Migrants trying to reach Europe via North Africa are being sold at modern-day slave auctions by smugglers in Libya for as little as $400, a new investigation has revealed.

Along the Libyan coast, smugglers have racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars putting migrants on the perilous journey to Europe on rickety boats across the Mediterranean Sea. Now they are being sold off to buyers for manual labor, according to CNN.

Desperate migrants make their way through sub-Saharan Africa—either west or east—to Libya, a near-failed state wracked by years of civil war and lawlessness, to pay substantial sums to traffickers in hope of a new life on European shores.

According to the investigation, cell phone footage showed African men being sold, offered as one of the “big, strong boys for farm work.”

In the Libyan capital of Tripoli, an auction was witnessed for a man whose price rose from 500 dollars to $650. Some were sold for just $400, less than half the median weekly earnings of an American worker.

“Does anybody need a digger? This is a digger, a big, strong man, he’ll dig,” an auctioneer said. “What am I bid, what am I bid?”

This situation has arisen because of the European and Libyan crackdown on smuggler vessels—meaning that those who arrive in Libya have no boats on which to leave, and the smugglers have nowhere to send the migrants.

Instead, the traffickers are attempting make money from migrants’ desperation.

Libyan authorities in the city say they have knowledge of the smuggling operations in the country, but not slave auctions. “They fill a boat with 100 people, those people may or may not make it,” First Lieutenant Naser Hazam of the Libyan government’s Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency told CNN.

“[The smuggler] does not care as long as he gets the money, and the migrant may get to Europe or die at sea.”

Previous investigations by Newsweek have shown that smugglers, particularly in the coastal town of Zuwara, drew in hundreds of migrants from across Africa, from Egypt, Sudan, and Niger, using social media.

In 2015, the smugglers brazenly used Facebook accounts and charts of the range of prices for their services.

For instance, a trip from Sudan to Libya and on to Italy would cost two migrants, a mother and her daughter, around $3,500: $1,500 for the crossing and the rest for the transport from Khartoum, the Sudanese capital.

Social media companies have clamped down on the recruiting, and the business now operates more on word of mouth.

In 2016, there were at least 5,079 fatalities or missing cases of people who tried to make the Mediterranean crossings to Europe.

African migrants sold in Libya 'slave markets', IOM says

11 April 2017

Africans trying to reach Europe are being sold by their captors in “slave markets” in Libya, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says.

Victims told IOM that after being detained by people smugglers or militia groups, they were taken to town squares or car parks to be sold.

Migrants with skills like painting or tiling would fetch higher prices, the head of the IOM in Libya told the BBC.

Libya has been in chaos since the 2011 Nato-backed ousting of Muammar Gaddafi.

Hundreds of young sub-Saharan African men have been caught up in the so-called slave markets, according to the IOM report.

A Senegalese migrant, who was not named to protect his identity, said that he had been sold at one such market in the southern Libyan city of Sabha, before being taken to a makeshift prison where more than 100 migrants were being held hostage.

He said that migrants held at the facility were told to call their families, who would be asked for money to pay for their release, and some were beaten while on the phone to allow relatives to hear them being tortured.

He described “dreadful” conditions where migrants were forced to survive on limited food supplies, with those unable to pay either killed or left to starve, the report adds.

Another witness, who was able to raise the funds needed for his release after nine months, was later taken to hospital with severe malnutrition, weighing just 5.5 stone (35 kg).

Women, too, were bought by private Libyan clients and brought to homes where they were forced to be sex slaves, the witness said.

The IOM's chief of mission for Libya, Othman Belbeisi, told the BBC that those sold into slavery found themselves priced according to their abilities.

"Apparently they don't have money and their families cannot pay the ransom, so they are being sold to get at least a minimum benefit from that," he said.

"The price is definitely different depending on your qualifications, for example if you can do painting or tiles or some specialised work then the price gets higher."

An IOM staff member in Niger said they confirmed the reports of auctions in Libya with several other migrants who had escaped.

"They all confirmed the risks of been sold as slaves in squares or garages in Sabha, either by their drivers or by locals who recruit the migrants for daily jobs in town, often in construction.

"Later, instead of paying them, [they] sell their victims to new buyers."

Some migrants, mainly Nigerians, Ghanaians and Gambians are forced to work "as guards in the ransom houses or in the 'market' itself", the IOM employee added.

The organisation has called the emergence of these markets "a disturbing new trend in the already dire situation for migrants in Libya".

In February, the UN children's agency Unicef released a report documenting - in sometimes horrific detail - stories of slavery, violence and sexual abuse experienced by large numbers of vulnerable children travelling from Libya to Italy.

The report, A Deadly Journey for Children, said that almost 26,000 children - most of them unaccompanied - crossed the Mediterranean in 2016, many of them suffering abuse at the hands of smugglers and traffickers.

Tens of thousands of migrants arrived in Italy last year by sea, crossing from North Africa. But before they reach the jumping-off point in Libya, many migrants will have undertaken a perilous journey of up to six days across the Sahara in extreme temperatures.

