A mural in Tripoli paying tribute to fighters from Manchester who joined the 17 February Martyrs’ Brigade during Libya’s revolution against Gaddafi (AFP)
The British government operated an “open door” policy that allowed Libyan exiles and British-Libyan citizens to join the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi even though some had been subject to counter-terrorism control orders, Middle East Eye can reveal.
Several former rebel fighters now back in the UK told MEE that they had been able to travel to Libya with “no questions asked” as authorities continued to investigate the background of a British-Libyan suicide bomber who killed 22 people in Monday’s attack in Manchester.
Salman Abedi, 22, the British-born son of exiled dissidents who returned to Libya as the revolution against Gaddafi gathered momentum, is also understood to have spent time in the North African country in 2011 and to have returned there on several subsequent occasions.
British police have said they believe the bomber, who returned to Manchester just a few days before the attack, was part of a network and have arrested six people including Abedi’s older brother since Monday.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said that Abedi was known to security services, while a local community worker told the BBC that several people had reported him to the police via an anti-terrorism hotline.
Salman Abedi travelled to Libya during the country’s 2011 revolution (Police handout)
On Wednesday, authorities in Tripoli said that Abedi’s younger brother and father, who had resettled in Libya after the revolution, had also been arrested on suspicion of links to the Islamic State (IS) group, which claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack.
Sources spoken to by MEE suggest that the government facilitated the travel of Libyan exiles and British-Libyan residents and citizens keen to fight against Gaddafi including some who it deemed to pose a potential security threat.
‘No questions asked’
One British citizen with a Libyan background who was placed on a control order – effectively house arrest – because of fears that he would join militant groups in Iraq said he was “shocked” that he was able to travel to Libya in 2011 shortly after his control order was lifted.
“I was allowed to go, no questions asked,” said the source, who wished to remain anonymous.
He said he had met several other British-Libyans in London who also had control orders lifted in 2011 as the war against Gaddafi intensified, with the UK, France and the US carrying out air strikes and deploying special forces soldiers in support of the rebels.
“They didn’t have passports, they were looking for fakes or a way to smuggle themselves across,” said the source.
But within days of their control orders being lifted, British authorities returned their passports, he said.
“These were old school LIFG guys, they [the British authorities] knew what they were doing,” he said, referring to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an anti-Gaddafi Islamist militant group formed in 1990 by Libyan veterans of the fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
The British government listed the LIFG as a proscribed terrorist organisation in 2005, describing it as seeking to establish a “hard-line Islamic state” and “part of the wider Islamist extremist movement inspired by al-Qaeda”. Former members of the LIFG deny that the group had any links with al-Qaeda and say it was committed only to removing Gaddafi from power.
Belal Younis, another British citizen who went to Libya, described how he was stopped under ‘Schedule 7’ counter-terrorism powers on his return to the UK after a visit to the country in early 2011. Schedule 7 allows police and immigration officials to detain and question any person passing through border controls at ports and airports to determine whether they are involved in terrorism.
He said he was subsequently asked by an intelligence officer from MI5, the UK’s domestic security agency: “Are you willing to go into battle?”
“While I took time to find an answer he turned and told me the British government have no problem with people fighting against Gaddafi,” he told MEE.
Travel ‘sorted’ by MI5
As he was travelling back to Libya in May 2011 he was approached by two counter-terrorism police officers in the departure lounge who told him that if he was going to fight he would be committing a crime.
But after providing them with the name and phone number of the MI5 officer he had spoken to previously, and following a quick phone call to him, he was waved through.
As he waited to board the plane, he said the same MI5 officer called him to tell him that he had “sorted it out”.
“The government didn’t put any obstacles in the way of people going to Libya,” he told MEE.
“The vast majority of UK guys were in their late twenties. There were some 18 and 19. The majority who went from here were from Manchester.”
But he said he thought it was unlikely that Abedi, who would only have been 16 at the time, would have been recruited as a fighter.
“The guys I was fighting with would never put a 16-year-old boy anywhere near the frontline.”
Younis said he did not think that the policy of allowing British-Libyans to fight againt Gaddafi had been a contributing factor in Monday’s attack, pointing out that IS was not present in the country at the time – and said he had no regrets about his decision to fight.
