was ruled for some time by his henchwoman Huda Ben Amer. She had first come to his attention as he sat in his Tripoli bunker watching a TV relay of a public hanging in Benghazi. The victim was slow to die and thrashed about on the end of the rope, so she hurried his demise by hanging onto his legs. Gadaffi was impressed and appointed her mayor of Benghazi where seh was  called Huda the Executioner. She fled to Tripoli soon after the events that followed 17th February 2011 uprising and her villa in Benghazi has been razed to the ground.
This helps to explain, but does not excuse, the recent killing of 14 high ranking officers who served in Gadaffi’s military but changed sides and were deployed to Benghazi by the new Transitional Government. No one has been arrested for these assassinations. The view that the Libyan military should purge itself of the remnants of Gadaffi’s regime is not without adherents in Benghazi.
The most pressing of the many problems facing Libya’s new government is the large number of ant-Gaddafi militias which are still bearing arms. They have been particularly active in Benghazi which has been badly hit by violence. Amongst the organisations which have been attacked are the United Nations, the Red Cross, a convoy carrying the British Ambassador and the Tunisian Consulate.
Global attention has been focused on Benghazi since 11th September when the U.S. consulate was stormed. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens died of smoke inhalation while trapped alone inside the villa, and three other Americans were killed in the attack and during a rescue attempt that followed. The US has responded. US drones have been conducting reconnaissance missions over Benghazi, and a counter-terrorist unit has also been sent to Libya. Two American warships, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers the USS Laboon and the USS McFaul, have also been deployed off the Libyan coast. FBI agents are waiting to go to Benghazi to find out who killed Ambassador Stevens but appear to be stuck in Tripoli.
On 12th September, just hours after Ambassador Stevens was killed, the Libyan cabinet dismissed Wanis Sharif as Deputy Interior Minister with responsibility for the Eastern region. Also dismissed was Hussein Abu Humaida, the head of the Security Directorate in Benghazi. On 16th September Interior Minister, Fawzi Abdulal, appointed in their place veteran police chief Colonel Salah Al-Din Awad Doghman with the title of Assistant Undersecretary at the Interior Ministry with responsibility for eastern Libya. Libyan police in Benghazi have so far refused to serve under Colonel Doghman. He told Reuters “When you go to police headquarters, you will find there are no police. The people in charge are not at their desks. They have refused to let me take up my job.”
There has been a predicable response to the US reaction by the Libyan Salafist militia, Ansar al Sharia, which is thought to have been responsible for the deadly assault on the American consulate in Benghazi. An Ansar al Sharia spokesman has said that “If one U.S. soldier arrives, not for the purpose of defending the embassy, but to repeat what happened in Iraq or Afghanistan, be sure that all battalions in Libya and all Libyans will put aside all their differences and rally behind one goal of hitting America and Americans,”

At least Colonel Doghman seems determined to sort things out – when he gets some police officers to work for him. He told Reuters that ‘America, Libya, the world, should know that in this situation they should have the right person in place. Libyans should know that there is firm leadership. If there had been wise leadership, this attack could not have happened.’ We will see.

Added Friday 21st September …see ‘Save Benghazi’  http://www.facebook.com/BenghaziFriday

Later Friday 21st September… AP reports –(AP)- Around 30,000 Libyans marched through the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday in an unprecedented protest to demand the disbanding of powerful militias in the wake of last week’s attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans……..

Update – Saturday 22nd September…….a summary of Libya Herald, The Telegraph and Time reports;

Following the ‘Save Benghazi’ rally on Friday 21st September hundreds of demonstrators arrived at the Salafist ‘Ansar Al-Sharia’ Militia headquarters on Nasr square demanding the brigade leave immediately. Members of Ansar Al-Sharia who were acting as guards at Al-Jalaa hospital were also removed by protesters.

Around 80 or so protesters also took control of the headquarters of the Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade, located at a farm in Hawari district, some 15 kilometres from Benghazi’s city centre. The Ukba bin Nafi’a brigade stronghold was also cleared of militiamen.  Reports of injuries and probable fatalities during these clashes are yet to be verified. The Libyan police moved in quickly to occupy the bases.