Number of ISIS fighters in Libya doubles

By Nicole Gaouette
April 8, 2016

Washington (CNN) U.S. intelligence estimates now put the number of ISIS fighters in Libya between 4,000 to 6,000, double the number in the war-ravaged country last year, according to the top U.S. military commander in Africa.

Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said the intelligence community estimates the number of ISIS fighters in Libya at "around 4 to 6,000." He added that the number has "probably about doubled in the last 12 to 18 months, based on what their assessments were last year."

Wracked by violence since the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, Libya has become a haven for militant groups.

From 2014, the country was divided between two rival governments, one in the capitol of Tripoli and another in the east. A December deal created a Government of National Accord that the United Nations and Western governments hope can unite the country's armed factions against ISIS and set Libya on a more stable course.

How Muhammar Gaddafi’s anti-aircraft missiles are falling into the jihadists' hands

As the militants exploit the chaos in the country, there are fears they could target civilian airliners

Jonathan Broder

Friday 11 March 2016

Deep in the Sahara, in the sun-baked Libyan town of Sabha, a ragtag group of gunmen agreed to show Timothy Michetti their most prized weapons.

Mr Michetti, an experienced investigator for a London-based company that tracks the sources of small arms in conflict zones, travelled there on a hunch. Local fighters, he reckoned, may have some of the shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles that disappeared when rebels ousted the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

In the sweltering heat, the gunmen unveiled a small arsenal: four Russian-made SA-7 missiles and two later models of the SA-16 variety. The heat-seeking missiles are capable of shooting down a civilian airliner.

The fighters said they acquired the weapons from nomadic smugglers on their way to illicit weapons bazaars in neighbouring Chad. But after comparing the missiles’ serial numbers to those in his company’s database, Mr Michetti confirmed his hunch: these had been Gaddafi’s arms.

The missiles had no grip stocks or launchers, which rendered them unusable, but that wasn’t much of a relief. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of working Libyan shoulder-held missiles remain unaccounted for, American and UN officials say; some have probably fallen into the hands of Isis jihadists, US intelligence sources say. They add that as Isis continues to exploit Libya’s four-year civil war between two main rival factions, the group is likely to use these weapons as it fights to widen its strategic foothold in Libya to include the country’s oil fields. There’s some evidence the group has already succeeded.

No one has downed a passenger plane using stolen Libyan missiles, known in military parlance as “manpads” or man-portable air defence systems, yet the likelihood that Isis now has these weapons in Libya means the group or its affiliates could be well-equipped to strike at civilian aircraft in Africa or Europe, US officials say. “These missiles are very portable and easily smuggled,” says a senior State Department official who leads a special team given the job of securing the Libyan missiles. “All it takes is for one to get through.”

Despite the dangers these Libyan missiles pose, the Obama administration has effectively stopped trying to locate and destroy them, State Department officials say. The main reason is that it’s too dangerous to go looking for them in Libya.

It’s unclear how many missiles remain at large. According to both US and UN officials, Gaddafi accumulated an estimated 20,000 shoulder-held manpads during his four decades in power. Yet these officials stress that attrition, poor maintenance and the Nato bombing campaign during the 2011 revolution reduced that number by the time the dictator was overthrown.

Not long after Gaddafi’s fall, President Barack Obama dispatched the special US team to Libya, which located and destroyed about 5,000 missiles. But the team leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive security issue, acknowledges he has no idea how many manpads are missing.

“There’s a large number still there in Libya, where some of the larger militia groups still maintain the stocks that they originally took control of back in 2011,” he says. Others are in the hands of Libya’s smaller fighting groups, and arms traffickers have smuggled some out of the country to feed the conflicts in Syria, the Sinai, Nigeria and Mali. “We might never know where they went,” the team leader adds.

On 11 September 2012, the manpads team suffered a major setback. Islamic militants attacked a secret CIA station in Benghazi, killing four Americans, including the US ambassador Christopher Stevens. The loss of the CIA post, which had been tracking the whereabouts of Gaddafi’s looted weapons, eliminated one of the team’s critical sources of intelligence. The team pulled out of Libya less than two years later, when the US embassy in Tripoli closed  because of the deteriorating security situation.

“Because it’s an active conflict zone, the US team has no ability to go into Libya to locate and secure manpads,” says another team member. “Frankly, we have no leverage in a conflict to ask people to give up weapons.”

These days, team members work from a State Department annex in Washington, helping other governments in North Africa and the Sahel secure their weapons stocks. In an odd turn of events, the State Department has turned to several European-based private groups to carry out one of its other long-standing missions in Libya: locating and destroying mines left over from the Second World War.

Some observers suggest the administration gradually shifted its attention from finding the missing manpads to the war in Syria and the nuclear deal with Iran. “There was a huge flurry about the missiles right after the fall of Gaddafi,” recalls Rachel Stohl, an expert on small arms at the Stimson Centre, a Washington think-tank.

“Then it was quiet for about two years. When we began seeing evidence that the missiles were showing up in Mali and other countries, the buzz returned. But since then, it’s fallen off the radar because of other, higher priority issues. And that’s troubling. These weapons can cause catastrophic damage to a civilian or military aircraft, killing hundreds of people.”

