Geopolitics

The Bitter Tale Of A Teenaged Son Sent Off To Fight For Gaddafi

Salim, 16, is the son of Gaddafi loyalists from Sabratha, north of Tripoli. He now lies in a hospital prison bed in Misrata, lucky to be alive, but scared to contact his parents -- and knowing his life will never be the same.

Libyan voter (by septimius severus)
The ultimate price of war (©DavideMonteleone/Contrasto)
Lemine Ould Salem

MISRATA – Salim bites his lip, then closes his eyes. Even so, we can guess that he's trying his best to hold back tears. But when he pulls himself together, it's just to whisper a few words that capture all the pain he's trying to resist. "Gaddafi has left, but what about me? What will I do like this?, " asks Salim, staring at his leg, or at least, what's left of it.

Salim, 16, is a high school student from Sabratha, about 45 miles north of Tripoli. He fought among Gaddafi's military units. Today he is in jail, in Misrata, one of the bastions of the anti-Gaddafi resistance that fell into rebel hands last May, after several long months of fighting. Salim, along with other injured, is jailed in a block that has been turned into a hospital by those who now command the city.

The war is not over, and the new authorities have other priorities before taking care of war prisoners. So Salim will probably have to wait a while before getting back to his family. His parents are very unlikely to visit him in Misrata, Salim says, since both his mother and father are "well-known pro-Gaddafi people". Like elsewhere in Libya, those who stood by Gaddafi won't risk getting in touch with the rebels yet.

Salim recounts how he ended up in this makeshift prison hospital. He says that just after his end-of-year exams in June, officers working for Gaddafi and close to his parents came to talk to them. "(The officers) wanted me to leave with them to take some kind of military course. That way I would be able to defend myself and to defend my family against the mercenaries and terrorists that were threatening to invade Libya." His parents immediately agreed. "They just asked me if I was okay with that. I was," recalls Salim. "Like my parents, I was myself a victim of the regime propaganda."

On the same day, along with 300 other child soldiers, the teenager was sent to Tripoli. Gaddafi's army had moved out of its barracks, into civilian neighborhoods of town, and Salim found himself located in the abandoned offices of a Turkish company. There, for three days, he learned to shoot, disassemble and clean weapons, especially Kalashnikovs. "I know this weapon very well now," he says.

However, contrary to the promise the officers made to Salim's parents, he was not coming back to Sabratha. Instead, he was sent to Misrata: after the pro-regime forces lost the city last May, Gaddafi wanted to recover it at all costs.

Ambushed

Salim fought in the western part of the city, in the Dafniya neighborhood, where rebels and pro-Gaddafi outfits fought each other night and day until that moment when the regime's forces were forced to flee.

With three other teenagers, Salim jumped on the first vehicle that was heading out of the city. But the vehicle was ambushed. His three companions were killed, and Salim was injured. "I played dead, but one of the rebels saw I was breathing and asked for me to be carried to the hospital. I fainted on the way there and when I woke up, I saw that my leg was missing," says Salim.

On his Misrata prison bed, the teen wonders if he could have somehow avoided what happened. "From the first days on the military front, I understood rather quickly that it wasn't the right place for me to be, that I had been mistaken, that I should have been somewhere else, not on a front with a weapon. I should have been out playing with my friends. I should have run away. I might still have both my legs. I don't know why I didn't do it," he says, his voice growing sadder.

But other adult inmates say Salim would never have succeeded in running away. "He would have been shot right away," says a former pro-Gaddafi officer. "On every front, our leaders had stationed soldiers to shoot any fighter who tried to desert."

Read the original article in French

Photo - Davide Monteleone

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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