On Monday May 22nd 2017, Salman Abedi walked into the foyer at the Manchester Arena and detonated an explosive suicide device. The attack claimed 22 lives including seven children. 14 people have been arrested in connection with the incident. Britain’s Press and Security Services react with surprise at the event, but the warnings were substantial. We have a 2006 UN Terror List to thank for that
This is the story that Britain’s Security Services and Libya’s Government of National Accord would prefer you didn’t know, especially given the fragile nature of deals tendered last month in Tripoli by Boris Johnson. It’s also the story that the existing UK Government would prefer you didn’t know. Not least because it was the UK Conservative Government who escalated the whole thing back in 2011 when Theresa May approved the removal of travel restrictions on the Manchester-based Libyan Islamist Fighting Group in advance of using the group in British and Nato efforts to undermine Libya’s Colonel Gadaffi.
But there is an even more septic issue to contend with here, and that is the various ports and threads that link the Manchester Arena Bombing to an earlier Manchester terror plot.
That the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group also featured in the so-called Easter Bomb Plot of 2009 seems to have gone under the radar of the British and US press, but I’d like revive it here because reports are beginning to emerge that suggest the Arena bomber’s father was connected to that same fighting group.
If that’s true, then the death of those 22 people, and the maiming of a further 119 might well have been avoided. And though likely to be too emotional a subject to address evenhandedly in the immediate aftermath of the attack, it’s probably fair to say that any amnesties or support we may have offered the group in the past would have been no less reckless a move than cladding the four great walls of Grenfell Tower with cheap aluminium panels in a penny-pinching bid to mask the brutalist look of the cold, hard concrete beneath.
In an article published by The Spectator just one week before the attack in Manchester, Boris Johnson put forward a typically ham-fisted case for the 42-year rule of Gaddafi. That rule was vile and incompetent, he concedes, “but it kept the country together” (Boris Johnson: This is a moment of hope for Libya. We can’t afford to miss it, The Spectator, May 2017).
Given the volatile nature of things happening that week in Libya, The Spectator article is about as tactless and provocative as it gets. Yes Boris recognises that his rule was tyrannical , but his support for the broader mechanisms of the Gadaffi regime leaves little to the imagination.
The hotels are waiting to be filled. The sea is turquoise and lovely and teeming with fresh fish. Libya was once the birthplace of emperors, a bustling centre of the Mediterranean world. It can have a great future. All it takes is political will, and the courage to compromise — Boris Johnson: This is a moment of hope for Libya. We can’t afford to miss it, The Spectator, May 2017
This is the story of oil, corruption and the fluid, volatile nature of Western and Russian allegiances in the Maghreb. A tale as devastating as the fire that ripped through Grenfell and sadly, just as inevitable. Part One will look at the background behind the attack, and Part Two will look at the deals being arranged behind the scenes that are likely to have contributed to May’s attack.
Why Monday’s attack happened may be best explained by a sequence of events spanning nearly twenty years and during which members of the Libyan Rebel Fighting Group have been exploited and double-crossed several times. Yes, it’s a complex issue with multiple dimensions to consider, including those of cultural assimilation, personal isolation and emotional dissociation but this is the nuts and bolt, so to speak.
Struggles Past and Present
The father of the Manchester Arena bomber, Abu Ismail Ramadan Abedi is currently employed by Abdul Ghani Al-Kikli’s Abu Sleem Central Security Force, a Tripoli-based militia allied in a particularly ambiguous fashion to the state-affiliated, Libyan Shield Force (a country-wide alliance consisting of fragmented Islamist militias). The 700-strong military unit, formerly known as the Nawasi Brigade, comes under the Ministry of Interior leadership of Abdul Raouf Kara, a notorious hardline Islamist whose ultra-orthodox approach to law and order could easily rival ISIS in it’s ferocity. Both groups are key members of an anti-Isis coalition affiliated with gangster-Jihadi and terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, leader of the AQIM (Islamic Maghreb) and pro-Islamist militias like Libya Dawn.
In spite of what many might think, their war with ISIS isn’t so much based on ideological differences (such as the apocalypticism that dominates IS or their idea of caliphate as global conquest) as on a turf-war driven by efforts to control (and tax) the various drug cartels operating throughout Southern Libya and maintain control of the Oil Crescent terminals in the ports on the Eastern coast around Benghazi. In April of this year, Emadeddin Muntasser, founding member of the Libyan American Public Affairs Council put together a persuasive argument that the most urgent concern facing Libya today was not ISIS but “corruption”, which threatens to tear the country apart.
Any attempt to define boundaries between the various state-allied, Jihadi and Islamist militias collapses almost on inspection. It is a region wracked by chronic tribal conflict, fragile institutions and fast-changing pacts. And the inequitable distribution of economic resources only adds to this state of flux and Libya’s ongoing political autophagy. But in spite of it’s fluidity, power in Libya broadly falls between three National actors: the the Presidential Council (PC) headed by Prime Minister al-Sarraj, the GNC — a Tripoli-based parliament operating from Libya’s western coastline (Libya’s executive centre, if you like) — and the Tobruk and al-Bayda authorities in Libya’s East, currently under the control of Egypt-aligned, self-described anti-Islamist General Khalifa Haftar, who heads-up the Libyan National Army (LNA).
