Armed Group Threatens to Blow Up Pipeline that Transmits Libya’s Gas to Italy

Tripoli – A Libyan armed group has threatened to blow up the pipeline that transmits gas to Italy within 72 hours, according to the German news agency.

The group, which said it was following officer Ali Kanna, issued Wednesday a videotape next to a gas transmission pipeline from the Libyan south to the industrial Mellitah Complex, which pumps Libyan gas to Italy via the Mediterranean.

It threatened to blow up the gas pipeline within 72 hours if Al-Mabrouk Ehnish, who was arrested by the Special Deterrence Force (SDF), which works under the umbrella of the Government of National Accord (GNA), early this week.

The group showed its ability to shut down or blow up any of the oil and gas transmission pipelines from the oil-rich south of Libya, and it took photos of one of the pipelines with all its meters and shutter valves and released these photos for the government to see them.

On October 16, an armed group dressed in military uniforms has threatened to cut off the water supply to Tripoli from the man-made river water wells in the south if Ehnish was not released.

“If he was not released, we will burn down the man-made river water system, close Tripoli-Sabha road and gas pipelines,” the group, loyal to former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, threatened from inside the control room of the man-made river system in Hasawna.

Notably, Ehnish is one of the leaders of the so-called “Popular Front for Liberation of Libya” that is headed by Gaddafi’s henchmen who live abroad.

Differences Threaten Negotiations to Amend Skhirat Agreement

Meeting of the Joint Drafting Committee in Tunis

Cairo, Tunis– Differences between members of the Joint Drafting Committee in charge with amending the Skhirat Agreement have hampered discussions between the two Libyan sides representing Parliament and the High State Council, amid mutual accusations of “refusing to deal with the political agreement.”

The disputes threatened to impede the negotiations, which kicked off on Sunday, after the withdrawal of Parliament’s representatives from the committee’s meeting on Monday evening.

“The reason for their withdrawal is the insistence of the High State Council’s dialogue committee not to resolve controversial issues and to return to points and understandings that have already been resolved,” said Abdul Salam Nasieh, the head of Parliament’s delegation.

The High State Council responded by saying that no amendments were originally requested.

“The House of Representatives [Parliament] is the one that refused to deal with the political agreement and insisted on its amendment.

“Now Parliament has to submit written notes of their points of objection.”

The Council’s representatives said in a statement issued at dawn on Tuesday that it was prepared to deal with Parliament’s written notes in a positive manner and determine what would be acceptable to them.

The statement underlined “total insistence on continuing the current efforts to reach an agreement with Parliament to alleviate the daily sufferings of the Libyan citizens.”

Immediately after the suspension of the meeting of the Joint Drafting Committee in Tunis on Monday evening, the spokesman for the UN mission said this would “give the opportunity for both sides to consult with the dialogue committees of Parliament and the High State Council”, noting that meetings and internal consultations would continue the next day, which did not happen.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a member of Parliament’s dialogue committee told Asharq al-Awsat that the reason behind the suspension of the meeting was due to “demands by the High State Council representatives to have a greater proportion of competencies related to state appointments, in exchange for reducing the powers of the House of Representatives in the future, which we have rejected.”

Abdullah Blaiheq, Parliament’s official spokesperson, told Asharq al-Awsat that meetings were suspended until the State Council dialogue committee submits its written proposals on the points of disagreement.

“There have been some changes to what was put forward… They have returned to talk again about the issue of a president and two deputies,” a point that has sparked many controversies according to Blaiheq.

Libya’s Mitiga Airport Closed as Rival Factions Clash

As clashes intensified between Libyan rival factions, the country’s Mitiga airport, located in the capital, was evacuated.

According to officials flights were suspended repeatedly, leading up to a full shutdown.

Reuters wrote that flights had restarted around midday on Tuesday after being suspended for several hours during the morning and the previous evening, Mitiga spokesman Khaled Abukhrais said. But by late afternoon heavy gunfire resumed and the airport was shut.

“Unfortunately the air space has closed again and the airport has been evacuated for the safety and security of passengers and workers, due to renewed clashes,” an airport statement said.

Mitiga is a military air base near the centre of Tripoli that has also hosted civilian flights since the international airport was largely destroyed by fighting in 2014.

The clashes began when the Special Deterrence Force (Rada), a group that controls Mitiga and operates as an anti-crime unit aligned with the UN-backed government, conducted raids in the nearby neighborhood of Ghrarat.

Rada spokesman Ahmed Bin Salem said the group targeted in the raids had tried to attack the airport area after a wanted drug dealer had been killed when he fired on a Rada patrol.

“The area of Ghrarat is now under the control of our forces and it’s being treated as military zone so we can clear any resistance,” Bin Salem said.

One member of Rada had been killed and two wounded, and there were several casualties among their opponents, he said.

Tripoli is split among various armed groups that have built local power bases since Libya’s 2011 revolution.

There have been fewer heavy confrontations in the capital since groups linked to a previous, self-declared government were pushed out of the city earlier this year, but armed skirmishes, kidnapping and other criminal activity are still common.

