Libya’s GNA hopes to shore up UK’s support with extradition of suspected terrorist

The British are still looking to extradite those suspected of involvement in the killing in 1984 of police officer Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London.
Saturday 20/07/2019
A file picture shows Hashem Abedi, the brother of the man who carried out the bombing in the British city of Manchester. (AFP)
In the hands of Justice. A file picture shows Hashem Abedi, the brother of the man who carried out the bombing in the British city of Manchester. (AFP)

TUNIS - Libyan authorities have handed to British representatives Hashem Abedi, the brother of Salman Abedi, who killed 23 people by setting off a bomb near Manchester Arena on May 22, 2017.

Hashem Abedi, like his brother, was born in the United Kingdom and is a joint UK-Libyan national. He is accused by the British of having helped plan the terror attack. Returned to the United Kingdom July 17, Abedi, 22, has been charged with murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to cause an explosion.

Abedi and his father Ramadan were arrested in Tripoli by the Rada Special Deterrence Force the day after the Manchester attack. Rada said Abedi confessed to being a member of the Islamic State (ISIS), which claimed responsibility for the attack. Both claims are viewed with scepticism by the British.

UK officials requested Abedi’s extradition in November 2017 but, even though Britain and Libya signed an extradition treaty in 2008, Libyan law prevents the extradition of its citizens to another country, even when the citizens are also nationals of the other country.

There has been only one other exception and it also involved the United Kingdom.  In 1999, faced with sanctions after an explosion brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988, former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi agreed to send for trial in the Netherlands two Libyans accused of involvement. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was found guilty and jailed in Scotland; Lamin Khalifah Fhimah was found not guilty and freed.

The general view in Libya is that Abedi’s extradition is also political, although it is claimed there was a lengthy legal process that ended with him being stripped of his Libyan nationality to allow for the extradition. When his appeal against this failed, it was reported, the public prosecutor ordered his extradition.

“It’s been a political decision, both in timing and the process,” said a former senior Libyan government official. The Tripoli-based Presidential Council and its Government of National Accord (GNA) agreed to send Abedi to Britain “to curry favour” with the British government, he said, stressing that it was no coincidence that after 20 months of delays it occurred when Tripoli was under attack from the Libyan National Army (LNA).

“There’s no other explanation,” said a Libyan journalist. “There has to have been a deal.”

Claims have appeared in British media of a “secret deal” under which the United Kingdom would supposedly provide military intelligence to the GNA to help combat the LNA offensive. It was suggested in one newspaper that there could be British military assistance for the GNA; however, that was dismissed by Libyan officials and UK-based Libya observers.

“I don’t expect anything from the British,” said the former Libyan government official. “They won’t give intelligence or equipment, just verbal support. It’ll be just words.”

A related explanation being put by some figures in Libya is that Tripoli authorities agreed to the extradition because they want to demonstrate their opposition to terrorism. The LNA has repeatedly accused the Presidential Council and the GNA of supporting terrorists and says this is why it has to take over Tripoli.

If this is an attempt to refute terrorism claims, it is likely that Presidential Council leader Fayez al-Sarraj and other GNA members will challenge the LNA to hand over Mahmoud al-Werfalli to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Werfalli, an LNA commander, is accused of war crimes, including the summary execution of prisoners in Benghazi.

It is unlikely that Abedi’s extradition will lead to other Libyans being rendered elsewhere. The British are still looking to extradite those suspected of involvement in the killing in 1984 of police officer Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London.

Nor is there any sign that the GNA will agree to hand over to the ICC Qaddafi’s intelligence chief and brother-in-law Abdullah Senussi or his son Saif al-Islam Qaddafi. Handing them over would be too politically sensitive. There would be protests and probably riots, something no Libyan government wants to see.

Abedi is not in the same league. “No one cares what happens to him” noted the Libyan journalist. Extraditing him may make news in the United Kingdom but it is not likely to spark protests in Libya.

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