As a member of the Islamist Central Security Force, Ramadan Abedi’s role is to protect the Interim Libyan Government at the GNA headquarters in Tripoli. The Saudi-backed Nawasi are determined not to let the country collapse into the same state it did under Gadaffi and have aligned themselves with the Jihadis, steadily loosening the grip of British influence in the region. In return for protecting the current Government, the Nawasi have secured the right for the Islamists to bear arms and protect their own interests. On the one hand you could see them as king-makers or peace brokers and on the other as heads of a protection racket operating on a national (and perhaps even global) scale.
Any unity they have with Gadaffi’s former general, Khalifa Haftar in the East, is volatile at best. Just a week before the attack in Manchester Ramadan Abedi’s Central Security Force, launched a fierce attack on Mohamed Sayal, the Minister for Foreign Affairs under Prime Minister Serraj. In a move that was always likely to cause division and uproar, Sayal had described Gadaffi’s former General as a “legitimate part of the solution” to Libya’s ongoing conflicts. The article by Boris Johnson published by the Spectator just a few days later, would have only served to intensify that anger. And this is the central point: the increasing support for the General shown by Russia and Great Britain for Haftar, means we could be on the threshold of a full-blown civil war.
At present there are a mass of different militias all jostling for control in the country. The emergence of ISIS in the region is a consequence of a power vacuum. Again the West started something it couldn’t finish. But looking for answers isn’t difficult. How we arrived at all this isn’t complex at all. There were clues there all along. And it’s here that we move closer to home.
That Salman Abedi may have become embroiled in the dreams of his father and Tripoli’s Nawasi Brigade isn’t at all surprising. The Libyan community had long joked that Manchester had become something of an Islamic State for the scores of exiles who ended up there in the 90s and their swelling support for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan gave their dreams of a hard-line Islamic State in Tripoli, and a heroic repatriation, an increasingly visceral edge.
The brutal sentiments of ‘Jihad by the sword’ appear to have made their way into Whalley Bridge and Moss Side long before the ISIS franchise reached Britain and it’s almost inconceivable that it wouldn’t have found some sympathy in the Abedi household given the family’s desire to see Libya liberated from Gadaffi and an Islamic state declared.
Contrary to what many of the broadsheets and the Beeb will have us think, there’s no doubt about how and when Salman became radicalised. The affairs of the Greater Maghreb and the dreams of the Manchester Fighters continued not only with their sons and daughters but with the exiles who remained there and the young Jihadi-sympathizers who grew up there or moved in, and whose regular diet of digital propaganda, alienation and conspiracy theory, continues to militarize frustration and dislocation in Britain’s youth.
The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group Connection
The Manchester Arena bomber and his family lived on the same Whalley Range street in Manchester as an Al Qaeda bomb-maker. The bomb-maker, Abd al-Baset Azzouz, a father-of-four, is alleged to have fought alongside Salman’s father as part of the 2011 ‘Manchester Fighters’ – a local regiment of the ‘Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’, founded back in the 1990s to remove Colonel Gadaffi from power.
Although delisted as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation by the US in 2015, the group remains a ‘proscribed terrorist organisation‘ on a list maintained by the British Home Office, and this is despite the Conservative Minister for the Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt ‘welcoming the release‘ of a 110 members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group by Gadaffi in February 2011.
How could the British Home and Foreign Office welcome the release of LIFG group members in Libya whilst simultaneously placing them on an active terror list in the UK?
Between 1995 and 1996 a total of three attempts were made by the group to assassinate the Libyan leader. All three attempts failed and it’s founder and leader, Abu Laith Al-Libi, like the bomber’s father before him, fled to Saudi Arabia.
Azzouz is thought to have left Britain for Libya sometime in 2009. The UN Security Council describes him as a “key operative in Al-Qaida who traveled to Libya in 2011 under the direction of Al-Qaida leader Aiman Muhammed Rabi al-Zawahiri (QDi.006) to build a network of terrorist fighters, and recruited 200 militants in the eastern part of the country. He is considered a key Al-Qaida operative due to his ability to mobilize terrorist fighters and train recruits in skills like improvised explosive devices construction.”
Azzouz is currently awaiting trial for suspected involvement in the attack on a US consulate in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi. At the forefront of Azzous’s network was Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor as leader of al-Qaeda.
It was the intention of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group to establish a “stable Islamic secular state” but their affiliation with leading Al Qaeda members and their roots in Salafi jihadism throws considerable doubt on the sincerity of that pledge.
In the period leading up to the Manchester Arena Bombing, Salman lived just 800 yards from the address provided by the former director of the Sanabel Relief Fund, Tahir Nasuf.
Nasuf was held in a terror raid in Manchester in 2006 and the charity’s Manchester HQ was based on Widgeon Close (M14 7FJ), just 15 minutes walk from the home of al-Baset Azzous on Wilbraham Road, a road where Salman is alleged to have resided in 2000 and where other members of his family reside to this day. At time of the Arena bombing, Salman Abedi lived on nearby Elsmore Road (M14 7FP), little more than a five minute walk from the former charity HQ. And whilst there is absolutely nothing to link Nasuf to night of May 22nd, it is clear that Whalley Grange provided no shortage of fuel where radical politics is concerned.