The army Chief of Staff Yousef Mangoush, Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur and Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelal urged the protesters to remain calm. “I call for restraint on all sides, and I also call on the chief of staff to take all necessary measures to control the situation and secure the lives and safety of our citizens” said National Congress Speaker Mohammed Magarief.

Update 24rd September.  

The Libyan National Army’s First Infantry brigade’s commander, Colonel Hamid Buheir has confirmed in Benghazi that the Ansar al Sharia militia has been disbanded. There are clearly militiamen still at large. The colonel was kidnapped by masked men from outside his house on Saturday morning. The Salafist kidnappers accused him of being a Kuffer and threatened his life. His kidnappers received a phone call from someone instructing them not to kill him. He was released by being thrown from a car on to a roundabout. It would be interesting to find out who made the telephone call. Five soldiers from Colonel Buheir’s First Infantry Brigade were found dead. They had been shot through the head with their arms tied behind their backs in the Hawiya district of Benghazi.

There are other significant questions which remain unanswered. How did the group who killed the US ambassador on 11th September know his travel plans?  He was on a brief visit to Benghazi and his travel plans were said to be secret as was the location of the safe house in which he was to stay.

The Benghazi militias which are to brought under formal military control appear to be the Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade, the Sidi Hussein Martyrs brigade, and the Abu Salim brigade. The Ansar Al-Sharia brigade has apparently agreed to disband. The Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade is to be merged with the 17 February brigade which has for some time submitted to government control as has the Libya Shield brigade.

Updated 27th September 2012

According to the Libya Herald today the Human Rights Watch has called for a change to Libyan Law 38 of 2012 which grants immunity for any acts “made necessary by the 17 February revolution”. It also calls for the abolition of Article 2 of Law 38, which, it argues, legalises interrogations by armed militias and other bodies.

Update 27th September

An interesting time line from the Washington Post…..

See http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/from-video-to-terrorist-attack-a-definitive-timeline-of-administration-statements-on-the-libya-attack/2012/09/26/86105782-0826-11e2-afff-d6c7f20a83bf_blog.html

Update 28th September

Posts on my Facebook and reports from the Libya Herald are suggesting that the Congress for Benghazi has noted the progress made since last Friday in bringing the militias into the government fold and re-establishing the role of the National Army and police. The Congress has called for all revolutionaries to join the organs of the state or otherwise disband. Facebook posts, as far as I am able to translate them, suggest that ordinary citizens of Benghazi want a peaceful future without interference from militant militias or from the US or Europe. They clearly want to order their own lives and are aware that they fought for, and voted for, a democracy. However, a bomb exploded early yesterday outside the Security Directorate. There are rumours of another ‘Save Benghazi’ street demonstration today. There were 11 deaths after the clashes with militias last Friday.

Later from my Facebook;The statement issued by the organizers of Juma Save Benghazi 2012.09.21…..” we publish this statement …
To assure you that we have decided to postpone our demonstration … After the National Conference resolution. And members of the National Congress of Benghazi…. they promoted our demands … They pledged to implement them …”

Update 30th Seprember

This interesting background piece from the New York Times suggests that the CIA had a listening post in Bengahzi…

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/24/world/africa/attack-in-libya-was-major-blow-to-cia-efforts.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0

Update 5th November 2012

I missed this about the tribal leaders meeting in Benghazi in September 2012. It is hard to read but important.

http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/7514/libyan-eastern-tribal-chiefs-population-and-govern

Update 10th November 2012.

The Boston Herald carries an ATP reporrt about the US response to the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. It makes a number of things clear and is worth reading;

http://www.bostonherald.com/news/national/general/view.bg?articleid=1061173593&srvc=rss

Update 18th November 2012

The David Petraeus story becomes very intersting for Libyans. He has given evidence before a US Congressional Committe and the LIbyan Herald carried this yestarady.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/11/17/david-petraeus-claims-cia-knew-all-along-that-benghazi-attack-was-orchestrated-by-terrorists/

Update 21st November 2012

This is the 18th assassination of high level security officials in Benghazi since the revolution. They were all sometime senior officials of the Gadaffi regime.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/11/21/benghazi-security-directorate-chief-assassinated/

Update 23rd November 2012

More on Benhgazi’s top policeman.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/11/23/new-benghazi-police-chief-appointed-just-hours-after-rejection-of-previous-nominee/

