Remembering the gentle Muhammad Ramadan
02 November 2003
Britain is party to a tripartite memorandum of understanding, recently signed by the US, UK and Libyan ambassadors to Belgium that rehabilitates Col. Gadaffi’s regime apparently without placing any conditions that would alleviate the country’s appalling human rights record or commit it to democratic practice. The negotiations commenced in 1999, and were kept secret because “if the word had leaked out it would have infuriated the families of the 189 American victims of the [Pan Am Flight 103] crash, who had become a powerful lobbying force to Congress for maintaining stiff sanctions against Libya” (Financial Times, 28 October 2003).
Libya has now agreed to pay compensation about £1.6 billion and it is also acting as a source of intelligence “deemed useful and accurate”. The rapprochement places Libyan dissidents in Britain in jeopardy, reminding them of the fate that befell the late Muhammad Ramadan, a gentle and professional Libyan journalist assassinated by Gadaffi’s agents within the grounds of the Islamic Cultural Centre, Regents Park, in 1980. The Colonel has not lost his bizarre touch – on a recent state visit to Nigeria, he had to be dissuaded from leading prayers in a mosque because it would require the presence of his troupe of armed female bodyguards. It is unlikely too that he has shed his totalitarian instincts as well.
The rapprochement also demonstrates the ease with which UK recalibrates its policies on Libya with few ideological hang-ups. Diplomatic relations were broken off in 1984 over Libya's refusal to co-operate with the investigation into the killing of WPC Yvonne Fletcher who was shot in front of the Libyan People's Bureau in St James's Square – questions remain whether the shot really emanated from the Embassy (aired in a Channel 4 Despatches programme in April 1996). The public outcry demonised Gaddafi. Whatever the real story, the Libyan brush was convenient to tar Arthur Scargill, then leader of the National Union of the Miners, through an intelligence agency rumour that he used ‘Gadaffi money’ given to help the striking miners for his personal home mortgage (The Enemy Within – MI5, Maxwell and the Scargill Affair, by Seumas Milne, Verso, 1994).
In 1986 Libya was incriminated in the bombing in a Berlin disco that killed two US servicemen. Interestingly, not withstanding the Fletcher and Scargill incidents Prime Minister Thatcher had doubts when the US defence secretary Caspar Weinberger asked to use a US base in Britain to launch the revenge attack on Libya. Her doubts were shared by Foreign Secretary Howe and Defence Secretary Younger, “but none of them thought it possible to refuse” (The Guardian, 27 January 2003).
Attitudes then appear to have hardened, perhaps again under US pressure. Former agent David Shayler, a member of G9, the MI5’s section responsible for Libya, reports that a plot to assassinate Gaddafi was hatched by the agencies in 1995 “using a shadowy group of Islamic militants to carry out its plan was the perfect solution”. An assassination attempt was undertaken in February 1996 that killed several bodyguards but left the target himself shaken but unhurt: “It was only when I met PT16B [the code assigned to an MI6 agent], discussing other matters with him, that he mentioned this thing in a kind of note of triumph saying that ‘Yes, you know, we’ve done it! We are the kind of intelligence service that people think we are’, almost, you know” (p.150, Defending the Realm, MI5 and the Shayler Affair, Mark Hollingsworth and Nick Fielding, Deutsche, 1999). In a switch of policy, Gadaffi’s son was allowed to pursue a libel case in London courts against the Sunday Telegraph in 2002 for alleging his involvement in currency counterfeiting and money laundering. Some one must have known that a deal was in the offing with Gadaffi senior.
The US-Libyan rapprochement began soon after September 11. Gaddafi seized the opportunity to clamp down on internal and overseas dissent against his regime in the name of the ‘war against terror’. A BBC report in January 2003 noted that “Libya is exchanging intelligence about the al-Qaeda network with the United States”. Gadaffi claimed that there had been assassination attempts on his life ‘by al-Qaeda members: “It [fundamentalism] is a threat to all regimes in the region. But unfortunately, America has given the fundamentalists a strong pretext to carry on their work." It quoted Gaddafi’s chilling remark calling for ‘Libyan terrorists’ in the US and Britain to be ‘wiped out’. Given this sordid past, the shift in US-UK policy does not bode well for the Libyan political exiles. Remember the gentle Muhammad Ramadan.
Sources: BBC Report - Libya 'gives US tips on al-Qaeda'