It’s unclear why no Libyan combatants have used the looted missiles to target a civilian airliner. “That’s the million-dollar question,” says Matthew Schroeder, a researcher for the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, another organisation that traces the source of weapons. Some analysts note that many of the country’s armed groups have no military training and don’t know how to operate the missiles. More important, they add, the men who control Libya’s two biggest militias and aspire to lead the country aren’t interested in downing a civilian plane, which would be likely to halt flights in and out of the country.

Libya’s criminal gangs don’t want the airports closed because they depend on them for smuggling. And with missiles fetching as much as $12,000 (£8,400) on the black market, the militias prefer to sell them when they need cash, notes Savannah de Tessières, a member of a UN panel that is also investigating the whereabouts of the looted weapons.

In Egypt, however, anti-government jihadists haven’t shown such restraint. In January 2014, Islamic fighters belonging to a group called Ansar Bait al-Maqdis used what Egyptian and Israeli officials say was a looted Libyan shoulder-held missile to shoot down an Egyptian military helicopter in the Sinai, killing five soldiers. Later that year, the group pledged its obedience to Isis. In November, Isis’s Egyptian affiliate took credit for planting a bomb aboard a Russian passenger jet, killing all 224 passengers and crew. The attack marked the affiliate’s shift to Isis’s indiscriminate killing of civilians.

US, European and Arab officials now fear the Libyan civil war may lead to Isis missile attacks against civilian planes in North and West Africa, as well as in Europe. The chaos in Libya has allowed Isis to carve out a 150-mile enclave along the country’s central Mediterranean coast, with the city of Sirte at its centre. The Pentagon says the group has as many as 6,500 fighters in the country, but other intelligence sources say the group’s ranks are swelling rapidly, putting the number of Isis combatants in Libya at 10,000.

Intelligence officials say the group’s growing presence in Libya is part of a larger strategic plan. As Isis loses territory and oil revenue to coalition forces in Syria and Iraq, its leaders view Libya as a redoubt on which it can fall back, a new source of oil money and a base from which to spread its influence across North and sub-Saharan Africa. From Libya, these sources say, Isis can also piggyback on the refugee flow across the Mediterranean to strike at Europe.

For more than a month, President Obama has been under pressure from his military and national security aides to launch a major bombing campaign in Libya against Isis. So far, he’s resisted, opting instead to conduct targeted air strikes on the group’s commanders and one of its training camps along the Tunisian border. There are reports, however, that a multinational force, made up of troops from Italy, Britain, France and Spain, is poised to take on Isis on the ground in Libya, with the US providing special operations troops, as well as logistical and air support. But the Americans and the Europeans won’t agree to the operation until Libya’s rival factions form a unity government.

In the meantime, some of the more unsettling predictions about Isis in Libya may prove prescient. In February, Isis said it shot down a Libyan government MiG-23 fighter jet west of Benghazi as it bombed an unaffiliated Islamist militia. The group released a video of the attack, which the internationally recognised government in Tobruk confirmed. After analysing the video, US intelligence officials say it appears Isis used a missile to bring down the aircraft. Isis claims it has downed two other Libyan warplanes with missiles since January, but the government insists both crashed because of “technical problems”. If the next plane is a civilian airliner, that excuse may not fly.

U.S. Scrambles to Contain Growing ISIS Threat in Libya

FEB. 21, 2016
The New York Times

THIES, Senegal — The Islamic State’s branch in Libya is deepening its reach across a wide area of Africa, attracting new recruits from countries like Senegal that had been largely immune to the jihadist propaganda — and forcing the African authorities and their Western allies to increase efforts to combat the fast-moving threat.

The American airstrikes in northwestern Libya on Friday, which demolished an Islamic State training camp and were aimed at a top Tunisian operative, underscore the problem, Western officials said. The more than three dozen suspected Islamic State fighters killed in the bombing were recruited from Tunisia and other African countries, officials said, and were believed to be rehearsing an attack against Western targets.

Even as American intelligence agencies say the number of Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria has dropped to about 25,000 from a high of about 31,500, partly because of the United States-led air campaign there, the group’s ranks in Libya have roughly doubled in the same period, to about 6,500 fighters. More than a dozen American and allied officials spoke of their growing concern about the militant organization’s expanding reach from Libya and across Africa on rules of anonymity because the discussions involved intelligence and military planning.

Islamic State leaders in Syria are telling recruits traveling north from West African nations like Senegal and Chad, as well as others streaming up through Sudan in eastern Africa, not to press on to the Middle East. Instead, they are being told to stay put in Libya. American intelligence officials, who described the recent orders from Islamic State leaders, say the organization’s immediate goal is to carve out a new caliphate in Libya, and there are signs the affiliate is trying to establish statelike institutions there.

“Libya has become a magnet for individuals not only inside of Libya, but from the African continent as well as from outside,” John O. Brennan, the director of the C.I.A., told a Senate panel this month.

The rising threat from Libya comes as President Obama is being asked by many of his top military and intelligence advisers to approve the broader use of American military force in Libya to open another front against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

While administration officials have disclosed that Mr. Obama is mulling over how large of a military campaign to order for Libya, the new intelligence reports and the analysis on the spread of the Islamic State are energizing the high-level debate in Washington and allied capitals.