Update 10th December 2012

The long delay in finding the killers of Ambassador Stevens is making the US restive. See this in the Libya Herald:

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/12/08/egyptians-arrest-suspected-terror-leader-in-connection-with-benghazi-consulate-attack/

Update 19th December 3012

This from Al Jazeera today sheds more light on the killing of Ambassador Stevens.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/americas/2012/12/2012121942621595392.html

and Libya’s new Minister of the Interior and Defence set out their priorities, putting the security situation in Benghazi first.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/12/17/ministers-of-interior-and-defence-set-forth-their-plans-for-libya/

Update 9th January 2012

An interesting piece – worth following up;

http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2013/01/02/feature-02

Update 19th January 2013

The continued killings in Benghazi has led to speculation that it might be declared a military zone;

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/19/benghazi-could-be-put-under-curfew-prime-minister-ali-zeidan/

Update 23rd January 2013

In which Mrs Clinton expresses her views before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the killing of Ambassador Stevens:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9821292/Hillary-Clinton-on-Benghazi-Arab-Spring-shattered-security-in-region.html

Update 25th January 2013

UK citizens are told to leave Benghazi immediately:
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/24/quit-benghazi-advice-is-overreaction/

…and later

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/24/westerners-urged-to-leave-benghazi-over-imminent-terror-threat/

….and the killing continues

ttp://wwwh.libyaherald.com/2013/01/25/another-benghazi-assassination/

Update 29th June 2016

This in the British newspaper The Guardian tells us much about the response in the USA to the killing of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/28/house-benghazi-report-clinton-attack-military

 

 

 

 

LIBYA – WAS PRESIDENT OBAMA’S INTERVENTION IN LIBYA’S CIVIL WAR BELATED?

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Janet Daley, writing in the British ‘Sunday Telegraph’ today, appears to argue that the anti-American violence in the Islamic world is a by-product of President Obama’s Middle East policy. She states that: ‘He [Obama] retreated dramatically from confrontation in the Middle East: so much so that when the opportunity arose to remove the tyrant Gaddafi from power, he would offer only belated back-up to an Anglo-French initiative. (This did not, of course, prevent him taking credit, after the fact, for liberating the people of Libya from their oppression.)’
It is likely that he was wary of intervention for a number of reasons. As the events in Libya were unfolding I was writing my book ‘Libya – The History of Gadaffi’s Pariah State’ and said this therein: ‘The French and British governments had been working hard to construct a consensus in favour of military intervention on the good and clear evidence that Gaddafi was murdering civilians. President Sarkozy of France was taking the lead, perhaps to boost his popularity ratings which had slipped alarmingly. The Arab League was in favour of intervention since a number of its members were less than happy with Gaddafi, though their contribution was unlikely to extend further than diplomatic manoeuvring.
The USA was wary. The CIA had been concerned for some time about the uncomfortable presence of Libyan jihadists in Derna and Benghazi, who had been involved in the Afghan war. Libya watchers, and there must have been some in the CIA, MI6 and elsewhere, will not have forgotten the Islamic fundamentalist violence in the Gebel Akhdar (Green Highlands) of Cyrenaica – now called East Libya – between 1995 and 1998. The violence was fomented and largely controlled by ‘The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’. It was ruthlessly suppressed by Gaddafi using the Libya Air Force, though the aircraft that did the strafing and bombing were flown by Cubans and Serbs.’
In my blog of 13th September 2012 (LIBYA – HOW THE LIBYAN INTERIM NATIONAL COUNCIL ASKED FOR NATO’S HELP IN MARCH 2011) I explained how President Sarkozy opened a ‘back channel’ with the anti-Gadaffi leadership in Benghazi and recognised it as the legitimate government of Libya thus pre-empting others. I also showed that Hilary Clinton was sufficiently impressed by the arguments raised by Sarkozy and Jebril [see my 13th September blog] that she saw to it that UN security Council Resolution 1973 was approved, permitting intervention against Gaddafi. I also noted the Sarkozy’s foreign minister was excluded from the consultations and that German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. was not in favour of intervention. It might be said that Sarkozy’s actions were partly motivated by a need to improve his popularity ratings.
Despite the lack of unity amongst Europeans and the anxiety about al Qaida franchises in Libya Obama authorised his forces to act. On 19th March 2011, Tomahawk missiles fired from US and UK navy vessels hit air defences around Tripoli and Misurata and French jets attacked Gaddafi’s armour near Benghazi. The city was saved but just in time. Tanks were in its western approaches and Gaddafi’s snipers were firing from buildings very close to the rebel headquarters in the court house. It would be as well to remember that President Obama, for a number of reasons no doubt, offered crucial but limited assistance and required NATO to assume command of the No Fly Zone.’
So Janet Daley is nearly right but her neat change of emphasis makes Obama sound weak. She states that Obama offered belated back-up. I argue that he offered timely back-up but he had good reason to be cautious. An al Qaida franchise may have been embedded in Libya.
This appeared in the Libya Herald online toady: ‘Questions are being asked both in the US and in Libya whether there is an Al-Qaida link [to the killing of the US ambassador to Libya and some of his colleagues]. It is being suggested that the Omar Abdul Rahman Brigade, which supports al-Qaida, was behind the attack. National Congress Speaker Mohamed Magarief himself has already indicated that it is not coincidental that that attack took place on the anniversary of al-Qaida’s 9/11 attacks on the US.’

