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Geopolitics

The Untold Story Of Gaddafi's Hunt For Osama Bin Laden

Though he still cites Al-Qaeda as one of his prime enemies, Muammar Gaddafi issued the first international arrest warrant for Osama bin Laden in 1998. Is there a connection between the mysterious death of a German agent and Libyan efforts to capture the t

The Osama bin Laden puzzle
The Osama bin Laden puzzle
Florian Flade

The name of Osama bin Laden's spectral terrorism organization is being exploited and abused by all sides in connection with current events in Libya.

Muammar Gaddafi declares that Al Qaeda is pulling the strings behind the protest movement, accusing jihadist veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan of fighting alongside the rebel forces.

His opponents say Gaddafi is playing the Al Qaeda card to conjure up the West's fear of terrorism, presenting himself as a bulwark against militant Islamism in North Africa, and the guarantor of security and stability in the region.

But looking back into the past, it turns out that Gaddafi was warning about the terrorist threat presented by Al Qaeda long ago, even before Sep. 11, making Libya the first country to put out a warrant for the arrest of the Saudi terrorist. On March 16 1998, Libya's Ministry of Justice in Tripoli issued an international arrest warrant for bin Laden, naming him as the main suspect in the murder of two German citizens in Libya. The warrant was subsequently forwarded to Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France. This document - seen by Die Welt - was deemed legal, and on April 15, 1998, Interpol issued an official arrest warrant against the Al Qaeda leader.

Here is the little known story of the origins of this Gaddafi-bin Laden faceoff. In early March 1994, Silvan Becker and his wife Vera entered Libya while holidaying in the region. By law, Gaddafi's empire was out of bounds for the 56-year-old German citizen. Becker worked for Germany's domestic intelligence service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, in the Terrorism Department, and was thus banned from all travel to Libya.

Chief advisor on "Arab extremists'

In Germany, Becker had been the head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution's Division Six – the department responsible for dealing with "international terrorism." For years the terrorist expert was the chief advisor on "Arab extremists," before transferring to the unit responsible for observing the Tamil extremist group LTTE.

According to reports by Libyan investigators, Becker and his wife were attacked and shot by four armed robbers on March 10 1994, shortly after their arrival in Libya. The two German citizens were initially taken to a military hospital in the city of Surt in Eastern Libya, where Vera Becker is said to have died on March 28 1994. Her husband finally died from his injuries on April 10.

It remains a mystery why the Beckers decided to enter Libya in spite of the travel ban. It has been rumored the German agent was using his private holiday as a premise to make contact with Libyan Islamists. The Office for Protection of the Constitution has vehemently denied this theory, insisting there is no reason to believe that Becker was a double agent, or was engaged on a mission in Libya on behalf a foreign secret service.

The German office declined to give Die Welt any further comment on the Becker case. Even 17 years after the murders, no information can be released on the work of former employees or their dependents. "That was our policy at that time, and it has not changed," said a spokeswoman.

Background details still unclear

A number of questions remain regarding who committed the murders -- as well as other significant background details of the case. The Libyan authorities handed over the results of their investigations to their German counterparts, which concluded that militant Islamists affiliated with Al-Qaeda had been responsible for murdering the Beckers.

The three main suspects were all Libyans - Faraj al-Alwan, Faez Abu Zeid al-Warfali and Faraj al-Chalabi – alleged members of the "al-Muqatila" group (also called the "Libyan Islamic Fighting Group"), which is said to have been fighting for the establishment of an Islamic theocracy in Libya since the beginning of the 1990's.

"Al-Muqatila" is believed to have been one of the first Islamist groups to join Al-Qaeda. It was reportedly founded by Libyan jihadist veterans of the war against the Soviet army in Afghanistan - so-called "Libyan Afghans."

French terrorism expert Jean-Charles Brisard thinks the Libyan interpretation that the German couple was murdered by Islamists is credible. "The claim is certainly true," Brisard told Die Welt.

"We should bear in mind that other Islamic fighting groups were performing operations against westerners in the region around the same time. In 1993 and 1994, Algeria's Armed Islamic Group (AIG) killed several westerners, and there was a terrorist attack on a hotel in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh in 1994," says Brisard.

Did bin Laden ever even visit Libya? According to some reports, the Al-Qaeda leader lived for a time in a village near the eastern city of Benghazi, where he maintained close contacts with the "Al-Muqatila" group.

"There are intelligence reports that say bin Laden was in Libya," says Brisard, "but it's difficult to confirm whether he really physically set foot in Libya."

Conspiracy theories

Over the years, various conspiracy theories related to the Becker murder case have surfaced, some of which could have come straight out of a spy thriller.

Former British intelligence agent David Shayler has claimed that the British overseas intelligence service MI6 cooperated with the Beckers' suspected killers - the Libyan Islamists of "al-Muqatila" – in the 1990s in an attempt to assassinate Gaddafi.

The jihadists are said to have agreed to help eliminate the Libyan head of state during a parade in Sirte. The theory goes that Becker got in the Islamists' way and were therefore killed.

Shayler has also said that British cooperation with Libyan extremists was the reason why Britain and the United States ignored the Libyan Interpol arrest warrant.

Another theory appeared in the German daily Taz, speculating that Becker had been the chief agent responsible for the German intelligence service's investigation into the attack on the "La Belle" club in Berlin on April 5, 1986, in which two U.S. soldiers and a Turkish woman were killed. The newspaper suggested the Libyan secret service murdered the Beckers.

A spokesman for the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution strongly denied the claim that Becker was connected to the investigation into the "La Belle" attack when questioned at the time. To this day, no one is willing or able to say what the German agent was doing in Libya in 1994, who really murdered him, or why.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Kai Screiber

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