“The jihadist threat emanating from Syria and Iraq cannot be defused without addressing the growing danger posed by the terror groups’ co-conspirators in Libya,” Representative Devin Nunes, a California Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday.

Before resorting to any wider military action, however, the White House and Western allies like Britain, Italy and France are trying to help create a unity government in Libya. The goal is to use such a new central authority to rally dozens of fractious militias to fight against a common enemy — the Islamic State. American and European Special Operations forces could help advise and assist those militias, officials said.

“Our strong preference, as has always been the case, is to train Libyans to fight,” Mr. Obama said last week at a news conference in California. “There’s a whole bunch of constituencies who are hardened fighters and don’t ascribe to ISIS or their perverted ideology. But they have to be organized and can’t be fighting each other.”

As a result, the administration and its allies are taking several steps to prepare to train Libyan troops, should a newly formed unity government request such aid. They are also rushing to bolster pivotal African allies outside of Libya as a bulwark against Islamic State expansion on the continent.

The Pentagon has proposed spending $200 million this year to help train and equip the armies and security forces of North and West African countries. The United States is about to break ground on a new $50 million drone base in Agadez, Niger, that will allow Reaper surveillance aircraft to fly hundreds of miles closer to southern Libya.

Col. Mahamane Laminou Sani, Niger’s top intelligence officer, said in an interview that his country had increased its border patrols against the threat in neighboring Libya, and French troops stationed in Niger’s far north are doing the same.

“It’s a global threat that is not restricted by borders,” said Lt. Col. Moussa Mboup, a Senegalese Army operations officer who had trained in the United States and France. He spoke here during the Pentagon’s annual Flintlock military exercise with 1,800 African troops, United States Army Special Forces and other Western commando trainers, which ends later this month.

The Islamic State in Libya is now the most dangerous of the group’s eight affiliates, counterterrorism officials say. About half a dozen senior Islamic State lieutenants have arrived from Syria in recent months to build up the franchise, these officials say.

New United States and allied intelligence assessments say that Islamic State commanders in Libya are seizing territory there, starting to tax its residents and setting up quasi-government institutions — mirroring the Islamic State playbook in Syria and Iraq.

“They’re trying to establish a statewide structure,” Brett McGurk, Mr. Obama’s envoy to the United States-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, told American lawmakers this month.

The militant group is also starting to move in on the lucrative African migrant-smuggling operations that have been thriving in lawless Libya, developing a new source of revenue for the terror group.

American officials caution that while the Islamic State’s Libya branch is trying to act like its parent organization in Syria, the affiliate faces some inherent limitations.

The Libya branch, unlike its Syria headquarters, does not control any oil fields that can generate revenue, although it has attacked some of the fields in eastern Libya.

The banks the franchise has seized in its stronghold of Surt were not as flush as the banks in Mosul — having around $500 million, by some accounts — when the Islamic State conquered that northern Iraqi city in 2014.

American officials say the main source of revenue for the Libya branch is taxation and extorting fees from residents who live or businesses that operate in the 150-mile swath of territory they control in and around Surt.

The Islamic State in Libya is swelling its ranks through one of the main means its parent in Syria uses: a savvy social media campaign aimed at enticing disaffected young people who are facing few education options and bleak economic futures in their countries.

Indeed, intelligence officials said there was emerging evidence that the Islamic State had turned to its affiliate in Nigeria — the Islamic militant organization called Boko Haram, which was formerly aligned with Al Qaeda — to poach young commanders and fighters from Al Qaeda’s affiliate in northwest Africa and from its Shabab franchise in Somalia.

Previous attempts by senior Islamic State leaders to reach out directly to those Qaeda groups received the silent treatment, the officials said. But the new approach, while still in its early stages, seems to be gaining traction.

The Senegalese authorities recently reported that 30 men had gone to Libya to fight with the Islamic State there, trends that officials in Niger, Nigeria and Mali have also noticed.

As the Islamic State pushes closer to some of the poorer countries of the Sahel region, like Niger and Mauritania, the authorities here believe there will be no shortage of unemployed young men who are eager to join the fight.

To help fight that trend, Special Forces from 30 African and Western countries are participating in a three-week counterterrorism training exercise here on this sprawling army encampment 35 miles outside Dakar that is also home to Senegal’s military academy.

On several shooting ranges, dotted with massive baobab trees, American, Canadian, Dutch and Belgian trainers worked with soldiers from Niger and Nigeria.

Some troops were practicing first aid; others were shooting at close-range targets. The Belgians were leading a more difficult training exercise in which the African soldiers approached fortified targets from afar, and then assaulted the targets from several different directions — as they would in an actual raid.

With help from Dutch Marines and American Special Forces, Senegal is also training a new force to patrol its watery northern border with Mauritania, and it is deploying troops to neighboring Mali to help a United Nations force stymie Qaeda and other militant fighters there.

“ISIS is spreading even to here,” said Col. Guirane Ndiaye, a Senegalese zone commander. “If we do not have a multinational effort, ISIS will spread even more.”