LIBYA – THE ARAB SPRING AND UNREASONABLE EXPECTATIONS

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Some observers are beginning to express their anxiety about the future of the Arab Spring. Pragmatists are pointing out that the present unrest in Egypt, The Yemen, Tunisia and Libya was predictable.
The rise in religious fervour throughout Islam has been obvious and Libya may well be the focus of the religious discord for some time to come. The Salafist movements, such as Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi, are determined to see the strict application of Sharia law and the Islamiseation of government. The Salafists are seriously anti- western and, for them, jihad as inevitable.
The failure to understand the Arab concept of power and the fateful notion that Westminster or Washington democracies are readily exportable have combined to raise false hopes in the West. However, Libya still has time to forge a civil society and a representative democracy.
If it comes, it will be Libyan in character. To be successful it will have to take account minority rights such as those of the Berbers in general and the Tebu and Tuareg in particular. It will also have to balance the aspirations of tribes and clans and make some attempt to satisfy regional loyalties which still linger in the old provinces of Cyreniaca, Tripolitania and the Fezzan.
The virtual destruction of the standing army, the police force and the intelligence services has left a power vacuum which has been temporarily filled by armed militias. They have cohered to form very powerful power broking groups and this is probably the greatest challenge to the will of the Libyan people as expressed in recent elections.
The lack of towering figures, such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in South Africa, has made reconciliation difficult between the ex Gadaffi supporters and the new militias. Gadaffi’s use of foreign mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa has resulted in serious racial attacks on black people and the incarceration and alleged torture of a large number of foreign workers.
Control the oilfields is still not secure in government hands and tribes, such as the fierce al Zawya in southeast Libya, have threatened to interrupt production in their territories.
The late King Idris, who reigned in Libya between 1951 and 1969, made sure that he controlled the army and the police force and he constantly adjusted the balance of power between them. Gadaffi pursued a similar policy but he often shot or exiled those commanders who threatened him – and they were often the most competent. It may be cynical to suggest that he who controls the army, the police and the intelligence service controls Libya. It would be a sad outcome were this to be proved correct and a new dictator emerged.
It will take time to forge a new Libya. In the meantime those who express impatience with the progress towards democracy might remember that the French revolution resulted in the Reign of Terror. The Spanish have yet to settle the Basque separatist problem. The United Kingdom’s unity is threatened by the Scottish Nationalist Party and sectarian violence broke out in Northern Ireland but a few days ago. Last summer’s riots in Britain were violent reminders that Westminster democracy is not always effective.