Former Libyan Interior Minister: ‘ISIS Over As Emirate…Now Exists in Cells’

Fighters of Libyan forces allied with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) fire a rocket at ISIS militants in Sirte, Libya.

Tripoli- Former Libyan Interior Minister Fawzi Abdul Ali said that ISIS has ended in his country as an emirate, but still exists as cells.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Abdul Ali expressed concern that ISIS militants move from Iraq to Syria then Libya, especially lately. “These are real concerns,” Abdul Ali stressed.

Abdul Ali, from Misrata, was named minister of interior in the transitional Libyan government that was formed after ousting Muammar Gaddafi, and it was headed by Abdurrahim al-Keib. He now serves as the ambassador of his country to Bahrain.

Regarding the ongoing anarchy since the death of the former regime leader in October 2011 until this day, Abdul Ali, who was a member of the Transitional Council and chairman of the Security Committee then the arming committee, said there were many reasons leading to it. One of these reasons is the deterioration of the official security and military institutions, their weakness, marginalization and rampant corruption during the ruling of the preceding regime, he explained.

Another reason for this security chaos is the political fragility at this stage, according to Abdul Ali. “Part of it is due to actions of political forces in Libya and the role of foreign interventions, all of what created this chaos that is now taking place.”

“There were obstacles that hindered the restoration of the work of police and internal security services with their full capacity after the fall of the former regime,” Abdul Ali said.

When asked about the reason why police and security forces have not yet fully recovered after six years, he said that there were many obstacles, which prevented the normal restoration of the work of the police and the security services at their full strength after the fall of the regime. The most important can be attributed to the fact that a strong movement belonging to the revolution did not want these bodies to function, merely because they belong to the former regime.

“This movement belongs basically to the so-called ‘political Islam’, topped by Muslim Brotherhood, Ansar al-Sharia, Libyan Fighting Group and others,” Abdul Ali explained.

He also pointed out that some parties, belonging to the former regime, also participated in obstructing the restoration of security “because they wanted to disrupt the formation of any state they cannot head. They wanted the February revolution to appear as a failed revolution that is not able to reconstruct the state, in addition to the failure to unite the army, which contributed to the inability to activate other security apparatuses.”

Abdul Ali was previously a member of the local council in Misrata, during the “February 17 Revolution”, and was also in charge of the security file in the city, which is currently one of the largest Libyan cities in terms of military apparatuses.

Long Thorny Road to Building a United Libyan Army

Libya

Tripoli – In 2014, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar reunited the Libyan military forces after they became fragmented in wake of their country’s NATO-backed armed uprising against leader Moammar al-Gadhadfi.

Under Gadhafi’s regime, the army included a little more than 140,000 officers and soldiers, said former officer Ahmed Gadhaf al-Damm. The number now lies at only 35,000, who are under Haftar’s command. So where has the rest of the military, with its weapons and equipment, gone?

Despite the difficulties the Libyan army has been enduring since Gadhafi’s death in 2011, Haftar has succeeded in first, expelling extremist groups from the eastern and southern regions, and second, introducing reforms to the military structure left over from the former regime.

This has led to the emergence of what Libyan military spokesman Ahmed al-Masmari calls the “security brigades.” These brigades, with their rocket-propelled grenades and Russian heavy tanks, have earned their negative reputation from their suppression of the armed uprising.

They did not have a united leadership, but Gadhaf al-Damm does not paint such a dark picture. The military man, who began his career under Gadhafi, explained that these fighters used to be subject to the armed forces and they used to defend the nation in 2011.

At any rate, the road to reaching a united army seems long.

Libyan military officials, like their counterparts all over the world, do not like to discuss divisions in the army and differences over its objective. This stance is shared by officers, who still back the former regime, and others, who took part in the uprising and now back Haftar.

Given this bleak reality, one despairingly has to ask: What is one to do if his questions do not receive definitive answers from the various military units spread throughout the country?

For example, how can we explain the position of General Mustafa al-Sharkasi, the former military commander of the Benghazi region, who has found himself at odds with Haftar. He is now the leader of the “Defense Brigades” that is accused of terrorism and collaborating with Qatar.

After a long discussion with Sharkasi, one realizes that some issues can be resolved through a mixture of dialogue, good intentions and some force.

In this regard, a military intelligence official demanded that “ties between high-ranking officers with any sectarian or local militias must be immediately severed.”

For instance, what is the stance of Ali Kanna, who used to be one of the strongmen of the deposed regime? Immediately in the aftermath of Gadhafi’s murder, he was eager to introduce reform to the military institution. Now, however, his role has been diminished to merely a defender of his Tuareg tribe. The Tuareg, a tribe of non-Arab roots, are mainly present in the southern province of Fezzan.

One of Kanna’s aides, who has Tuareg roots, said: “We are Libyans. Our role is to preserve Libya’s unity and this can only be achieved through the unity of the military institution. The problem is that communication between the commanders in the country has weakened from what it was in the past. At least this is what we are noticing in the South.”

