Tuesday 28 February 2017

Net tightens in manhunt for Gaddafi

Dictator has €1.2m price on head

Harriet Alexander and Sean Rayment in TRIPOLI

HE has ruled Libya for four decades with a combination of cunning, brutality and cash -- a formula Muammar Gaddafi will now need more than ever as he tries to evade capture.

But as the vanquished dictator becomes the world's most wanted fugitive, he may find one thing to his liking -- the longer he remains free, the more a legend will develop around him.

"As we saw with Saddam, Bin Laden, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the longer it takes, the more chance they have of being spirited away to a place which is much more difficult to find," said Paddy Ashdown, former UN chief in Bosnia.

"Once they have managed to reinsert themselves back into a secure place away from the battlefield and are living among the population who regard them as heroes, this is a difficult and long-term proposition."

So how will Gaddafi stay on the run? One solution will be to travel light, avoiding armoured or large convoys and large groups of bodyguards, which can be seen by drone planes. He is also likely to refrain from using telephones, for fear that his voice patterns could be detected by the eavesdropping equipment of intelligence agencies.

More important, though, will be money, which will help buy silence. As well as having millions of dollars in private cash reserves, Gaddafi is also believed to have pilfered some of Libya's gold reserves to pay for his protection, according to claims last week by his former central bank governor.

He has also built a vast maze of tunnels under the Bab al-Azizia compound, which are thought to include routes to the coast, airport, and possibly remote desert hideouts.

"He's been an international pariah for the majority of his 42-year rule, so has had plenty of time to prepare for this," Henry Smith, a Libya analyst with the Control Risks intelligence consultancy, said.

"He sees himself as leading a campaign against Western imperialism and also would not appear to mind living a nomadic existence, hiding in tents in the desert."

According to sources, the hunt for Gaddafi is being driven by the rebel army with help from a small force of British SAS troops.

One insider said: "The Libyans are the ones who know the ground and have the connections and will get the most up-to-date information. We don't want the SAS anywhere near the area when Gaddafi is caught. This has got to come from the Libyans."

The role of the UK forces is to assist the rebels and help them interpret intelligence.

Intelligence and surveillance assets, including RAF surveillance aircraft, such as Sentinel R1 and the Americans' Rivet Joint aircraft, are also being used. Both aircraft are equipped with sophisticated radar and eavesdropping equipment which can intercept mobile phone communications. Surveillance drones such as the US Reaper, which is armed with rockets, are also on stand-by.

ANALYSIS PAGE 16

Gaddafi would, however, have noted ways in which previous "most wanteds" have evaded capture. Like Saddam Hussein, who was found living on the outskirts of a peasant village near his home city of Tikrit, it is thought Gaddafi may return to his tribal roots.

He might head for his coastal birthplace of Sirte or the shabby desert town of Sabha, deep in the Sahara, where he went to school.

Both towns prospered during his rule and some of their residents may well be honoured to hide the man they still call "The Leader".

Alternatively, Gaddafi might head to the Libya's desert south, a landscape of lunar mountains and sand dunes. This remote territory could host purpose-built hideouts.

An area the size of France, the region's lack of roads, heat and regular sandstorms would make a prolonged manhunt a serious challenge. Much of the south remains heavily mined, a vestige of Gaddafi's war with Chad in the 1970s and 1980s, and lawlessness prevails in its largely unpoliced borders.

A former Libyan government lawyer said he believed many key figures loyal to Gaddafi had fled this way to neighbouring African countries of Niger, Mali and Chad.

Businessmen from Benghazi, however, have offered two million Libyan dinars (€1.2m) for Gaddafi's capture, a sum that could tempt local tribes to turn bounty hunter.

Even if Gaddafi were to escape, few countries would take him. With an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, any of the 116 nations which are court signatories would be obliged to hand him over. That rules out Venezuela, despite reports that President Chavez, a fellow crusader against Western "imperialism", was willing to take him.

"Even if Chavez were to disregard the international condemnation this would bring, there would be the potential for grave consequences," said Professor Malcolm Shaw, a senior fellow at Cambridge University.

Likewise, Saudi Arabia, which sheltered Tunisia's Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, is not an option for Gaddafi, who was accused of ordering a plot in 2003 to assassinate Crown Prince Abdullah.

One possible sanction would be Zimbabwe, another non-signatory to the court. But Gaddafi would be aware that with President Robert Mugabe now in poor health, his fellow African "liberation hero" might not be around to host him for long.

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent

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