Libya Truck Bombing Kills at Least 60 Policemen, Wounds 200


Libya — Jan 8, 2016

A massive truck bomb exploded near a police base in the western Libyan town of Zliten on Thursday, killing at least 60 policemen and wounding around 200 others, officials said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but a local Islamic State affiliate has been trying to gain a foothold in Zliten, spreading westward from its central stronghold in the city of Sirte along the North African country's coast.

The U.N. special envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, denounced the attack and urged Libyans to "put their differences aside and unite to confront the scourge of terrorism." U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack as well as ongoing attacks by the Islamic State group on oil facilities near Sidra and called for a national unity government as "the best way for Libyans to confront terrorism in all its forms."

The bombing was yet another reminder for Libyans that "urgent progress is required" toward empowering a new unity government and rebuilding state bodies, Kobler said in a statement.

Hours after the blast, rescue crews at the scene had only managed to extract 60 bodies out of the wreckage, said a hospital spokesman, Moamar Kaddi. Libyan officials said they believed there might be dozens more dead.

The police base, where about 400 recruits were training, was used by Libya's border police, a Zliten security official said. Border police foiled numerous human smuggling attempts off the coast of Zliten last year. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday that the U.S. has not yet determined who is responsible for carrying out a "cowardly act of terrorism" and extended condolences to the victims and the families of those who were killed, and to the Libyan people. Earnest said the U.S. remains "deeply concerned" about Islamic State-inspired militants carrying out acts of violence in Libya.

Smugglers operating in Libya are notorious for responding with violence to any attempt to disrupt their lucrative operations, but there have been no reported incidents in which they used car bombs, suggesting that Islamic militants are more likely to have been behind Thursday's attack. Also, it was not immediately clear whether the attack was a suicide bombing, a hallmark method of Islamic militants.

In recent years, thousands of migrants seeking a better life in Europe sailed from Libya on rickety, overcrowded boats. Hundreds have drowned in those crossings.

Libya slid into chaos following the 2011 toppling and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The oil-rich country is torn between an Islamist government based in the capital, Tripoli, and a rival, internationally recognized administration in the east. Meanwhile, a U.N.-supported unity government sits in neighboring Tunisia.

Residents in Libyan coastal cities have long expressed fears of the variety of smugglers and traffickers who run lucrative operations along the Mediterranean Sea. Authorities have echoed the same concerns, claiming they are unable to fully tackle these networks without international assistance.

Western Officials Alarmed as ISIS Expands Territory in Libya

MAY 31, 2015
The New York Times

TRIPOLI, Libya — The branch of the Islamic State that controls Surt has expanded its territory and pushed back the militia from the neighboring city of Misurata, militia leaders acknowledged Sunday.

In the group’s latest attack, a suicide bomber killed at least four fighters on Sunday at a checkpoint west of Misurata on the coastal road to Tripoli, according to local officials and Libyan news reports.

The continued expansion inside Libya of the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has alarmed Western officials because of its proximity to Europe, across the Mediterranean.

Four years after the removal of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the near collapse of the Libyan government has left no central authority to check the group’s advance or even partner with Western military efforts against it.

Two armed factions, each with its own paper government, are fighting for control, and each has focused more on internal quarrels than on defeating the Islamic State.

The group’s expanding turf in Libya also gives it an alternative base of operations even as it appears to be gaining ground in other regions — in Palmyra in Syria and in Ramadi in Iraq.

Foreigners arrested for trying to spread Christianity in Libya

February 17, 2013

BENGHAZI, Libya (REUTERS) - Four foreigners have been arrested in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on suspicion of being Christian missionaries and printing books about Christianity, a security official said on Saturday.

"They were arrested on Tuesday at a publishing house where they were printing thousands of books that called for conversion to Christianity," security official Hussein Bin Hmeid said.

"Proselytising is forbidden in Libya. We are a 100 per cent Muslim country and this kind of action affects our national security." Mr Hmeid said the government-affiliated security apparatus called the Preventative Security, for which he is a spokesman, had arrested an Egyptian, a South African, a Korean and a Swede who was travelling on a US passport.

"We are still holding interrogations and will hand them over to the Libyan intelligence authorities in a couple of days," Mr Hmeid said, without giving further details.

As Muslim terrorists threaten attacks in Benghazi, Westerners flee


Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia urge their citizens to leave the Libyan city because of possible reprisals over French action in Mali. Various Jihadists groups have formed an alliance in North Africa with bases in southern Libya and Mali.

Benghazi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia have urged their citizens to leave the Libyan city of Benghazi due to a "specific, imminent threat to Westerners", linked to French action in Mali and the danger of new kidnappings by Muslim extremists.

According to British diplomatic sources, Islamists have threatened to carry out attacks against Western targets like the one on the US consulate on 11 September 2011 in which US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

Over the past two years since the anti-Gaddafi war, Benghazi has been one of the main recruiting centres for Islamic extremists and al-Qaeda fighters.

A senior Algerian officer claimed that the organisers of the Benghazi consulate attack are the same who seized the gas Tigantourine field in (in In Amenas, south-eastern Algeria) that left 38 hostages and 29 Muslim extremists dead.