“What inspired me to go to Libya was the liberty of civilians. There’s no way that that can morph into killing children,” he said.
Another British citizen with experience of fighting in both Libya and in Syria with rebel groups also told MEE that he had been able to travel to and from the UK without disruption.
“No questions were asked,” he said.
The majority of the fighters flew to Tunisia and then crossed the border into Libya, while others travelled via Malta, he said.
“The whole Libyan diaspora were out there fighting alongside the rebel groups,” he added.
Libyan rebel fighters pictured in the oil port of Brega in March 2011 (AFP)
One British-Libyan man from Manchester who also wished to remain anonymous told MEE that he had travelled frequently to Libya during the 2011 revolution to undertake humanitarian aid work.
“I never got prevented from going to Libya or stopped when I tried to come back,” he said.
The man said that he had come across Salman Abedi at their local mosque in the Didsbury neighbourhood but that he had “kept himself to himself” and was not an active member of the community.
His family, who were originally from Tripoli, had returned to Libya, he said.
“I guess if your family is away from you that sense of belonging dissipates. For us Libyans in Manchester – they’re trying to imply we knew. He was just an individual and he’s nothing to do with us.”
Another person who knew Abedi described him as a “hot head” with a reputation for involvement in petty crime.
“Yesterday they’re drug dealers, today they’re Muslims,” he said, adding that he believed Abedi had also been friends with Anil Khalil Raoufi, an IS recruiter from Didsbury who was killed in Syria in 2014.
‘Elite SAS training’
One of the British-Libyans spoken to by MEE described how he had carried out “PR work” for the rebels in the months before Gaddafi was overthrown and eventually killed in October 2011.
He said he was employed to edit videos showing Libyan rebels being trained by former British SAS and Irish special forces mercenaries in Benghazi, the eastern city from where the uprising against Gaddafi was launched.
“They weren’t cheap videos with Arabic nasheeds [songs], they were slick, professional glossy films which we were showing Qataris and Emiratis to support troops who were getting elite SAS training.”
He was also tasked by rebel commanders with training young Libyans to use cameras so that they could sell packages to international media.
A volunteer fighter from Manchester pictured in Ajdabiya in eastern Libya in April 2011 (AFP)
On one assignment at a rebel base camp in a Misrata school, he came across a group of about eight young British-Libyans. After joking about their northern accents he found out that they had never been to Libya before.
“They looked about 17 or 18, maybe one was 20 at most. They had proper Manchester accents,” he said. “They were there living and fighting and doing the whole nine yards.”
Many Libyan exiles in the UK with links to the LIFG were placed on control orders and subjected to surveillance and monitoring following the rapprochement between the British and Libyan governments sealed by the so-called “Deal in the Desert” between then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Gaddafi in 2004.
According to documents retrieved from the ransacked offices of the Libyan intelligence agency following Gaddafi’s fall from power in 2011, British security services cracked down on Libyan dissidents in the UK as part of the deal, as well as assisting in the rendition of two senior LIFG leaders, Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi, to Tripoli where they allege they were tortured.
Belhaj later returned to Libya and was a leading figure in the uprising against Gaddafi, while another former Libyan exile subjected to a control order in the UK was later tasked with providing security for visiting dignitaries including British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, MEE understands.
‘When the revolution started, things changed’
Ziad Hashem, an LIFG member granted asylum in the UK, said in 2015 that he had been imprisoned for 18 months without charge and then restricted to his home for a further three years based on information he believed had been supplied by Libyan intelligence.
But he said: “When the revolution started, things changed in Britain. Their way of speaking to me and treating me was different. They offered to give me benefits, even indefinite leave to remain or citizenship.”
Control orders were introduced as part of counter-terrorism legislation drafted in the aftermath of the 2005 London bombings.
They allowed authorities to restrict the activities of people suspected of involvement in terrorism-related activities by requiring them to remain at a registered address for up to 16 hours a day, subjecting them to electronic tagging, limiting their access to telephone and internet communications, and banning them from meeting or communicating with other people deemed to be of concern.
At least 50 people were subjected to the measure with at least 12 Libyan exiles among them.
Control orders were replaced with Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs), which allow authorities to impose many of the same restrictions while limiting their term to two years, in 2011.
The Home Office told MEE it did not comment on individual cases. It said that TPIMs were a robust and effective means for dealing with terrorism suspects who could not be prosecuted or deported.
It said that arrangements involving the police, the Home Office and the Security Service (MI5) had been put in place in 2011 during the transition from control orders to TPIMs to ensure that national security was maintained.
By Baxter Dmitry, December 4, 2016
The U.K. government is funding ISIS to the tune of $723 million, according to leaked British government documents.
The leaked documents reveal the British government is sending $723 million in “aid” to Somalia while admitting it is “certain” to be used to fund terror groups ISIS and Al-Shabaab.
The revelation that the UK is funding ISIS comes in a leaked 41-page business plan drawn up by the UK’s Department for International Department.
The Daily Mail reports that the document, leaked to The Mail on Sunday, outlines strategy until 2020, and is marked ‘Official Sensitive’ on every page.
In a detailed ‘risk register’, it rates the probability of taxpayers’ funds being ‘misused or diverted by listed terror groups or criminal gangs’ as ‘certain’ and ‘likely to grow in the next six to 12 months’ as tensions rise ahead of elections.
It also accepts there is a similar ‘certain’ risk rating – highlighted in red – that consultants will be unable to travel to insecure areas to monitor spending.
‘This is so alarming,’ said one Minister. ‘The public will be deeply concerned that their hard-earned cash is literally being handed out to terrorist organisations.’
Ian Austin, the Labour MP for Dudley North, said he planned to table questions to Ministers. ‘Taxpayers will be horrified to find their money is going to terrorists at a time when police forces here are having budgets cut and officers are losing their jobs,’ he added.
‘The public will be deeply concerned that their hard-earned cash is literally being handed out to terrorist organisations’. Pictured, Al-Shabaab fighters in Mogadishu
Other leaked papers expose that Britain is still sending bilateral payments to India worth £70 million this year, despite pledges to end such transfers last year amid concerns over funding a nation with its own aid agency and a sophisticated space programme.
They also show Britain is giving cash to countries, including major aid recipients, despite high risks of corruption and concerns over the effectiveness of projects.
DFID officials admit that despite international diplomatic efforts in Somalia led by former Prime Minister David Cameron, large parts of the country are insecure and that the al-Shabaab group ‘appears to have had a resurgence’.
Yet the UK is doling out £568.4 million, despite the document admitting ‘Somalia remains an inherently high-risk operating environment.’
Officials set out tactics for mitigating such problems, including use of ‘trusted partners’ on the ground.
But the shocking revelations will fuel concerns that British cash is being misspent as billions are diverted into fragile states, worsening rather than alleviating problems.
Earlier this year, there was fury among many MPs after this newspaper revealed that British aid was ending up in the pockets of Palestinian terrorists.
There have also been cases of aid being ‘taxed’ or stolen in conflict zones by groups such as al-Shabaab, the fanatics behind the 2013 slaughter in a Kenyan shopping centre.
A leaked UN report has warned of ‘high level and systematic abuses’ by Somali government officials who have passed weapons to the group.
ISIS: The revelation comes in a confidential 41-page business plan drawn up by DFID.
In recent months, Islamic State has become more active in Somalia, even briefly capturing a town in the semi-autonomous Puntland region six weeks ago.
The 18 draft and final business plans cover 16 countries, the continent of Africa, and climate change strategy.
For all the discussion of value for money, poverty reduction and risk protection, they make alarming reading as the British aid budget soars to £16 billion by 2020.
From Mozambique to Malawi, officials admit there are high chances of corruption. In Pakistan – our biggest aid recipient, getting £375 million this year – analysts admit that human rights and space for civil society are on ‘a downward trajectory’.
DFID accepts there is a risk that its ‘programme delivery will be associated with unintended, negative consequences’.
Ethiopia, the second biggest aid recipient, is receiving £332 million, with much of the money funnelled through government systems.
Officials say this is ‘acceptable’, although ‘opposition political parties, independent media and formalised civil society organisations are constrained’.
DFID sources said there was always risk working in conflict zones: ‘We have robust plans to mitigate against this but, on occasion, losses will occur. We are rigorous in investigating any concerns relating to funding.’
The source added that they were investing in India’s poorest people, of whom there are still 290 million, in line with previous pledges to generate growth and jobs.
The relationship between development aid and capital flows from Africa., Photo: Health Poverty Action
Africa is poor, but we can try to help its people.
It’s a simple statement, repeated through a thousand images, newspaper stories and charity appeals each year, so that it takes on the weight of truth. When we read it, we reinforce assumptions and stories about Africa that we’ve heard throughout our lives. We reconfirm our image of Africa.
Try something different. Africa is rich, but we steal its wealth.
That’s the essence of a report (pdf) from several campaign groups released today. Based on a set of new figures, it finds that sub-Saharan Africa is a net creditor to the rest of the world to the tune of more than $41bn. Sure, there’s money going in: around $161bn a year in the form of loans, remittances (those working outside Africa and sending money back home), and aid.
But there’s also $203bn leaving the continent. Some of this is direct, such as $68bn in mainly dodged taxes. Essentially multinational corporations “steal” much of this – legally – by pretending they are really generating their wealth in tax havens. These so-called “illicit financial flows” amount to around 6.1 per cent of the continent’s entire gross domestic product (GDP) – or three times what Africa receives in aid.
Then there’s the $30bn that these corporations “repatriate” – profits they make in Africa but send back to their home country, or elsewhere, to enjoy their wealth. The City of London is awash with profits extracted from the land and labour of Africa.
There are also more indirect means by which we pull wealth out of Africa. Today’s report estimates that $29bn a year is being stolen from Africa in illegal logging, fishing and trade in wildlife. $36bn is owed to Africa as a result of the damage that climate change will cause to their societies and economies as they are unable to use fossil fuels to develop in the way that Europe did. Our climate crisis was not caused by Africa, but Africans will feel the effect more than most others. Needless to say, the funds are not currently forthcoming.
In fact, even this assessment is enormously generous, because it assumes that all of the wealth flowing into Africa is benefitting the people of that continent. But loans to governments and the private sector (at more than $50bn) can turn into unpayable and odious debt.
Ghana is losing 30 per cent of its government revenue to debt repayments, paying loans which were often made speculatively, based on high commodity prices, and carrying whopping rates of interest. One particularly odious aluminium smelter in Mozambique, built with loans and aid money, is currently costing the country £21 for every £1 that the Mozambique government received. British aid, which is used to set up private schools and health centres, can undermine the creation of decent public services, which is why such private schools are being closed down in Uganda and Kenya. Of course, some Africans have benefitted from this economy. There are now around 165,000 very rich Africans, with combined holdings of $860bn. But, given the way the economy works, where do these people mainly keep their wealth? In tax havens. A 2014 estimate suggests that rich Africans were holding a massive $500bn in tax havens. Africa’s people are effectively robbed of wealth by an economy that enables a tiny minority of Africans to get rich by allowing wealth to flow out of Africa.
So what is the answer? Western governments would like to be seen as generous beneficiaries, doing what they can to “help those unable to help themselves”. But the first task is to stop perpetuating the harm they are doing. Governments need to stop forcing African governments to open up their economy to privatisation, and their markets to unfair competition.
If African countries are to benefit from foreign investment, they must be allowed to – even helped to – legally regulate that investment and the corporations that often bring it. And they might want to think about not putting their faith in the extractives sector. With few exceptions, countries with abundant mineral wealth experience poorer democracy, weaker economic growth, and worse development. To prevent tax dodging, governments must stop prevaricating on action to address tax havens. No country should tolerate companies with subsidiaries based in tax havens operating in their country.
Aid is tiny, and the very least it can do, if spent well, is to return some of Africa’s looted wealth. We should see it both as a form of reparations and redistribution, just as the tax system allows us to redistribute wealth from the richest to the poorest within individual societies. The same should be expected from the global “society”.
To even begin to embark on such an ambitious programme, we must change the way we talk and think about Africa. It’s not about making people feel guilty, but correctly diagnosing a problem in order to provide a solution. We are not, currently, “helping” Africa. Africa is rich. Let’s stop making it poorer.
Nick Dearden is the director of UK campaigning organisation Global Justice Now. He was previously the director of Jubilee Debt Campaign.