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
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
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-
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
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
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
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
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and
broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]
Copyright © 1999 Eric Margolis - All Rights