Fears about al-Qaeda led MI5 to cosy up to Libyans
Documents found in Tripoli show MI5 asked known torturers for help in fight against terrorism
Intelligence documents found in the abandoned British ambassador's home in Tripoli have revealed close ties between MI5 and Col Gaddafi's secret police. Not only did the British ask for updates on what terrorist suspects were saying under interrogation in Libyan prisons – but MI5 volunteered intelligence about Libyan dissidents living in Britain.
This cosy relationship – during the premierships of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - existed despite widespread evidence that suspected Islamist terrorists in Libya's jails were interrogated under torture, and despite knowledge that the Libyans were apt to assassinate dissidents living in other countries.
MI5 were concerned that the dissident Libyans, all members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), might have links with al-Qaeda.
One specific document seen by the Sunday Times and marked 'UK/Libya eyes only secret' was apparently written ahead of an MI5 visit to Tripoli in 2005. It requested that the Libyan authorities provide access to suspected terrorists held by secret police and "timely debriefs" following interrogations.
Other documents seen by the paper offered evidence of a 2006 invitation from Britain to two of Gaddafi's sons, Saadi and Khamis, to attend "VIP demonstrations" at the headquarters of the SAS. "There can be no publicity at all connected with this visit, either here or in Libya," the major-general who set up the trip wrote. "It is UK policy to never discuss special forces matters."
The Mail on Sunday is more concerned about other documents found in Tripoli which, the paper claims, show "the startling extent" to which the Labour government misled the world about the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.
Senior Labour ministers, from Gordon Brown down, always insisted the decision to send Megrahi home in August 2009 was taken purely on compassionate grounds by the newly devolved Scottish government.
But the Mail claims the documents show the Labour government in London, fearful of retribution from Gaddafi should Megrahi die in jail, and anxious about lucrative oil contracts being put as risk, worked "frantically behind the scenes" to get Megrahi released through the signing of a Prisoner Transfer Agreement with Libya.
In the event, the Scots let him go home. But the Foreign Office's fears were such that one at stage it was even planned to exploit Prince Andrew's relations with Gaddafi in an effort to pacify him, after the dictator made it clear he wanted Megrahi returned "at all costs".
The request by M15 for "debriefs" from the Libyan secret police is bound to reignite the debate about British security services' complicity in the torture of terrorist suspects abroad. Torture practices in Libya documented by the US include clubbing, setting dogs on prisoners and "pouring lemon juice into open wounds". Chami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, asks: "How on earth did they [the UK authorities] think these timely detainee debriefs were going to be obtained?"
Tony Blair's keenness to make friends with the Gaddafi regime will again be questioned. As the Mail on Sunday reports, the documents reveal links between the two countries at every level. "What appears to underpin them all is Tony Blair's plan to bring Gaddafi in from the cold while winning rich contracts for British businesses."
One puzzle is why Britain's security services apparently made no effort to collect the abandoned documents before they fell into the hands of the press. It is a fortnight since the rebels overran Tripoli, yet, says the Mail, no attempt was made to recover the sensitive papers. ·
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