Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 26 April 2019

Libyan authorities seek arrest of Belhaj and Jahdran

The two men are accused of involvement in massacres and stopping chunks of Libya’s oil production

Abdulhakim Belhaj received an apology from the UK government in 2018 for his rendition to Libya. AFP
Abdulhakim Belhaj received an apology from the UK government in 2018 for his rendition to Libya. AFP

Libyan officials have taken steps to shore up the state’s control over the country’s oil wealth as the country’s attorney general issued an arrest warrant for Abdulhakim Belhaj, an Islamist politician and terrorist, and his one-time ally the militia leader Ibrahim Jahdran.

In the indictments, the duo are accused of involvement in the massacre of 141 soldiers and civilians loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar at the Tamenhint airbase in 2017 as well as helping to blockade some of Libya’s largest oil export terminals.

Another four Libyans were included in the official documents, as were 31 Sudanese and Chadian rebels who were said to have committed murder and kidnappings in southern Libya.

Mr Belhaj, who was placed on sanctions lists by UAE, Saudi, Bahrain, Egypt in 2017, rejected the accusations and said it was an attempt to remove him from the political scene.

He is a former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an Islamist faction linked to the Muslim Brotherhood that sought to overthrow long-time ruler Muammar Qaddafi and was at one point proscribed by the USA and UK.

The LIFG continuously rejected accusations it was linked to Al Qaeda, which stemmed in part from many of its commanders, including Mr Belhaj, having fought alongside Osama Bin Laden against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

The UK was forced to apologise to Mr Belhaj and his wife last year due to their involvement following the 2004 rendition by US intelligence officers from Thailand to Libya.

Mr Belhaj would later be among those to storm Tripoli during the 2011 revolution that ousted Colonel Qaddafi. Now based in Turkey, he heads the conservative-leaning Watan party.

Mr Jahdran’s forces held Libya’s central oil crescent from 2013 until 2016, a region that provides a large chunk of the country’s roughly 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) output. Dissatisfied with the central government Mr Jahdran lost Libya billions of dollars when he closed the oil fields and attempted to independently export.

Mr Jahdran’s fighters were eventually ousted by General Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) but attacked the same area again in the summer 2018. The US and UN both sanctioned Mr Jahdran after these actions.

General Haftar’s forces do not recognise the Attorney General in the capital Tripoli and are supported by a rival administration in eastern Libya, but nonetheless welcomed the arrest warrants for two of their main rivals.

LNA brigades have chased with Mr Jahdran’s fighters and another group, the Benghazi Defence Brigades, in recent weeks. It is the furthest west General Haftar’s forces have pushed.

Confirming the move, an LNA official told The National: “We are no longer going to wait for these militias to attack the oil fields. We are going to track and hit those militias wherever they are.”

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Libya’s south is rife with an array of rebel groups from Sudan and Chad, who are able to move around the sparsely populated with relative ease amid the security vacuum. It is common for Libya’s array of competing factions to accuse each other of employing sub-Saharan mercenaries.

Its embattled oil industry remains a vital economic lifeline for the fractious country, but output often plunges when angry groups take over its facilities.

Last month disaffected locals the neglected south stormed and closed its largest oilfield in protest at their living conditions.

Despite this, on Sunday Libya’s state oil company announced an average of 1.107 bpd and revenues of $24.4 billion for 2018 – a five-year high.

Updated: January 7, 2019 06:31 PM

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