LIBYA – HOW THE LIBYAN INTERIM NATIONAL COUNCIL ASKED FOR NATO’S HELP IN MARCH 2011

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A report in the Libya Herald tells us that the man from Benghazi, Mustafa Abushagur, was yesterday elected by the General National Congress as Libya’s Prime Minster. Let us hope that he has the courage to face the reckless killers of the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, and his colleagues on the anniversary of the outrage on 11th September 2011. Perhaps the story of how the Interim National Council asked for US, French and British help when Gaddafi’s forces were about to take Benghazi will stiffen his resolve
When Benghazi was in peril the newly formed Interim National Council needed outside help. One of France’s controversial and colourful personalities arrived in a greengrocer’s van to rescue them. The romance, for that it certainly was, has gained credence in Benghazi and may become the accepted version of events.
Bernard-Henry Lévy was the hero. Lévy, or BHL as he is known in France, was a friend of Nicholas Sarkozy. The friendship was complicated by differing political views and by a connection with Carla Bruni, the current Mrs Sarkozy.
The story may be challenged in detail but it is corroborated by a number of sources. BHL had been in Egypt to cover the events following the Arab Spring uprising. He got wind of events in Libya but was called back to Paris on business. On 27th February he contacted President Sarkozy and suggested that he was travelling to Benghazi and might contact the rebels. He appears to have obtained Sarkozy’s blessing, though what passed between them is unlikely to emerge. Lévy suggests, and he is probably right, that Sarkozy was looking for a way to contact the rebels but had no idea who to talk to.
BHL chartered an aircraft and flew to Mersah Matruh, the nearest Egyptian airport to Sollum on the Libyan border. He was accompanied by Gilles Hertzog and the photographer, Marc Rousell. They found the border crowded with refugees but managed to gain entry to Libya early on 1st March. They found a van loaded with vegetables on its way to Tobruk, in which they bought or begged a ride. From Tobruk they went to al Baida and were said to have met the Chairman of the Transitional Council, with whom they travelled to Benghazi.
Lévy, Hertzog and Rousell reached the Tebesti Hotel in Benghazi, where they heard that there was to be a meeting in a private villa of the National Transition Council on 3rd March. Lévy, who implied that he was the personal representative of the French President, managed to insinuate himself into the meeting. This was, perhaps, his finest moment.
BHL addressed the meeting with a short speech and then asked if he might contact President Sarkozy. There was nothing to lose and the Council agreed. Apparently using an old cell phone, he contacted President Sarkozy personally. On 5th March Sarkozy issued a press release, in which he welcomed the formation of the Interim National Council. This was the Council’s first sign of legitimacy. The news brought hope and a number of French flags sprouted around Benghazi.
By the following Monday Lévy was in Paris and in contact with Mr Sarkozy. By Thursday National Transition Councillor Mohammed Jebril was in Sarkozy’s office in the Elysee Palace and an agreement of considerable importance was reached. Sarkozy agreed to recognise the National Transitional Council as the legitimate government of Libya. Lévy, who was present, implied that the Council was certainly not asking for troops on the ground but for the imposition of a No Fly Zone. Sarkozy agreed to bomb three key airfields in Libya, notably the one in the south used for receiving mercenaries from Chad and elsewhere.
The diplomatic agreement was announced by Sarkozy without the knowledge of the French Foreign Minister who heard it when getting off a train in Brussels on his way to a conference. David Cameron had, however, been forewarned.
Sarkozy now needed a UN Security Council Resolution in favour of intervention. For this he needed the USA to approve. He believed he had the UK on his side and he could persuade the EU, the Arab League and the Africa Union.
Good fortune played another card. Hilary Clinton was due in Paris for a G8 meeting on 14th March. She agreed to meet Jebril then. He travelled to Paris on that day and was met by Lévy at Le Bourget.
Jebril found his meeting disappointing and was very upset. He was sure he had failed to convince Mrs Clinton. He had a nervous and depressing wait in BHL’s apartment until 4 pm, when Sarkozy called to say that the USA was minded to cast a vote in the UN in favour of intervention.
On Thursday 17th March, resolution 1973 was put before the UN Security Council in New York, when France, Britain and the USA were among the ten who voted in favour of the use of all necessary means to protect civilian lives in Libya. Russia and China were amongst five nations which abstained.
On 19th March, Tomahawk missiles fired from US and UK navy vessels hit air defences around Tripoli and Misurata and French jets attacked Gaddafi’s armour near Benghazi. The city was saved but just in time. Tanks were in its western approaches and Gaddafi’s snipers were firing from buildings very close to the rebel headquarters in the court house.
Paraphrased from The History of Gaddafi’s Pariah State by John Oakes and published by the History Press in 2011

John Oakes 13th  September 2012