* Senussi holds Gaddafi's dark secrets, sources say
* Has details of Arab plots going back years
By Samia Nakhoul
LONDON, March 22 (Reuters) - When Libya's former spy chief flew to
Mauritania last week, he was looking for a safe haven. Instead the man known
as "Muammar Gaddafi's black box", the last of the fallen dictator's henchmen
still at large, walked into a trap set by French and Mauritanian
Gaddafi's head of intelligence, right-hand man and brother-in law, Abdullah
al-Senussi, was arrested in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, last week.
The still murky circumstances of his capture set Libya on a collision course
with France and the International Criminal Court, which both want Senussi.
Libya wants Senussi to stand trial in Tripoli for a catalogue of crimes. It
sent a delegation to Mauritania but it returned without him after officials
there said the legal formalities for his extradition were not complete.
Western and Arab powers are all too aware of the secrets Senussi holds, and
are anxious to deny him the opportunity to say what he knows in public and
expose the Arab and Western governments that used Gaddafi to plot against
"He is Gaddafi's black box," said Noman Benotman, a senior Libyan analyst at
the Quilliam Foundation. "He knows all the secrets about the dirty deals,
plots to kill - and even what underwear Gaddafi wore."
Senussi, 62, believed to be held at the headquarters of the Mauritanian
security service in Nouakchott, is accused of playing a central role in
repression and torture under Gaddafi.
He is widely suspected of anchoring high profile conspiracies such as the
1988 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, of a Pan Am jet that killed 270
people, the 1989 bombing of a French UTA airliner that killed 170 people,
and plots against Arab and African states, including an attempt in 2003 to
assassinate Saudi crown prince Abdullah, who is now the king.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
Senussi is also believed by government officials in Libya to have details of
how Libya helped to finance the election campaign that brought French
President Nicolas Sarkozy to power in 2007, and of Gaddafi's involvement
with Western states.
"He is the main witness to financial corruption and deals which involve many
leaders and countries, including France," a senior Arab intelligence source
"He knows everything about the Lockerbie bombing, the deal that followed,
the UTA, the money trail, Gaddafi's financing of presidents and their
electoral campaigns. He was part of the cobweb of financial corruption that
existed under Gaddafi for 40 years," the source said.
Benotman said Sarkozy is taking a personal interest in Senussi's arrest, and
not just because he wants to shore up his low ratings ahead of next month's
presidential election and bring to justice the man who was behind the UTA
Privately, intelligence sources said, Sarkozy would like to take him into
French custody to prevent a public trial in which he would reveal that
Gaddafi paid 50 million euros to finance Sarkozy's previous campaign. The
funding was organised through a complex and secretive web of banks and
"This is totally false," a French diplomatic source said in response to the
claim. "We must let justice take its course. "There is an extradition
request and justice must take its course. This is totally absurd."
"We want Senussi to be extradited ... From the moment he is brought to
justice he will be able to speak ... These insinuations are nothing but
gossip and absurdities. We are in the realm of the conspiracy theory. It
doesn't hold up."
In an interview with the Euronews TV channel last year, Gaddafi's son, Saif
al-Islam, said Libya contributed to Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign and
demanded that the French president return the money to the Libyan people.
He said Libya had details of bank transfers and was ready to make them
public in a move designed to punish Sarkozy for throwing his weight behind
opposition forces then seeking to topple Gaddafi. In recent election
interviews, Sarkozy has vehemently denied he received any such funding from
"Sarkozy will not be able to sleep in peace until he gets Senussi into
France," said the senior Arab intelligence source.
But Sarkozy, the intelligence sources say, may be acting with Arab allies
who would also prefer their habitual plotting against regional rivals not to
become public knowledge.
Senussi had been convicted in absentia of the 1989 UTA airliner bombing,
Sarkozy's office said. Families of the victims immediately demanded he face
justice in France.
"There are many countries, including Arab leaders, who are nervous about
Senussi. If he says what he knows it will be a catastrophe for them. They
are frightened that he would present some incriminating documents or
evidence," Benotman said.
