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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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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