The group recruited by Mokhtar Belmokhtar included several Egyptian jihadists active in Libya.

Sources in Algiers said that Mohamed-Lamine Bouchneb, the militant leading the attack at the site, had purchased arms for the assault in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

The kidnappers gathered, undisturbed, at the southern Libyan town of Ghat, just across the border from Algeria, before their attack.

It is becoming clear that al Qaeda is spreading in the Sahara. On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to Congress about the events in Benghazi, warning that Jihadist groups have formed a complex alliance in North Africa with southern Libya and Mali as their main bases.

Indeed, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the veteran militant who claimed overall responsibility for the Tigantourine attack, is believed to be based in Mali.

US State Department officials have said that some members of Ansar al-Shariah, the group that carried out the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, had connections to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, one of the militant groups now holding northern Mali.

Libya Attack Brings Challenges for U.S.

Published: September 12, 2012
The New York Times

CAIRO — Islamist militants armed with antiaircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades stormed a lightly defended United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, late Tuesday, killing the American ambassador and three members of his staff and raising fresh questions about the radicalization of countries swept up in the Arab Spring.

The ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, was missing almost immediately after the start of an intense, four-hour firefight for control of the mission, and his body was not located until Wednesday morning at dawn, when he was found dead at a Benghazi hospital, American and Libyan officials said. It was the first time since 1979 that an American ambassador had died in a violent assault.

American and European officials said that while many details about the attack remained unclear, the assailants seemed organized, well trained and heavily armed and appeared to have at least some level of advanced planning.  But the officials cautioned that it was too soon to tell whether the attack was related to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Fighters involved in the assault, which was spearheaded by a Islamist brigade formed during last year’s uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, said in interviews during the battle that they were moved to attack the mission by anger over a 14-minute, American-made video that depicted the Prophet Muhammad, Islam’s founder, as a villainous, homosexual and child-molesting buffoon. Their attack followed by just a few hours the storming of the compound surrounding the United States Embassy in Cairo by an unarmed mob protesting the same video. On Wednesday, new crowds of protesters gathered outside the United States Embassies in Tunis and in Cairo.

The wave of unrest set off by the video, posted online in the United States two months ago and dubbed into Arabic for the first time eight days ago, has further underscored the instability of the countries that cast off their longtime dictators in the Arab Spring revolts. It also cast doubt on the adequacy of security preparations at American diplomatic outposts in the volatile region.

Benghazi, awash in guns, has recently witnessed a string of assassinations as well as attacks on international missions, including a bomb said to be planted by another Islamist group that exploded near the United States Consulate there as recently as June. But a Libyan politician who had breakfast with Mr. Stevens at the mission the morning before he was killed described security as sorely inadequate for an American ambassador in such a tumultuous environment, consisting primarily of four video cameras and as few as four Libyan guards.

“This country is still in transition, and everybody knows the extremists are out there,” said Fathi Baja, the Libyan politician.

Obama Vows Justice

President Obama condemned the killings, promised to bring the assailants to justice, and ordered tighter security at all American diplomatic installations. The administration also sent 50 Marines to the Libyan capital, Tripoli, to help with security at the American Embassy there, and ordered all nonemergency personnel to leave Libya and warned Americans not to travel there. A senior defense official said Wednesday night that the Pentagon was moving two warships toward the Libyan coast as a precaution.

“These four Americans stood up for freedom and human dignity,” Mr. Obama said in a televised statement from the White House Rose Garden, where he stood with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.”

In Tripoli, Libyans leaders also vowed to track down the attackers and stressed their unity with Washington.

Yussef Magariaf, president of the newly elected Libyan National Congress, offered “an apology to the United States and the Arab people, if not the whole world, for what happened.” He pledged new measures to ensure the security of foreign diplomats and companies. “We together with the United States government are on the same side, standing in a united front in the face of these murderous outlaws.”

Obama administration officials and regional officials scrambled to sort out conflicting reports about the nature of the attack and the motivation of the attackers on Wednesday. A senior Obama administration officials told reporters during a conference call that “it was clearly a complex attack,” but offered no details.

Col. Wolfgang Pusztai, who until early August was Austria’s defense attaché to Libya and visited the country every month, said in an e-mail that he believed the attack was “deliberately planned and executed” by about a core group of 30 to 40 assailants who were “well trained and organized.”  But he said the reports from some terrorism experts that the attack may be linked to the recent death in drone strikes of senior Qaeda leaders, including Abu Yahya al-Libi, were so far unsupported.

A translated version of the video that set off the uprising arrived first in Egypt before reaching the rest of the Islamic world. Its author, whose identity is now a mystery, devoted the video’s prologue to caricatured depictions of Egyptian Muslims abusing Egyptian Coptic Christians while Egyptian police officers stood by. It was publicized last week by an American Coptic Christian activist, Morris Sadek, well known here for his scathing attacks on Islam.

Mr. Sadek promoted the video in tandem with a declaration by Terry Jones — a Florida pastor best known for burning the Koran and promoting what he called “International Judge Muhammad Day” on Sept. 11.