"There are countries which conspired with Gaddafi against other neighbouring
countries, plotting coups, assassinations and attacks. Senussi used to tape
these meetings secretly, deliver the messages and organise the plots," he
said, referring to a tape broadcast on a Syrian-based channel in which an
Arab leader was heard discusssing with Gaddafi a conspiracy against another
"Some Arab and African countries entrusted Gaddafi to do their dirty work
against their enemies. Senussi was from this close circle who carried out
these jobs. Libya had a terrorist network that carried out plots and attacks
on behalf of other Arab countries and royals," the Arab intelligence source
Senussi would have details of financial and commercial deals, especially
those involving defence companies, which many Western governments sought
after a thaw in relations with Libya more than a decade ago, the source
FRANCE PLAYED KEY ROLE
"France does not want to hand him over to the Libyan authorities. France was
behind enticing him to leave Mali and his entrapment," said the intelligence
source. "He was in northern Mali under the government's protection. He was
drawn to Mauritania by a tribe close to Senussi following a deal by the
French and Mauritanian intelligence to lure him to his arrest."
"A French special unit worked on his arrest, establishing contact with a
Mauritanian tribe, al-Me'edani, whom Senussi trusted, financed and had given
Libyan nationality. The deal was reached by persuading this family to draw
Senussi to Mauritania where he was arrested."
The source said Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, a general who
toppled his predecessor in a 2008 coup, wanted to repay France, the former
colonial power, for backing him after he won a 2009 election decried by
rivals as rigged.
France's decision to call him a "key partner" was vital to what eventually
became his rehabilitation and which allowed the resumption of IMF programmes
for the country.
Benotman said Senussi along with Bashir Saleh Bashir, Gaddafi's powerful
chief of staff, who was also chairman of the Libyan African Investment
Portfolio, an arm of the country's sovereign wealth fund, and a woman, were
the three key players who held the secrets, taped meetings, delivered
messages and handled the financing of plots.
Libyan government officials say that Bashir - Gaddafi's most powerful
adviser for 30 years - was released from a Tripoli jail following his arrest
after Gaddafi's overthrow and later appeared in Paris and then in Niger,
where he was granted a diplomatic passport and an advisory government role
in Niger under pressure from France.
Bashir flew to Mauritania, where he has strong connections, to try to
persuade authorities to hand Senussi over to France rather than Libya.
"Nobody knows how Bashir, who was detained in the summer was released, and
who was responsible for his release," Benotman said. "The Libyans blame each
other. There are several former Gaddafi officials who had been released from
CATALOGUE OF PLOTS
Among the operations Senussi knew about, Benotman and other Arab sources
say, were the financing of insurgents in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion,
and backing for Shi'ite Muslim groups in Bahrain who opposed the Sunni Al
Khalifa royal family to spite Saudi Arabia, Manama's main ally.
"Abdullah Senussi was the anchor, supervisor, facilitator, financier and
executor of these plots," said Benotman.
His last intervention was in Yemen to finance and arm the al-Ahmar tribe in
fighting the then President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a Saudi-backed figure who
was forced out in a popular uprising last year.
A Libyan government source said the handover of Senussi would lead to "the
unlocking of many doors".
For decades, Senussi was the keeper of Gaddafi's secrets. He instilled fear
and hatred among Libyans before the Libyan dictator was toppled in August.
After the fall of Tripoli, Senussi parted from Gaddafi and escaped across
the border into northern Mali.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted Senussi along with
Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam last year for war crimes.
Senussi is suspected of a key role in the killing of more than 1,200 inmates
at Tripoli's Abu Salim prison in 1996. The ICC has charged Senussi and Saif
al-Islam with being "indirect co-perpetrators" of murder and persecution.
France, which led Western backing for the uprising that toppled Gaddafi,
said it had cooperated with Mauritania over the arrest and that it would be
sending a warrant for Senussi.
"We insist that Senussi is extradited to Libya," government spokesman
Mohammed al-Harizy said. "There are demands from the ICC and France to get
Senussi, but the priority is to deliver Senussi to Libya."
Doubts have been raised as to whether Libya can successfully prosecute
Senussi, but it is clear that he would be a major prize for Tripoli's new
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the
Middle East and North Africa, said the Libyan justice system "remains weak
and unable to conduct effective investigations into alleged crimes".
