Release Date: March 22, 1999
Eric Margolis, c/o Editorial Department, The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3X5
Fax: (416) 960-4803 -- Press Contact: Eric Margolis

Libya Feels The Heat of Iraq Bombings

by Eric Margolis

NEW YORK -- It was in Tripoli, Libya, 1987. I had just fallen asleep when a loud knocking on my hotel room door woke me. My heart raced into overdrive. This was the Mideast moment I'd so often dreaded: nighttime arrest by the `Mukhabarat,' or secret police.

Three burly Libyan security agents stood at the door. `Mr. Eric, get dressed, come quickly.' I was driven off into the night, headed, I was certain, for painful, prolonged interrogation, then an unmarked desert grave.

I was led into a house in suburban Tripoli. A door opened, and I was ushered into a brightly lit room, where five men were having dinner, Libyan-style, from copper trays on the carpeted floor. `Welcome, Mr Eric!' exclaimed a tall, handsome Libyan, with a beaming smile. `I hope your appetite is good.'

My host turned out to be Abdullah Senoussi, number two of Libyan intelligence, and brother-in-law of the `Leader,' Muammar Khadaffi, whom I had come to interview. We ate, discussed Arab affairs, and swapped stories about Africa and the Mideast until 330 am. Senoussi was highly intelligent, cultured, and charming.

Last week, A French court sentenced the same charming Senoussi, and five other Libyan intelligence agents, to life imprisonment for the 1989 bombing of a French UTA passenger jet over Chad, killing 170 people. The Libyans were not represented by defense lawyers.

The verdict, though delivered in absentia, marked another triumph for France's renowned and dogged anti-terrorism judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere. Interestingly, Bruguiere and a team of French investigators were allowed in 1996 to travel to Libya to seek evidence of sabotage. The French interviewed 50 Libyan intelligence agents, including Senoussi, and, amazingly, were permitted to sift at will through the files of Libyan intelligence.

The French investigators even `found' a Samsonite suitcase at Libyan intelligence HQ, as well as timers and detonators, apparently identical to the device used to destroy the doomed UTA DC-8. In other words, someone very high up in Libya clearly set up Senoussi, either framing him, or pointing the way to evidence of his guilt.

If the Libyans did, in fact, bomb UTA airliner, the reason, as I reported in 1997, was almost certainly revenge against France for trying to assassinate Col. Khadaffi. France and Libya were then locked in a covert war over Chad, which was believed rich in uranium and oil. French Foreign Legionnaires, disguised as Chadian tribesmen, routed the ragtag Libyan Army.

President Francois Mitterand, I was told by a most senior French official involved in the operation, ordered SDECE, France's ruthless foreign intelligence service, to assassinate Khadaffi by planting a pressure-fused bomb hidden inside a fire extinguisher aboard his personal jet. When relations improved, the plan was aborted, and the bomb removed with great difficulty. At other times, the US and Britain have mounted a total of at least eight attempts to assassinate the Libyan leader.

Conclusion of the UTA case now focuses full attention on the 1988 downing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people. Libya has long denied British and American accusations that its agents sabotaged the New York- bound 747.

However, it appears Libya did, in fact, commit this act of terror, likely in revenge for the 1986 American bombing of Libya, that killed over 100 Libyans. The US clearly tried to assassinate Khadaffi by striking his residence with precision, laser-guided bombs, as I saw firsthand when he guided me through the ruins of his home. The US bombs missed Khadaffi, but killed his 2-year old daughter in her bed.

After Lockerbie, Washington and London pressured the UN Security Council to impose punishing sanctions on Libya, prohibiting arms sales and air travel, to force it to turn over two intelligence agents suspected of sabotaging flight 103.

Libya has been under intense pressure from Egypt, as well as the UN and the west, to hand over the suspects for trial. After a year of painful negotiations, Libya finally agreed last Friday to hand over its two accused agents for trial in the Netherlands by April 6 in a deal brokered by South African leader, Nelson Mandela, who has long been a friend of Khadaffi. The Libyan agents will be tried in the Netherlands under Scottish law.

The Libyans clearly feared their agents, once examined in court, would implicate higher-ups, no doubt including Abdullah Senoussi. If Libya's guilt were established, further sanctions might be slapped on Libya, and Col. Khadaffi totally discredited. But Libya is also desperate to escape sanctions which have isolated it and battered its economy at a time of falling oil prices.

Reinforcing suspicion of Libyan culpability, Libya's state press agency issued a curious statement: `Brother Guide (Khadaffi) has no political quality. He is the Guide of the revolution...The subject (the Lockerbie bombing) is within the attributions of the Foreign Ministry.'

Translation: `Khadaffi, as spiritual head of the Libyan state, knew nothing about airplane bombings. If there was a crime, it was done by the Foreign Ministry.'

So, Libya blamed the UTA bombing on its intelligence service. Now, the bumbling diplomats of Libya's hapless Foreign Ministry are apparently being blamed for the Pan Am crime.

Col. Khadaffi seems to be throwing subordinates to the wolves who are relentlessly pursuing him and snapping at his heels. He is betting the west, which wants to resume business with oil-rich Libya, may be mollified by this token sacrifice, and let him off the hook. It's possible Khadaffi may not have actually sanctioned these plots, but as Brother Guide, the responsibility for these crimes stops right at his tent.

[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]

Copyright © 1999 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved
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