The video began attracting attention in the Egyptian news media, including the broadcast of offensive scenes on Egyptian television last week. At that point, American diplomats in Cairo informed the State Department of the festering outrage in the days before the Sept. 11 anniversary, said a person briefed on their concerns. But officials in Washington declined to address or disavow the video, this person said.

By late afternoon, hundreds had gathered in mostly peaceful protest outside the United States Embassy here under the oversight of a large contingent of Egyptian security forces. But around 6 p.m., after the end of the work day and television news coverage of the event, the crowd began to swell, including a group of rowdy young soccer fans.

Gaining Entrance

Then, around 6:30 p.m., a small group of protesters — one official briefed on the events put it around 20 — brought a ladder to the wall of the compound and quickly scaled it, gaining entrance to the ground. Embassy officials asked the Egyptian government to remove the infiltrators without using weapons or force, to avoid inflaming the situation, this official said. (An embassy official said that contrary to reports on Tuesday, no one fired weapons in the air.)But it then took the Egyptian security officers five hours to remove the intruders, leaving them ample time to run around the grounds, deface American flags, and hoist the black flag favored by Islamic ultraconservatives and labeled with Islam’s most basic expression of faith, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet.”

It is unclear if television footage of Islamist protesters may have inspired the attack on the embassy in Benghazi, a Libyan city near Egypt that had been a hotbed of opposition to Colonel Qaddafi, and that remains unruly since the uprising in that country resulted in his death. But Tuesday night, a group of armed assailants mixed with unarmed demonstrators gathered at the small compound that housed a temporary American diplomatic mission there.

The ambassador, Mr. Stevens, was visiting the city Tuesday from the United States Embassy compound in Tripoli to attend the planned opening of an American cultural center in Benghazi, and was staying at the mission. It is not clear if the assailants knew that the ambassador was staying at the mission temporarily.

Interviewed at the scene on Tuesday night, many of the attackers and those who backed them said they were determined to defend their faith from the insults in the video. Some recalled an earlier episode when protesters in Benghazi had burned down the Italian consulate after an Italian minister had worn a T-shirt emblazoned with cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Ten people were reportedly killed in clashes with Colonel Qaddafi’s police.

The assault was led by a brigade of Islamist fighters known as Ansar al-Sharia, or the Supporters of Islamic Law. Members of the brigade emphasized at the time that they were not acting alone, however, and on Wednesday, perhaps apprehensive over the death of the American ambassador, said in a statement that its supporters “were not officially involved or were not ordered to be involved” in the attack.

At the same time, however, the brigade praised those who protested as “the best of the best” of the Libyan people and supported their response to the video “in the strongest possible terms.”

Conflicting Accounts

There were conflicting accounts of how Mr. Stevens had died. One witness to the mayhem around the compound on Tuesday said militants chased him to a safe house and lobbed grenades at the location, where he was later found unconscious, apparently from smoke inhalation, and could not be revived by rescuers who took him to a hospital.

An unidentified Libyan official in Benghazi told Reuters that Mr. Stevens and three staff members were killed in Benghazi “when gunmen fired rockets at them.” The Libyan official said the ambassador was being driven from the consulate building to a safer location when gunmen opened fire, Reuters said.

In Italy, the Web site of the newspaper Corriere della Sera showed images of what it said was the American Consulate in Benghazi ablaze with men carrying automatic rifles and waving V-for-victory signs, silhouetted against the burning buildings. One photograph showed a man closely resembling Mr. Stevens apparently unconscious, his face seeming to be smudged with smoke and his eyes closed.

Mr. Stevens, conversant in Arabic and French, had worked at the State Department since 1991 after a spell as an international trade lawyer in Washington. He taught English as a Peace Corps volunteers in Morocco from 1983 to 1985, the State Department Web site said.

According to the State Department, five American ambassadors had been killed by terrorists before the attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi. The most recent was Adolph Dubs, killed after being kidnapped in Afghanistan in 1979. The others were John Gordon Mein, in Guatemala in 1968; Cleo A. Noel Jr., in Sudan in 1973; Rodger P. Davies, in Cyprus in 1974; and Francis E. Meloy Jr., in Lebanon in 1976.

Witnesses and State Department officials said that the attack began almost immediately after the protesters and the brigade arrived at about 10 p.m., according to the department officials. Witnesses said the brigade started the attack by firing a rocket-propelled grenade at the gate of the mission’s main facility. American officials said that by 10:15 the attackers had gained entrance to the main building.

A second wave of assailants arrived soon after and swarmed into the compound, witnesses said.

“They expected that there would more American commandos in there. They went in with guns blazing, with R.P.G.’s,” said Mohamed Ali, a relative of the landlord who rents the building to the American mission and who watched the battle.

Wanis al-Sharif, the deputy interior minister of Libya, made a series of somewhat contradictory and defensive-sounding statements about the circumstances surround the attack on Wednesday.

He acknowledged that he had ordered the withdrawal of security forces from the scene in the early stages of the protest on Wednesday night. He said his initial instinct was to avoid inflaming the situation by risking a confrontation with people angry about the video.