But Khaeri Aboshagor, senior representative of the Libyan League for Human
Rights, added: "He is a very big fish, and he has a Pandora's box inside his
brain. He knows everything about Gaddafi's rule - security and intelligence
systems going back 30 years or more." (Editing by Giles Elgood)
* Eastern firm Agoco says does not want control of oil sales
* More autonomy to subsidiaries, NOC to supervise only
By Jessica Donati
ROME, March 22 (Reuters) - Plans to grant more autonomy to Libya's oil rich
east were laid out this week at the nation's first oil and gas summit held
in Rome after months of unease among international oil companies over the
A new system in place will devolve power to subsidiary firms previously
controlled by the state's National Oil Corporation (NOC) Mohamed Elabdaly,
chair of the Libya Oil and Gas Summit, told Reuters.
"Previously, subsidiaries did not have control over exploration, upgrading
and training. All that will change," said Elabdaly in an interview given on
the sidelines of the summit.
Libya's east was starved of cash during Muammar Gaddafi's 42-year rule, and
calls for federal rule have been fuelled by long-standing complaints it has
been deprived of its fair share of wealth.
"The aim is decentralisation... The budget will be divided between counties,
based on a formula that takes both population and geographical area into
account," Elbdaly said.
The east's Arabian Gulf Oil Company was first in Libya to restart production
after the uprising and for a period marketed its own oil to international
An Agoco official said on the sidelines of the summit the Benghazi-based
company did not want to regain control over its oil sales, but wanted
independent control of its budget and projects.
Fawzi M. Bu Argoub, who manages Agoco's geology department, said the company
was satisfied with the degree of autonomy granted from the state-oil firm,
and was in favour of remaining under the supervision of the state's NOC.
Addressing the audience, Argoub said the company should manage its own
future because it alone fully understood its potential.
"Agoco needs to avoid centralisation," he said.
Oil executives are reluctant to comment on the changes in Libya's oil
sector. Foreign companies' contracts are due to be subject to a detailed
review by a committee.
Most want to see how arrangements are resolved.
"Decentralisation makes sense," said Oliver Miles, former British ambassador
to Libya and director at a consultancy that specialises in business
intelligence. "But how decentralisation will take place is complicated."
In the opening session, a spat broke out between easterners in the audience
who accused the Tripoli-based National Transitional Council (NTC) of
marginalising the fighters to whom the revolution was owed.
In the awkward moments that followed, another state speaker grabbed a
microphone and attempted to smooth things over reassuring "we have no
problems", a remark met with snorts across the audience in the conference
Among the factions that make up Libya's oil elite, feelings appeared more
Agoco is producing around 331,000 barrels of oil per day, but the eastern
subsidiary is still waiting for approval from Tripoli for its 2012 budget to
start its exploration activities.
So far, it has been patient as new practices laid out by the state-oil
company are put to test for the first time.
Along with other subsidiaries in Libya, Agoco has submitted plans for the
year and it is the NOC's task to aggregate the budget and obtain approval
from the government.
Once approval is granted, each company will have complete control over the
execution of its plans, according to Elabdaly.
He said the government had approved the 2012 budget, the largest in Libya's
history, and the oil sector was expecting to receive the full amount
requested, around $6 billion. The figure excluded funds allocated for war
Under the new system, the NOC's task would be to audit the performance of
the various subsidiaries, leaving full control over operations in their
Early this month, a group of civic leaders in Benghazi said they would run
their own affairs, defying the government in Tripoli which is already
struggling to assert its authority after Muammar Gaddafi was ousted last
Elabdaly said the move aimed to draw the government's attention to Benghazi,
where a sense of neglect had been growing since the government and other
state bodies moved to Tripoli late last year.
"When they all moved, Benghazi died again," he said.
Clerics in both Benghazi and Tripoli have warned the autonomy plan could
lead to the break up of Libya, and after the declaration of autonomy, crowds
packed into squares in both cities to express their opposition to the idea.
(Reporting by Jessica Donati; additional reporting by Marie-Louise
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Thu Mar 22 2012 - 16:02:16 EDT