Abdullah Senussi may have information that could cause embarrassment to Britain and other countries
Abdullah Senussi was considered to be Muammar Gaddafi’s most trusted aide, his “right-hand man, the executioner,” as the international criminal court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has put it.
Senussi’s arrest in Mauritania after months on the run is a blow not only to the remnants of the Gaddafi regime. Libya’s former head of military intelligence would have been privy to its most sensitive secrets – information that could yet cause embarrassment to Britain and other countries.
Senussi, 62, married to a sister of Gaddafi’s widow, was among the Libyan leader’s ahl al-Khaimah (people of the tent), his closest inner circle. US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks identified him as a confidant who made “many of his [Gaddafi’s] medical arrangements”. He was said to have been a close adviser to Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam.
Although widely loathed and feared as a thug who personally beat and abused prisoners, Senussi doubled as something of a spin doctor after Gaddafi abandoned terrorism and WMD programmes in 2003. He reached out to influential western academics in 2006 in an attempt to rebrand Gaddafi’s image and promote “the new Libya”.
The charge sheet against him is long. In the 1980s he headed Libya’s external security organisation and was said to have recruited Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, in which 270 people were killed. Both men belong to the powerful Megarha tribe.
Senussi was accused of masterminding the bombing of a French airliner over Niger in 1989, in which 170 people died, including 54 French nationals. That led to a case in France in 1999 in which he was one of several Libyan officials convicted in absentia. France says it played a role in his arrest in Mauritania and will now seek his extradition.
Senussi was said to have been behind an alleged Libyan intelligence plot to assassinate Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2003.
Within Libya, Senussi built up a reputation as the brutal enforcer of Gaddafi’s will when he was the chief of internal security during a deadly purge of regime opponents in the early 1980s.
Many hold him responsible for the massacre of about 1,200 inmates at Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison in 1996. He is alleged to have given the order to guards standing on grated ceilings above the inmates to fire down on them after riots broke out over demands for better food and sanitary conditions.
The ICC said Senussi was behind the killing of 13 demonstrators in Benghazi in 2006.
When the uprising against Gaddafi began in Benghazi last year, it was Senussi who reportedly played a central role in attempting to crush it and in recruiting foreign mercenaries. The ICC in The Hague indicted Senussi along with Gaddafi and Saif al-Islam last year for war crimes, citing armed attacks on civilians in anti-Gaddafi regions.
But many Libyans want to see him tried on their own soil. Mustafa Jhyma, a resident of Tripoli, told Reuters: “Senussi is Gaddafi’s black box, he has a lot of information. He has blood on his hands, he should be brought here and tried in Libya.”
That “black box” may also contain secrets damaging to western governments. Senussi could be in a position to shed light on how much Britain and the US knew about the rendition and ill-treatment of prisoners in Gaddafi’s Libya. Intelligence documents uncovered last year exposed the involvement of MI6 and the CIA in a plot that led to the capture and torture of the dissident Abdul Hakim Belhaj.
Senussi could have knowledge about Libyans kidnapped and assassinated in Europe and elsewhere during Gaddafi’s rule, and the financing of terrorist organisations, especially in Africa. It is also possible that he has information that could help the US and UK authorities finally establish the full picture of the Lockerbie bombing.
from David Smith