He also said that he underestimated the aggression of the protesters. But he also criticized the small number of guards inside the diplomatic mission for shooting back in self defense, saying their response probably further provoked the attackers.

The small number of Libyans guarding the facility, estimated at only six, did not hold out long against the attackers, who had substantial firepower, the interior minister and State Department officials said. Defending the facility would have been a “suicide mission,” Mr. Sharif said.

Mr. Sharif also faulted the Americans at the mission for failing to heed what he said was the Libyan government’s advice to pull its personnel or beef up its security, especially in light of the recent violence in the city and the likelihood that the video would provoke protests. “What is weird is that they refrained from this procedure, depending instead on the simple protection that they had,” Mr. Sharif said. “What happened later is beyond our control and they are responsible for part of what happened.”

The attackers broke into the compound around 10:15 and soon the main building was on fire and under heavy fire from outside. Only Mr. Stevens, an aide named Sean Smith and a State Department security officer were inside the main building at the time. As it filled with smoke, security officers recovered Mr. Smith’s body, but were driven out again by the firefight, according to senior administration officials. Mr. Stevens, however, could not be found and was somehow lost for the rest of the night.

It took another hour — until 11:20 — before American and Libyan forces recaptured the main building and evacuated the entire staff to an annex nearly a mile away. The militants followed and the fighting continued there until 2:30 in the morning, when Libyan security reinforcements arrived and managed to gain control of both compounds.

David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Cairo, and Steven Lee Myers from Washington. Reporting was contributed by Osama Alfitory and Suleiman Ali Zway from Benghazi, Libya; Mai Ayyad from Cairo; Eric Schmitt and Scott Shane from Washington; and Alan Cowell from London.

Libyan Islamists must have share in power, warns leader

Abdul Hakim Belhaj, head of Tripoli Military Council, issues warning after administration negotiations founder

Ian Black in Tripoli

guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 27 September 2011 14.46 EDT

Libya's Islamist groups "will not allow" secular politicians to exclude or marginalise them in the intensifying battle for power in the post-Gaddafi era, the country's most powerful Islamist leader has said.

Abdel Hakim Belhaj, head of the Tripoli Military Council and founder of a jihadi group that was later disbanded, appears to be firing a shot across the bows of liberal, western-backed rivals after negotiations over broadening the rebel administration foundered.

"We must resist attempts by some Libyan politicians to exclude some of the participants in the revolution," Belhaj writes in the Guardian. "Their political myopia renders them unable to see the huge risks of such exclusion, or the serious ... reaction of the parties that are excluded."

More than a month since Tripoli fell to rebel brigades backed by Nato, the National Transitional Council (NTC) has failed to expand to be more representative, generating a sense of division and drift about the future that western diplomats and many Libyans admit is worrying.

It is now clear there will be no deal before the liberation of the whole country is formally declared. That requires the defeat of Gaddafi loyalists in the deposed leader's coastal hometown of Sirte, where heavy fighting continued on Tuesday. In Bani Walid, south of Tripoli, there is a stalemate. "Consultations have led to a decision to postpone the formation of a government until after liberation," NTC member Mustafa el-Huni said in Benghazi. The scale of the political challenge ahead is enormous in a country that has not held an election since 1952 and is just emerging from 41 years of dictatorship.

Belhaj – who was transferred to Libya with the help of the CIA and MI6 to serve seven years in Gaddafi's most infamous prison – was the head of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which fought in Afghanistan until abandoning its jihadi ideas and disbanding in 2009. It then became the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change.

He is seen as the leader of the country's Islamist camp, his own and like-minded rebel brigades directly armed and financed by the Gulf state of Qatar, and his military council effectively controlling the capital. The Libyan national army, which includes many former Gaddafi officers, and answers to the NTC, looks like the junior partner.

Belhaj is close to Ali Sallabi, an influential cleric who lived in exile before returning after the start of the revolution in Benghazi. Sallabi angered many Libyans in a recent interview with Qatari-owned al-Jazeera TV in which he directly attacked Mahmoud Jibril, the NTC's prime minister-designate.

Jibril is a technocratic figure who did much to drum up western support for the Libyan rebels but he has emerged as the focus for bitter debates about the future.

Jibril is resented by some for his role in promoting economic development under the aegis of Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the former leader's son, who was embraced by the west as a reformer until the uprising.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the NTC head, had already acknowledged that "differences in views" had delayed a deal, which is also complicated by regional rivalries.

Misrata, which suffered badly during the uprising, is insistent that its position be recognised. "We are faced with the Libyan mentality that every tribe, every region, every city has a share in the new government," Jibril said.

One analyst in Tripoli said: "Jibril and others appear to be offering an expanded NTC with some extra ministerial posts, but those outside want something much more fundamental - a fully representative council which would then elect a transitional government."

Nato said on Tuesday that about 200,000 Libyan civilians were still threatened by Gaddafi loyalists, mainly in Sirte and Bani Walid. "Remaining Gaddafi forces refuse to recognise their defeat," said a spokesman. RAF Tornados were said to have been in action on both fronts on Monday, hitting ammunition stores, a psychological warfare centre and a firing position.