Two Gaddafi opponents who were rendered along with their families by the US and UK to pre-revolutionary Libya have for the first time given evidence to London’s Metropolitan Police.
Sami al Saadi and Abdelhakim Belhadj were forcibly flown back to Libya in 2004 in a joint operation by MI6, the CIA and Colonel Gaddafi’s intelligence services. Mr al Saadi was accompanied by his wife, and his four children all aged 12 or under. Mr Belhadj was accompanied by his pregnant wife, who was bound neck-to-toe to a stretcher for the flight. Both men were imprisoned and tortured for years on their return.
The Met and the Crown Prosecution Service opened their investigation in January 2012 after documents discovered during the Libyan revolution suggested that Sir Mark Allen and other UK security service agents had conspired in the rendition. In the most infamous of these documents, Sir Mark ‘congratulates’ Moussa Koussa, then Libya’s spy chief, on the ‘safe arrival’ of the ‘air cargo’ – Mr Belhadj.
Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and Lynne Owens, the Met Commissioner, said the al-Saadi and Belhadj cases appeared “so serious that it is in the public interest for them to be investigated now.”
Last night, the Daily Telegraph reported that Met officers are now in Libya investigating the shooting of police officer Yvonne Fletcher. Yet while the Libyan authorities have so far cooperated with British Police in their investigations into the Lockerbie bombing and the Fletcher case, the Met have apparently been denied access to the country in order to investigate the renditions, for reasons which are not clear. As a result, their interviews with Mr al Saadi and Mr Belhadj had to take place in neighbouring Tunisia.
In April this year, it was reported that Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary at the time of the renditions, apparently authorized the operation. It is not currently known whether Mr Straw has been interviewed by the Met.
Sami al-Saadi said: "After years being abused by Gaddafi’s secret police, it took me time to believe that other police would really take a close look at my torture. I was very glad to see that Scotland Yard were serious about this investigation, and I look forward to welcoming them in Libya."
Khadidja al-Saadi, Sami’s eldest daughter who was forced onto the plane with him aged 12, said: "I hope to have the chance to give my evidence to the police too, especially now that they have seen my dad. I hope the Libyan government will act soon to make this possible."
Reprieve Legal Director, Cori Crider said: “This is a major step in an historic investigation, but there’s heaps still to do – most of it in Libya itself. The meetings with Mr al Saadi and Mr Belhadj had to be fixed elsewhere because the Libyans were taking so long to let the Met in on this case, and of course it’s where the families and other major witnesses still are. Let’s hope that the recent progress on the Fletcher investigation is a positive sign for the Libyan government cooperating much more swiftly with the Met on the al Saadi and Belhadj cases in future.”
Notes to editors
1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 427 1082 / email@example.com, or see: http://reprieve.org.uk/cases/abdelhakimbelhadj and http://reprieve.org.uk/cases/samialsaadi
2. A fax dated shortly before the al-Saadi rendition and Tony Blair’s first visit to Libya is apparently from Sir Mark Allen to Moussa Koussa, then Libya’s spy chief. It read in the following terms: "I congratulate you on the safe arrival of [Abdelhakim Belhadj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over recent years. I am so glad… Amusingly, we got a request from the Americans to channel requests for information from [Belhadj] through the Americans. I have no intention of doing any such thing. The intelligence about [Belhadj] was British. I know I did not pay for the air cargo. but I feel I have the right to deal with you direct on this and am very grateful to you for the help you are giving us.”
3. Jack Straw’s involvement was reported by the Sunday Times on 15 April 2012: ‘MI6 “forced Straw to admit” he approved suspect’s rendition.’
4. The Daily Telegraph last night reported that “Scotland Yard announced that two detectives from its Counter-Terrorism Command arrived in Tripoli on Tuesday as part of renewed investigations into the murder of WPc Yvonne Fletcher.”