Salman may not have received any technical or logistical support from the group, but it’s likely he derived no shortage of inspiration from the passionately revolutionary messages they pushed in the local area. That the bomber visited Abdal Raouf Abdallah in prison TWICE before the attack, only serves to reinforce this view. According to Police, the veteran member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was at the centre of a jihadist network transporting foreign fighters into Syria. He was found guilty in May 2016 of aiding and funding terrorism.
The fact that a company registered in the name Libyan State Minister Mohammad al-Amari used Abedi’s 21 Elsmore Road address, is also an intriguing detail.
The company, International Organisation For Institutional Excellence Ltd, was incorporated in 2015, and dissolved just 12 months later in December 2016. It was a compulsory strike-off brought about by a failure to submit the annual returns. Mohammad al-Amari, a former fighter in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, is believed to have been an iman at a local mosque. The other name recorded in the company’s formation, Mahmoud Mohamed Boshima, is even more of a mystery as the name doesn’t appear to formally exist, although the name ‘Boshima’ does refer to persons of ‘evil heart’ in the West African Tiv tradition. However, if Salman was playing games by registering the company in these names, I fail to see how it could have benefited anyone else but the Haftar regime who have been accusing Amari and his people of being behind the attacks on the lucrative oil crescent region.
According to a classified cable released by Wikileaks and dated January 2008, Nasuf was a close associate of Ismail Kamoka, a senior LIFG member who pleaded guilty to a terror related charge in June 2007 (see https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08LONDON592_a.html, ‘Raw Content’ tab). Communiqués found on a computer in Kamoka’s house are reported to have shown support for Abdul Rahman (Abdulbasit Abdulrahim) and an Algeria-based terror organisation.
In light of documents found at the British Ambassador’s former residence in Tripoli, Kamoka is now convinced that he and other members of the LIFG were used as pawns in a protracted power struggle between Blair’s New Labour Government and the anti-Gadaffi movement taking shape under David Cameron.
According to the cable the LIFG was designated a terror group by the UN in 2001 and by the UK some three years later. The leak goes on to describe how the group had formally merged with al-Qaida in November 2007. The merger was announced through a Jihadist website affiliated with al-Qaida (the Al-Saheb media group). The website is believed to have shown two video clips; one featuring al-Qaida second in command Ayman Al Zawahiri and the other featuring Abu Laith Al Libi, a senior member of the LIFG who is alleged to have been active at training camps in Afghanistan.
The Sanabel Relief Fund, a recognised Manchester charity, had been accused by US Treasury and the UN Security Council of funding terrorism. And in spite of claims that he was innocent the charity’s president, Tahir Nasuf was duly placed on a sanctions list along with several of the groups’ property and rental businesses including Sara Properties Ltd, Ozlam Properties Ltd and Meadowbank Investments Ltd 1 – all of which operated throughout Manchester, Liverpool and the North West.
The Wikileaks cable names three other men believed to have been providing funds for the LIFG through Sanabel Relief Ltd: Maftah Elmabruk, Abdelrazag Elosta and Abdulbasit Abdulrahim. And despite Kasuf and several other members of the LIFG being added to the sanctions list in 2011, the British duly handed back the passports of several other prominent members of LIFG in preparation for the ground attack on Gadaffi.
Libyan Islamic Fighting Group features in Manchester Bomb Plot of 2009
Significantly perhaps, Ozlam Properties features not only in the broader context of the Manchester Arena bombing, but in ANOTHER Manchester terror plot dating back to 2009 (the so-called, Easter Bombing Plot). The bombing on this occasion was alleged to have been planned by Janas Khan, a student at Hope University in Liverpool and Abid Naseer, a student in Manchester, apparently on the orders of senior Al Qaeda leaders. Ozlam Properties, owned and operated by Nasuf’s LIFG associate, Mohammed Benhammedi, had leased a Clitheroe bedsit to Khan, Naseer and their accomplices.
Astonishingly, just two weeks later the British Home Office under Jacqui Smith with the full backing of the High Court of England and Wales, revoked the control orders imposed on the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and Ozlam Properties as a result of “significant developments” between Gadaffi’s Government and the imprisoned LIFG leaders (and as part of the ‘secret’ Rusal negotiations taking place between Blair and Gaddafi in January that year). Revoking the control orders on the LIFG came despite the report in The Daily Telegraph clearly implicating Ozlam Properties in the broader context of Khan and Naseer’s plot. This 2009 Court Ruling, built around the case of LIFG member ‘AV’ aka Abdul Al-Rahman Al-Faqih, can be viewed here on the BAILII website.
It was THIS court ruling that Theresa May and the Conservative Party used as the basis to restore the passports of dozens of British-based LIFG members between December 2010 and January 2011, in their bid to remove Gadaffi.
It is thought the pair and their accomplices had been targeting the Trafford and Arndale Shopping Centres as part of a broader suicide campaign. In 2009 flats in Cheetham Hill were raided by Police, just as they were raided by Police investigating the Arena bombing at the weekend. Other accomplices and associates of Khan and Naseer were arrested in Norway that same year. Personal documents and correspondence found in the Abbottobad compound between the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’s Atiyah Abul al-Rahman and Osama Bin Laden were used to secure Naseer’s conviction. The documents not only expressed a plausible link between Naseer’s 2009 Manchester plot and members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in England, they also suggest that Mi6 was negotiating with their leader, Abu Anas al-Libi in Britain. The documents appear to confirm the collusion and deals made by senior LIFG members, looking to negotiate with Mi6 about a political route out of Afghanistan and into the Maghreb:
While brother ‘Urwa al-Libi was in Iran a couple of months ago (shortly before he went to Libya), he had written me an email telling me that some of the Libyan brothers in England had talked to him about the following:
British Intelligence spoke to them (these Libyan brothers in England), and asked them to try to contact the people they knew in al-Qaeda to inform them of and find out what they think about the following idea: England is ready to leave Afghanistan of al-Qaeda would explicitly commit to not moving against England or her interests (Abbottobad Documents, Trial of Anbid Naseer)
Abid Naseer was subsequently jailed in the US.
And here’s another thing; 2009 just happened to be the year that Manchester LIFG member, Abd al-Baset Azzouz left Britain for the Pakistan-Afghan border. In mid-2011 he is believed to have made his way in Libya to build a team of experienced jihadists in support of al-Qaeda’s objectives in Libya.
Coincidence? Only time will tell. But it is curious to think that the 2009 plot to bomb Manchester came just weeks after a series of visits that Tony Blair made to Gadaffi to negotiate a deal between the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) and a company run by the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a friend of both al-Saif Gadaffi, Nat Rothschild and former Conservative Chancellor, George Osborne. But more of this in part two.
Even if it is found that these people had NOT leased the flats to Salman Abedi, it’s still the case that at least one company associated with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group has been namechecked in the broader framework of not one but TWO recent Manchester terror plots: the Easter plot in 2009 and the more successful Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017. A director of that same charity, Ghoma Abdrabbha, eventually found himself govenor at an Islamic primary school in Birmingham. This was in spite of being included on the 2006 UN Security Council sanctions list. Like many of the self-styled, ‘Manchester Fighters’, Abdrabbha was removed from the UN terror list ahead of collaborating with the United Nations to overthrow Gadaffi in Libya in 2011 (the same group are also alleged to have collaborated with Mi6 in the attempted assassination of Gaddafi in 1996). Their travel restrictions were lifted and they were allowed to fight in Libya.
Extraordinarily, the charity remained on the British charity register for some six years after being placed on the terror list.
After the disposal of Gadaffi the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group formally disbanded and allied the UK-backed Transitional Council before splitting into various militias.
But the clues are not just to be found on his father’s side.
Abedi’s mother, a Tripoli educated scientist, is alleged to have been an associate of Umm Abdul Rahman, the widow of a former Al Qaeda commander, Abu Anas al-Libi, accused of involvement in the 1998 US embassy bombings. al-Libi died in federal custody as he waited trial in the US in 2015. He had been detained by Police in Manchester in the late 1990s after being granted asylum here earlier that same decade.
And here we have Mi5 and the broadsheet press going through the motions of scratching their heads and asking how the Manchester Arena bomber ever got wrapped up with ‘the Jihadis’? And this is despite the fact that Salman had enjoyed regular (and recent) contact with his father who had been active in radical politics for the best part of 30 years and was certainly now immersed in it more than ever since his move back to Libya in 2011 as part of GNA security.
Part II: Shifting the blame and steering discussion
How did the Manchester Arena bomber get wrapped up with the Jihadis? Because he was born into radical politics, that’s how. Because he was nursed and instructed by deeply revolutionary narratives from birth. And by a radical fraternity who were in turn groomed and supported by two successive UK Governments. And it’s a cycle of nurture and abuse that will just go on and on.
The LIFG hadn’t started out as Jihadists. Certainly not in the way we understand the phrase today. They were a uniquely rebel outfit, committed to an unusually narrow Islamist cause, but this was a world in which the less-than-narrow policies and intolerances of the West brutally conspired against them. And in the desperation of exile their anger and frustration found other channels for release. And just as inevitably, other targets. It wasn’t the dreams of freedom that were reprehensible this time around, it was those who came first to obstruct and then exploit those dreams.
Sadly, the bombing is beginning to look more and more like a turf-war played out on UK soil with the intent to implicate ISIS & free-up military and monetary backing for a fresh Loyalist power bid in Libya. That’s if it’s not a more straightforward case of ‘blowback’ – a brutal Le Carre-esque response to Britain’s failure in honouring its commitment to stabilizing Libya and helping the group achieve their dreams of a North African ‘Islamic State’.
Was Salman an ‘agent of influence’? Did associates and former members of the LIFG and the Saudi-backed Nawasi deliberately lodge Salman in a nationwide ISIS network in an attempt to frame the group? Was the intent to secure funding from the UK Government to drive-out ISIS in Southern Libya? To persuade the UN to step-up their airstrikes?
Given the Nawasi coalition’s current determination to remove ISIS in Libya and our failure to secure the state, it’s certainly possible. Martyrdom takes many forms. His network of friends might support the plan, spinning us various stories that would support his immersion in ISIS, prior warnings, feigned concern and allusive stories about ‘hidden hands‘ – some shadowy agenda mounted by his former British allies to do “something against the Libyan community” and the “youth there”.
And if this wasn’t complex enough, a former officer with Mi6, Sir Mark Allen is currently facing a sensitive legal challenge by former Libya Islamic Fighting Group leader, Abdelhakim Belhadj, who accuses Sir Allen of illegal rendition and torture in 2004. Belhadj is an associate of Salman’s father, and like his father, he played a key role in the 2011 uprising. He is also became a prominent figure in the country’s democratic transition and the UN-recognised Government of National Accord, currently under the protection of Ramadan Abedi’s Nawasi Brigade.
Are we seeing punishment for past offenses? It’s really very difficult to tell. Especially as some analysts in the US have claimed that Belhadj is now aligned with ISIS in Libya’s eastern districts. If this is true, we have an altogether different set of possibilities. And that’s without taking into account an entirely new and potentially catastrophic series of moves by Russia to back Libya’s eastern potentate, General Khalifa Haftar, General Commander of the Libyan Army and one of the most visible reminders of the old anti-Islamist regime. The Nawasi have already expressed their concern at Soviet involvement after Haftar made a second trip to Russia in November of last year. How Russia reponds to his bid for the leadership largely depends on the Trump Administration, and their willingness to step aside, especially after such pouring such considerable cash and effort into propping up Libya’s existing government.
If it transpires that former members of the LIFG played a part in last Monday’s attack in Manchester, then this could play to Kremlin’s and Haftar’s advantage.
At last year’s Libyan Summit (hosted in Vienna, May 2016) General Haftar and the GNA were demanding that the UN Security Council lift the strict, far-reaching arms embargo that was inhibiting their attempts to remove ISIS in the region. According to reports, the Russians are against this move, not least because the Kremlin has been secretly arming Haftar and the GNA covertly through the Libya Shield. As recently as April this year Russia’s Envoy to the United Nations, Pyotr Ilyichev argued that the lifting of sanctions in Libya was premature.
Interestingly the former-Chief of General Staff to General Haftar’s Libya Army is another member of the Al-Abedi tribe: Major General Jadalla Al-Abedi. A report from the UK Foreign Affairs Committee in the UK Parliament archives suggests Al-Bedi has been channelling money to the Libya Shield and other Islamist Militias. It is also known that the Al-Abedi tribe has been determined to drive-out ISIS in the East.
Libyan Economy in Crisis – Boris Johnson Leads Talks In Malta and London Autumn 2016
In all fairness, little is being done to unpick a deeply frustrating knot of competing militias. And whilst the United Nations Security Council expressed no fewer than six resolutions in 2016 alone, no fresh assurances have been made to the GNA and no additional measures have been tendered. Each of the six resolutions expressed by the Security Council in 2016 set-out in a discouraging and frankly robotic fashion that the UN Security Council will continue to support the UNSMIL in seeking a political solution to the problems, before dutifully reiterating that they will keep pressing on the full implementation of the Libyan Political Agreement. And as a result of this inertia, something of a stalemate has been reached.
Interestingly though, a Libyan Political Dialogue meeting took place in Malta last year that promised to loosen that stalemate. The meetings that took place between November 10 and November 11 2016, were follow-up talks to a meeting held in London the previous month featuring British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, United States Secretary of State John Kerry, and a small yet powerful constellation of UAE and Saudi banking representatives. Inevitably talks turned to the protection of the Oil Crescent terminals in the ports along a short strip of coast southwest of Benghazi. Libyan oil interests were being damaged by repeated strikes and seizures by IS militants and rival Islamist militias like the Benghazi defence. By contrast sales of US and Saudi oil soared as a result of the seizures, before tumbling as Libyan production increased. As long as Libyan oil production remained in flux, Libya’s economy, it was feared, would remain in a constant state of crisis.
In May 2017, just two weeks before the Manchester Arena Bombing, Boris Johnson made an unscheduled trip to Tripoli to negotiate plans for a fresh presidential election in March 2018 that would see Haftar and the former Gadaffi army, operating in Libya’s oil rich eastern region, play a more promient role in the future of Libya. Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of Mi6 under Blair, has long advocated a multi-state solution to Libya’s problems, suggesting that East, West and Central Libya could easily exist in a semi-autonmous manner within the context of more central, federal framework. The response from Islamists in Tripoli was one of horror.
And whether it is a coincidence or not, former leader of the mighty Tripoli Brigade, Mahdi Al-Harati (a possible mentor to London Bridge attacker, Rachid Redouane) was arrested for affray in Malta little more than a month after the meeting took place. The man who played such a central role in the mission to overthrow Gadaffi, claimed he was on a social visit to the area. And in what could be a very significant move it was announced just yesterday that the Dublin-based Al Harati has now been included on a list of Qatar-backed terror suspects provided by Saudi Arabia.
A timely development don’t you think, given the former Mayor of Tripoli’s links to both Manchester’s Rebel Fighters and the Dublin-based London attacker?
Sir Richard Dearlove – A Spy Comes In From The Cold
But coming back to Sir Richard Dearlove: what role could he have played in all this? The role Dearlove played in Libyan Government with Mi6’s Mark Allen needs little elaboration. After retiring from Mi6 both men were recruited by Monitor Group, a global consultancy firm and tasked with running a two year public relations campaign on behalf of Gadaffi’s Libyan government. The close relationship the two men formed with Musa Kusa, former Intelligence chief to Gadaffi, is now at the heart of extraordinary rendition case being filed against Sir Allen by former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group leader, Abdel Hakim Belhaj (documents retrieved by the Libyan Rebels are alleged to show complicity between Blair’s Labour Government and the release and torture of Belhaj and his wife). Any suffering re-lived as a result of the ongoing legal case must have been doubly compounded when Belhaj learned of UK plans to back Gadaffi’s former General in the presidential elections scheduled for March 2018 and arising from a fairly damning report by the Foreign Affairs Committee into Libya’s collapse in 2011, and the scant evidence there was to suggest it was ever any worse off under Gadaffi. Cameron’s failure to offer stabisation and reconstruction after intervention also came in for scathing criticism.
But there are other dimensions to consider. There is little doubting that the attacks in Manchester and on London Bridge brought serious and untold damage to Theresa May’s election campaign, and contributed in no small part to the hung-parliament the British public woke up to on Friday morning. That Sir Richard Dearlove popped up on the eve of the election to to trash the swelling support for Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn by aligning him squarely with the IRA, practically guaranteed a split vote – and it all came courtesy of George Osborne’s old paper, Daily Telegraph. And by Sunday we were looking at demands for the resignation of Theresa May, the death of hard-Brexit and a leadership bid by Boris Johnson. And again, much of the momentum came from Osborne’s Evening Standard (‘Theresa May is a dead woman walking‘, George Osborne, Evening Standard).
Why such hostility from Osborne and other past and present members of Cameron’s Conservative Party? Well the address May made to US Republicans in January won’t have helped. In a seismic shift of policy, the UK’s Prime Minister announced that the UK and America could not return to the “failed” military interventions and foreign policies of the past. “The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image” were over, May said.
She also made a direct warning about Vladimir Putin, conceding that although we must ‘engage’ we must also ‘beware’.
There is little denying that that Osborne’s takeover as editor of the Standard, was specifically tasked with destroying May’s premiership, especially given the 65% stake that Moscow’s, Evgeny Lebedev has in the paper. And interestingly it was Evgeny’s father Alexander Lebedev (former Chief Directorate at the KGB) who came out to publicly challenge Steele’s dossier on Trump as a “poorly extecuted fake” (which likely to be only partly true).
Lebedev’s National Reserve Bank has significant stakes in Russian Oil Giant Gazprom, another company that has suffered over sanctions placed on it by the Obama Admistration. In a new development though, Italy’s ENI has offered to bring Gazprom into its concessions in Libya in return for some of the Russian giant’s assets. Prior to the overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011, Gazprom were in talks to buy Libya oil and gas exports. The bid was seen by some as a means of gaining leverage over some European states. Libya’s failure to maintain stability of its oil terminals has (until now) inhibited Russian interest.
Is it possible that Sir Richard Dearlove’s Libyan supporters have helped engineer a climate and situation in which Boris can be elected? Are we looking at a possible ‘Borisgate’?
Well, as crazy as it sounds, it’s not implausible.
If you have been an avid reader of spy stories over the past six months you will know that Dearlove has featured in not one but TWO absorbing (and related) espionage capers: the first centered on an alleged Russian spy programme operating in Cambridge and the second emerged as part of the FBI’s investigation into former Trump advisor, Michael Flynn. Tne FBI and CIA’s interest date sback to February 2014 when Sir Richard Dearlove, then Master of Cambridge’s Pembroke College who was seeking to establish a cross-discipline programme called the Cambridge Security Initiative (CSI) and providing, in its own words, “unique link between the worlds of business, government and academia”. A dinner was hosted by Dearlove and the guest of honour was Michael Flynn, then head of America’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and subsequently, National Security Advisor for Donald Trump. It was here that Michael Flynn was introduced to Russian-banker-turned-historian, Svetlana Lokhova. And it is the frienship that ensued that is said to have aroused the concern of US spy chiefs about Mike Flynn.
If Osborne’s Yachtgate capers with Oleg Deripaska and Peter Mandelson back in August 2008 weren’t enough cause for concern, then this should surely pique the interests of our own Security Service, given the shared interests the Russians have in Libya’s General Haftar and the UK General Elections.
And there will be no surprises to learn that Deripaska (who negotiated a £3 billion financing deal the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) through Blair and JP Morgan) is also a good friend of Osborne chum Nat Rothschild and al-Saif Islam Gaddafi, whose shock release in June promises to spearhead a Loyalist revival.
But what would be in it for Dearlove and the Kremlin?
Back in 2007 both Dearlove and Sir Allen were instrumental in a $900m oil deal that had been struck between BP and the Libyan government. The deal looked set to go ahead right up until Gadaffi’s removal in 2011. Today nothing of that deal remains.
