by Eric Margolis © 1998 Eric Margolis
NICE, FRANCE - Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, tried to assassinate Libya's leader, Col. Muammar Khadaffi, in 1996, according to a defecting agent, now under arrest here in France.
David Shayler, who held a mid-level position in MI5, Britain's domestic security agency, told the BBC he learned MI6 channeled US $160,000 to an underground, Islamic fundamentalist group in Libya to assassinate Khadaffi. Shayler was attached to the joint MI5/MI6 joint Libyan task force.
Shayler claims the Libyan extremists planted a large bomb in February, 1996,on a road along which the Libyan strongman's motorcade was to travel. The bomb detonated under the wrong vehicle. A considerable number of bystanders, government officials, and security personnel were killed. Khadaffi escaped unharmed.
A clearly embarrassed British government dismisses Shayler's story was a total fabrication. Yet it urgently demanded France arrest Shayler, who had fled to Paris after his interview, and extradite him to England to face criminal charges under the draconian Official Secrets Act. France promptly jailed Shayler on 1 August. Curious treatment for a man making claims that were, in the words of Britain's Foreign Secretary, `pure fantasy.'
Shayler's charges come at a time when Britain and the US are loudly denouncing terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, and have just themselves suffered terror bombings in Northern Ireland and Africa. Making matters worse, a MI6 agent, Richard Tomlinson, who worked with Shayler on the MI5/MI6 Libyan task force, defected to New Zealand. Tomlinson backed Shayler's charges, and further accused MI6 of covering up blunders and criminal activities by its agents. He was promptly arrested in Auckland, and held for extradition to the UK.
An assassination attempt was, in fact, made on Khadaffi in September, 1996 by Libyan fundamentalists. Britain harbors a number of anti-Khadaffi exile groups. CIA and MI6 finances them to overthrow the eccentric Libyan regime, which has long financed anti-western groups, and some outright terrorists. Khadaffi told me the British and Americans had mounted numerous attempts to kill him.
Oil-rich Libya was a lucrative British protectorate until 1969, when Col. Khadaffi overthrew London's puppet ruler, King Idris, kicked out the English, and had the impudence to raise oil prices. Khadaffi further annoyed Washington and London by loudly accusing the oil monarchs of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Gulf of being US-British stooges who give away their nation's only resources in exchange for western protection from their own people.
My sources say Britain was, in fact, behind the 1996 assassination attempt. London's frantic, hamfisted reaction certainly reinforces this belief. The US and Britain rarely use their own agents to assassinate foreign opponents: they work through local opposition groups, or friendly intelligence services.
For example, CIA organized Iraqi opposition groups to try to kill Saddam Hussein; and Iran's marxist underground, `mujihadin-i-khalq,' to plant bombs that killed many members of Iran's Islamic government. Afghan leader Gulbadin Hekmatyar told me local agents paid by CIA tried to kill him in Peshawar using powerful truck bomb. CIA got Lebanon's intelligence service, the Deuxieme Bureau, to mount an unsuccessful attempt to kill Shia leader, Sheik Fadlallah, with a car bomb that killed 100 people.
According to the highest French intelligence source, France's spy agency, SDECE, was ordered to assassinate Khadaffi during the brief conflict a decade ago between Paris and Tripoli over Chad's Aozou Strip. French agents secreted an altitude-triggered bomb in a fire extinguisher aboard Khadaffi's private jet. When French Foreign Legionnaires disguised as Chadian tribesmen drove the Libyans out of Chad, and relations between Paris and Tripoli improved, SDECE agents were ordered to covertly remove the bomb.
In a tit for tat, Libya now demands France hand over Shayler - just as the US, Britain, and France demand Libya extradite agents suspected in bombing PanAm and UTA jetliners. It's all enough to make one cynical.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]
Copyright © 1998 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved