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Gaddafi’s son deployed in radio broadcast against Islamist threat

Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam employed as propaganda tool against Islamist threat

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan
27 July 2014, 8:00am
Khalifa Hifter, a former general in Gaddafi’s army has been launching attacks against Islamists in Benghazi, where radical militias are demanding the imposition of Islamic law, or Sharia.
Khalifa Hifter, a former general in Gaddafi’s army has been launching attacks against Islamists in Benghazi, where radical militias are demanding the imposition of Islamic law, or Sharia.
A senior government official has told MaltaToday that this week, the son of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam, addressed the troubled nation on radio, warning against the threat of Islamists and radical groups affiliated to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Although not confirmed, the radio broadcast is thought to have been transmitted on national radio.

On Friday, foreign affairs minister George Vella pointed out that fighters from Iraq and Syria had infiltrated Islamist militias in the east of the country and in parliament called on Libyans to reject fundamentalism before it was too late.

The intense rivalry between the Zintani and Misrata forces, the two major militias who are battling it out in Tripoli, also exposes religious and political divides which go beyond Libyan borders.

While the relatively liberal and secular Zintani forces are backed by Mahmoud Jibril, a number of western countries and the United Arab Emirates, the Misrata militias are closer to the Islamists in the east of the country and are allegedly funded by Qatar.

Moreover, Khalifa Hifter, a former general in Gaddafi’s army has been launching attacks against Islamists in Benghazi, where radical militias are demanding the imposition of Islamic law, or Sharia. The 17 February Martyrs and Ansar al-Sharia brigades were linked to the events in the 2012 Benghazi attack that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens.

On Sunday, a Filipino construction worker was beheaded after being kidnapped for ransom by militiamen in Benghazi on 15 July.

The man was abducted at a checkpoint together with a Libyan and a Pakistani. The victim was allegedly singled out because he was a non-Muslim and although the Filipino's employers negotiated with the abductors, they discovered his body in a state of advanced decomposition four days later in a hospital.

Evacuations

Yesterday, the United States shut down its embassy in Libya and evacuated its diplomats to neighbouring Tunisia under military escort amid a significant deterioration in security in the capital, Tripoli.

The US is just the latest in a number of countries to have closed down their diplomatic missions in Libya. Turkey also announced that it had closed down its embassy and militia clashes in Benghazi have prompted the United Nations, aid groups and foreign envoys to leave the eastern city.

"Due to the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the US Embassy in Tripoli, we have temporarily relocated all of our personnel out of Libya," US government spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

The evacuation was accompanied by the release of a new State Department travel warning about Libya, urging Americans not to go to the country and recommending that those already there leave immediately.

"The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security,'' it said.

"Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including anti-aircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation."

American staff at the Tripoli embassy, which had already been operating with limited staffing, left the capital around dawn and travelled by road to neighbouring Tunisia, according to Harf.

As fighting between rival militias intensified, a number of other countries, including the Philippines, also ordered the evacuation of their countrymen in Libya.

On Sunday, the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs ordered the mandatory evacuation of their citizens in Libya.

“Under Alert Level 4, the Philippine Government undertakes evacuation of about 13,000 Filipino nationals there as soon as possible while no Filipino national will be allowed to travel to Libya,” the DFA said in a statement.

Malta sets up crisis unit for possible mass evacuation

Speaking in Parliament on Friday, foreign minister George Vella confirmed that an inter-ministerial crisis unit has been set up in preparation for a possible evacuation of foreigners from Libya.

Earlier that day, a government spokesperson told MaltaToday that “an inter-ministerial coordination crisis centre on the Libya situation has been set up and has been meeting regularly for the past two weeks.”

With the situation in Libya worsening, the Maltese government is in the process of creating reception centres, including a centre at Ta’ Kandja, which could possibly host evacuees on a temporary basis.

Vella also informed parliament that an agreement was in place between all EU countries that if an evacuation is ordered, it would be coordinated on an EU level.