Forward to 2017 and the Kremlin in making significant in-roads with General Haftar. In February of this year it was reported that Russia’s Russia’s Rosneft had struck an oil deal, with the state-owned Libyan oil giant National Oil Production (NOC) and Haftar was now determined to ramp up production in the East. Given that an increase in Libyan production sees a fall in sales of US and Saudi oil, something of a power-struggle over Haftar has begun. And whilst the the European Union hopes to persuade Haftar to accept a power share with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) set up in December 2015, Russia is supporting his bid to seize overall military power. In Europe this is not seen as a viable option for lasting peace, but the Trump Adminstration is beginning to show signs of offering its support alongside Russia. As The Guardian reported in February, “European diplomats fear that that (Haftar) could join what has been described as Vladimir Putin’s axis of secular authoritarians in the Middle East.” (EU reaches out to Russia to broker deal with Libyan general Haftar, The Guardian, Feb 2017)
And it might not just be Putin we have to worry about.
British spy Christopher Steele, whose now infamous Steele Dossier blew the lid on Trump’s kinky sex antics in Moscow, suggests Putin had offered Trump the brokerage on 19% of Rosneft in return for lifting the sanctions placed on Russia and Rosneft Chairman Igor Sechin by Obama administration in 2014. The meeting is said to have taken place in July 2016 and is alleged to have featured Trump’s then Foreign Policy Adviser, Carter Page and Rosneft Executive Chairman Igor Sechin.
The account is as yet unverified, but it is curious to learn that Steele, a confirmed Socialist, is another prominent figure on the Cambridge University alumni and headed the Russia Desk at Mi6 under Sir Richard Dearlove. Interestingly, Jonathan Winer, US special envoy for Libya, was one several who came forward to endorse Steele publicly.
As it is, something of a proxy war exists around the subsidy rights and pipelines that Libya boasts. British Defense Minister Michael Fallon was pretty blunt when it came to a Russian-Haftar alliance telling Kremlin representatives at the Munich Security Conference in February that Russian was being belligerent in testing the fragile NATO alliance over Libya. UK oil giant BP, on whose behalf Dearlove and Allen successfully negotiated a deal with Libya’s Gadaffi between 2007 and 2010, are another of those competitors.
And just in case we were in any doubt about the role that Trump and Rosneft will play in any future regime change in Libya, we learn that Trump has nominated another Rosneft stakeholder, Christopher Wray, as new head of the FBI. Wray’s law firm — King & Spalding — represents not only Rosneft but Gazprom, two of the largest state-controlled oil companies in Russia.
As many will already know, Rosneft featured prominently in the now infamous 35-page Trump dossier prepared by former British MI6 agent Christopher Steele. The dossier claims that the CEO of Rosneft, Igor Sechin, offered candidate Donald Trump, through Trump’s campaign advisor Carter Page, a 19% stake in the company in exchange for lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia. The dossier claims that the offer was made in July while Page was in Moscow.
Wray’s law firm, King & Spalding were only recently replaced by Curtis, Mallet-Prevost looking into the release of Gaddafi’s frozen assets but their interests in Libya go all the way back to 2011 (Crisis in Libya: What Legal Options are Available to Oil and Gas Companies, King & Spalding 2011).
The estimated $160 billion in LIA frozen assets is currently being fought over by two main rivals factions: General Haftar in the East and Ali Shamekh, who heads up the LIA. Ali Shamekh claims much of the frozen funds could play a role into energy and power generation, including oil and gas. This would be backed by a UK office staffed by Libyan and British experts, with the aim of enlarging Libya’s investments in Britain and using the office as a platform to encourage international investors to look at Libya.
Another man that Trump was tipping to replace Comey at the FBI was Joe Lieberman, the ex-Senator and Democrat who had defied all expectations in his support for the much-loathed President. When Lieberman abandoned his Senate post in 2013 he immediately took up with law firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres, whose senior partner, Marc Kasowitz, Trump had chosen as Defense Attorney in the FBI’s Russian Probe.
Signifcantly, Kasowitz and Lieberman have signed up as foreign agents for Basit Igtet, a Libyan businessman and activist recently seeking office in Haftar’s oil-rich East. Igtet’s wife also plays a role at the US-Libya Chamber of Commerce and claims a personal familiarity with John Kerry. The Coexistence Agreement that Libya’s Haftar signed in June last year was proposed and conceived by Igtet. Igtet’s bid for Prime Minister only looks set to be thwarted by his relationship with fellow Benghazi native, Ahmed Abu Khattala, the Benghazi militant charged by the US Justice Department for his involvement in the attack in Benghazi in 2012 that killed US Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Anyone familar with Trump’s sport and leisure enterprises may recall that Trump previously approached Gaddafi about the building of a ‘super resort’ on Libya’s Mediterranean coastline. That Basit Igtet has similarly been pushing super-resort interests with Athal Hospitality may give us some indication of the direction his cooperation with Trump might take.
So what else may be in it for Putin? Well not only would it strengthen Russia’s position as a key international player, siding with Haftar is also likely to blow apart the UN’s 2015 Libyan reconciliation effort and its supporting architecture, the Nato alliance. In this respect Libya presents little more than a blast hole, and Trump the stick of dynamite they’ll wedge it into. And this is clearly the long-term objective.
