Malta authorities delighted at arrest of Libyan ‘coast-guard trafficker’ Al Bija

Zawiya coastguard captain Al Bija sank migrant boats and has been photographed removing engines from boats after migrants are rescued at sea

Abdulrahman Milad, also known as Al Bija
Abdulrahman Milad, also known as Al Bija

News of the arrest of a Libyan government-affiliated human trafficker has been met positively inside Malta’s foreign office, after a spate of arrests and United Nations sanctions against six kingpins involved in human smuggling and trafficking markets. 

Abdulrahman Milad, known as Al Bija, was a commander of the Libyan coast guards in Zawiya and a militia leader under the Government of National Accord, and has been spotted in photos published by Italian newspaper Avvenire, stealing an engine from a dinghy used by migrants rescued at sea. 

A source in the foreign ministry told MaltaToday the capture of 23 powerboats destined to Libya by the Malta Customs earlier in the week is being investigated in connection with the Libya crackdown on smugglers. 

Authorities in western Libya are on high tension after the GNA’s interior ministry arrested Al Bija, with Zawiya militiamen now demanding his release and sending an ultimatum. 

Al Bija led the Zawija coastguard unit, 45km west of Tripoli, and is accused by the UN Security Council of “the sinking of migrant boats using firearms …” and of intercepting migrants who were then taken to a detention centre where they were “reportedly held in brutal conditions and subjected to beatings”. 

The Libyan interior ministry said Al Bija was arrested by the Tripoli Security Directorate in the Al-Ghiryan area. Clashes are already ongoing between the Zawiya militias and the Rada forces near Janzour, the latter tasked with the protection of the GNA’s Mitiga airport. Zawiya militias are threatening to turn off power supplies for Tripoli through the Zawiya refinery base unless Al Bija is released. 

Italian press reports also place Al Bija as a player in the oil smuggling industry. He was photographed in 2017 as a Libyan delegate in Rome attending an IOM and Italian government-sponsored conference on immigration.

In June 2018, the UN Security Council targeted six individuals with sanctions over their alleged involvement in Libya’s transnational human smuggling and trafficking rings. Asset freezes and trave; bans were imposed on four Libyan nationals – Mussab Abugrein (aka Doctor Mussab), Ahmed Al Dabbashi (Al Amu – ‘the uncle’), Mohammed Kushlav (aka Al-Gsab) and Abdulrahman Milad (Al Bija). The other two men on the sanctions blacklist are notorious Eritrean people smuggler Ermias Ghermay and Eritrean Fitwi Abdelrazak. 

“The move is a serious one and will have an impact on Libyan criminal networks, even if the six remain out of the reach of international justice, as have many others facing sanctions before them,” Mark Micallef, director of the North Africa and Sahel Observatory for the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, had written back in 2018 on the UN sanctions.

Micallef said three names on the Security Council list – Al Amu, Al-Gsab, and Doctor Mussab (reportedly called that because of his degree of professionalism) – are “without question among the biggest kingpins in the Libyan West Coast’s vast black market, and are appropriate targets for sanction.” 

He said Al-Gsab’s scale of involvement in the fuel smuggling industry far outstrips his human smuggling operations. 

The two East Africans, Ghermay and Abdelrazak, are powerful brokers connecting the Libyan smuggling industry along the East African and Sudanese routes. 

“Perhaps the only surprising name on the list is that of Al Bija,” Micallef said, who has met the militiaman. “His profile in terms of his involvement in Libya’s black market is nowhere near the scale of the others, including his cousin and fellow sanctionee, Al-Gsab.”