With a number of countries already having ordered an evacuation, the possibility of Malta hosting thousands of foreigners currently in Libya, is looking very possible.

However, since this crisis is happening in the midst of summer, when hotel occupancy rates are at their highest, the crisis committee is setting up alternative reception centres in the eventuality of a mass evacuation.

Minister Vella said the government was making all necessary preparations to ensure that “Malta isn’t overwhelmed by a wave of evacuees.”

“I assure the opposition leader that we are prepared, we are shouldering our responsibilities and we are in the process of identifying how many beds would be needed, how many tents would be needed and we are involving all ministries,” Vella said, adding that the government had already identified the number of foreigners in Libya, including 13,000 Filipino nationals.

On Friday morning, police recruits cleared an open area besides the police academy at Ta’ Kandja and MaltaToday is informed that the government is in the process of setting up other centres.

Yesterday evening, more Maltese citizens arrived in Malta on a Libyan Arab Airlines flight. These arrivals followed other flights which were coordinated by the government over the past week.

Although the situation in Libya is worsening, Malta and other European countries have so far resisted calls for a major evacuation.

EU states and other Western countries do not want to send a message that Libya is unsafe, which in turn could create panic among foreigners living in Libya.

No-fly zone

The heads of mission to Libya appointed by EU states are still evaluating the situation in the country, and as agreed, will only evacuate European missions in a joint announcement. There has been no decision to that extent so far.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Affairs Ministry was not in a position to confirm whether NATO will be closing the airspace in Libya.

Reports on Twitter have claimed that the Libyan airspace could be closed on Monday.

“The government has received no official communication in this sense,” a spokesperson for the Foreign Affairs Ministry said.

It is understood that EU member states have been briefed on two possible scenarios, one of which includes NATO closing all Libyan airspace.  The second option would see Libya closing its western airspace.

In the eventuality that NATO closes the Libyan airspace, informed sources said this does not spark an automatic evacuation of foreign nationals on Libyan soil. Sources said evacuations will only take place on agreement among the EU heads of mission to Libya.

Escalation in violence 

Tripoli has been embroiled for weeks in inter-militia violence that has killed and wounded dozens on all sides. The fighting has been particularly intense at the city's airport.

The battle over the capital's airport has now entered its third week and is being waged by a powerful group from the western city of Zintan, which controls the facility, and Islamist-led groups, including fighters from Misrata, east of Tripoli.
Although the fighting has been largely limited to the capital's outskirts, Tripoli is witnessing one of its worst spells of violence since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi three years ago.

On Friday, the official Libyan news agency LANA reported that explosions were heard early in the day near the airport area and continued into the afternoon.

The battle in Tripoli began earlier this month when fighters - mostly from the western city of Misrata - launched a surprise assault on the airport, under control of rival militias from the western mountain town of Zintan.

PM not allowed to fly out of Tripoli

On Friday, Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni and a group of ministers were prevented from flying out of Mitiga airport in Tripoli.

According to the official website of the Prime Minister, Thinni was heading to Tobruk for meetings when they were stopped by Libya’s Supreme Security Committee, the militia controlling the air base.

Mitiga was supposedly “handed back” to the government in a ceremony a fortnight ago, the third time in two years.  Even at the time, however, the “handover” was seen as a ruse to make the public believe that the air base was now under state control.

A number of flights are nonetheless being operated from the airbase, including a number of international ones.

On Wednesday, Ahmed Maiteeq who was elected prime minister by the General National Congress (GNC) in controversial circumstances, stepped down following turbulent months in which the country had two men claiming to be Prime Minister.

Maiteeq, a businessman from Misrata, was appointed to succeed Abdullah al-Thinni – a former defence minister from the western town of Zintan.

Al-Thinni had agreed to remain as caretaker prime minister but was unwilling to give way to a successor without a clear mandate.

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan joined MaltaToday in 2011, specialising in politics, foreig...