Yes, the details may be sketchy and the scope of intrigue literally immense, but it’s clear that Johnson’s trip to Libya in May to discuss ‘peace options’ (most likely based on those proposed by Igtet) recklessly set in motion a series of hostile responses that concluded in the Manchester Bombing.
A Problem Shared Is Still A Problem
But let’s look at it another way. Let’s not put the blame squarely in the camp of the rebels and these desperately complex attempts to lock and unlock the UN Armoury.
Salman Abedi, the Manchester Arena Bomber, was the son of a man whose group was placed on a UN and US Terror List in 2006 under Blair’s New Labour Government, and removed from that same list by the UN and Conservative Government in 2011, with the approval of the then Home Secretary, Theresa May. And for what? So the same group could storm into Libya and remove Gadaffi on our behalf. And when we had what we wanted we discarded them.
Is Theresa May likely to blame the group given the fallout that there would be politically? And would Labour, given the no less significant role that Blair, David Milliband and Jacqui Smith played in the 2009 decision by High Court of England and Wales to remove their terror status, be brave enough to address any of those ’embarrassing conversations’ about collusion and complicity likely to arise as a result?
The United Nations and the European Union have played a no less critical role. It was a EU Rights Committee that finally removed the names of Abdelrazag Elsharif Elosta, Abdulbasit Abdulrahim and Maftah Mohamed from the sanctions list in 22 December 2010, and the Manchester ‘entities’ used as fronts by the group in Manchester in September that same year 2. The ‘delisting procedures’ that characterize the removal of sanctions on these people are a complex affair. But as unpleasant as it is to swallow, it was the abstruse (yet just) mechanisms of the Human Rights system that ultimately gave the LIFG the green light to travel to Libya, even if it was the British Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office under Blair that provided the legal basis.
Whether or not there was ever a mass amnesty awarded to the group by the Conservative Government in 2011, it is still fair to say that very effort is being made by Mi5 to put as much space between the Arena bombing and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group as possible. And much of the spade work on this may have already been done by Salman Abedi himself, who may well have embedded himself quite deeply into the network of his father’s enemies in the most duplicitous and most appalling way possible.
Are we likely to see the arrest of anyone over the age of 50? Not if the UK Government and Libya’s GNA-controlled RADA can help it. Anything that ties this back to our old Rebel allies is likely to remain a secret.
At time of writing RADA (special forces within Libya’s Interior Ministry) are backing the UK line that Salman Abedi was radicalised on the Internet in Britain, and not by the coterie of LIFG figures associated with his father. But maybe this is to be expected as Ramadan Abedi has been working alongside RADA security officers for the best part of six years. Admitting that the threat comes from within the GNA, or from within the broader framework of RADA itself, whether by collusion or division, would have a catastrophic impact on relations with Britain and be a public relations disaster.
Inevitably the UK Government and Mi5 will shift the focus of discussion onto ‘correctable’ procedural failures. But this isn’t what we need. What we need is for the UK Government to stop meddling in foreign affairs that are too complex and too fast-changing to dominate for long. They need to cease trying to manage and contain chaotic domestic threats they have recklessly co-funded just to satisfy the transitory needs of national and global government.
That’s what will stop atrocities like this in the future.
That is what is needed now.
It’s the only way to avoid the slag heaps of collapsed hopes and frustrated dreams that topple centre-stage from the margins and flatten the lives of innocents. And given that I seem to be taking an unexpected lyrical turn, I’ll let F. Scott Fitzgerald have the final word:
This is a valley of ashes – a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air – The Great Gatsby
More essays and articles: https://independent.academia.edu/alansargeant
1 Meadowbank Invetsments Ltd was registered at a formations company in Bristol at this address: 44 Upper Belgrave Road, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 2XN. In an unsual twist this same address appears in the context of a British company alleged to have been used by Norwegian Terrorist, Anders Breivik to launder funds. Although Breiviks claimsabout the company are doubtful, it is interesting that he named the company and that it should have links to the address above. I’m not going to disclose the name of the company but it featured prominently in the British Press at the time of Oslo massacre.
Without wishing to draw a direct connection between the two events, could it be a further indication of collusion between these groups and cladestine operations by British Security? It is not unknown for the security community to rely on trusted formations companies to create shell companies and other desirable front organizations. Perhaps this is what Breivik was alluding to – that he had information about such things?
What a difference a day makes? On the morning of May 22nd the headlines were talking of the closing gap between Labour and the Conservatives and a succession of U-Turns by a PM who had sloganned her campaign, ‘Strong and Stable’.
With a hard-Brexit having won over the British public in the 2016 Referendum and many bridges having already been burned with her European negotiators, many would have thought the attack couldn’t have been better timed for the Tories and the Brexit Camp. So in some ways it was inevitable that ISIS would be blamed over and above our volatile Libyan allies. The horror of the attack would have the sleeping masses frothing at the mouth all over again and breathe fresh life into May’s almost somnambulistic election campaign. We thought it was a cakewalk, but on Monday it was looking like anything but.
Where would you shift the weight of blame in these circumstances? On those we had brought into the country ourselves and chosen as political allies or on the fresh wave of immigrants who ‘swarmed’ in under New Labour?
And let’s not even mention the Saudis.
If previous experience of these things tell us anything it is that those running country bear the greater weight of the public backlash.