There are other military commanders and their soldiers, who used to be the backbone of the army under the old regime. Nearly seven years after Gadhafi’s death, they have found themselves surrounded by political chaos given the absence of a central authority. They now operate as isolated islands in their regions or they are waiting in regional countries like so many thousands of others.

What about military commands that have joined the militias and which do not adhere to Haftar? Could this lead to Libya’s division?

Gadhaf al-Damm replied: “No, the majority of the military officials are now in their cities and villages. They are trying to join the army regardless of who is leading it, because the truth is, no one is really leading in Libya. Everything is made up of illusory structures.”

Despite the difficulties, the military forces that Haftar managed to bring together in challenging conditions have managed to impose themselves. They have shelled extremist groups in various regions in the east and south and they now have their sights set on the west.

One of the members of the political dialogue committee, which is affiliated with the United Nations delegation in Libya, said that “at least we can now say that the country now has a general that we can talk to.”

“This will help persuade the international community in lifting the 2011 ban against equipping the army with weapons,” he added.

On some Libyan calls for Haftar to run for president, one of his close aides said: “The real purpose of uniting the army is not political.”

“The truth is that Haftar is not seeking a political position. We are not defending politicians, but a country, which is on the verge of being lost,” he stressed.

The idea of uniting the army used to be only a dream, but Haftar’s determination, as some said, has taken it to the regional and international dialogue table. It has reached Egypt, which is leading Libyans in that direction.

The challenge now lies in how to merge the other commanders, with their officers and soldiers, in a single entity and around a single ideology.

Masmari remarked: “The Libyan army ideology is defensive and it seeks to defend Libya and the gains of its people.”

There remain attempts to steer officers away from Haftar, which some observers said would only push the country towards division, said Dr. Mohammed al-Warfali, former commander in the Libyan tribes conference.

Despite this gloomy outlook, opportunities remain and international pressure and Arab and Egyptian efforts are being exerted to save Libya. Only days ago, Haftar met with UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salameh at his office at the al-Rajma military base, some 40 kms away from the city of Benghazi. Haftar, who enjoys strong and significant ties with the leaderships in Cairo and Abu Dhabi, has also paid visits to Moscow, Paris and Rome.

At the end of September, Libyan military officials in Cairo agreed to form technical committees to study mechanisms to unite the Libyan military institution.

American political analyst Sharif al-Hilweh, who had toured several cities in western Libya, said the existence of several military commands outside of Haftar’s control will really affect the army.

“This is natural and such commands in the South and West could lead to the division of Libya into three countries or regions,” he warned.

He noted however that some of these military commanders enjoy good ties with the US Department of Defense, which means that they could yet play a role in the North African country’s future. Some leaders are also choosing not to get involved in the developments in the country at the moment to avoid being viewed as affiliated with the rival parties, Hilweh revealed.

“Regardless of what happens, I believe that the army will no longer remain divided. I know that communication exists between its commanders, because, ultimately, they are the products of a single institution and this will not change with political shifts,” he continued.

Sharkasi meanwhile, summed up his position by saying: “Our main problem is Haftar. We will not seek vengeance if he leaves the Libyan scene.”

“We want the rise of the state,” he declared, while completely rejecting any form of cooperation with the field marshal.

CIA Officers Detail Part of Benghazi Attack at Abu Khattala’s Trial

Washington- A CIA witness testified Tuesday that the body of US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was returned after the September 2012 attacks on US facilities in Benghazi, Libya, only after he overheard Libyan fighters discussing whether to tell Americans about a dead compatriot at a hospital.

Appearing under false names and in wigs or a mustache because their identities remain classified, two active CIA employees gave gripping accounts at the trial of the accused mastermind of the attacks about the chaotic, at times haphazard US response to the bloody assault on Sept. 11 and 12, 2012, that killed Stevens and three other Americans at a US special diplomatic mission and nearby CIA Annex.

The two witnesses said they used $30,000 in cash to arrange a one-hour, midnight flight for six US security operatives to go from Tripoli to reinforce Benghazi in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. There, they waited — futilely — for an armed escort of Libyan special forces personnel who were supposed to take them from the Benghazi airport to the CIA annex. In the end, one testified, he offered $1,000 to Libyan ambulance drivers for a litter to carry Stevens’s body aboard a Libyan Air Force C-130 aircraft evacuating the American dead and surviving security officers.

The drivers offered the litter — and declined to accept payment for the courtesy.

The testimony by “Alexander Charles” and “Roy Edwards,” an Arabic-speaking CIA operations support manager and the CIA’s team leader for security in Libya, respectively, continued several days of emotionally powerful appearances by witnesses put on by federal prosecutors in Washington with the US attorney’s office of the District.

The testimony in the case has yet to lay out for jurors the strong evidence prosecutors have asserted in filings and in opening statements that they have tying Ahmed Abu Khattala, 46, to the attacks.

Abu Khattala is a Libyan national who led a brigade of the Ansar al-Sharia militia that the United States designated a terrorist organization and holds responsible for the Benghazi attacks. He was captured in a June 2014 raid by US Special Operations forces and faces life in prison if convicted in a trial that began Oct. 2.

Abu Khattala has pleaded not guilty to 18 charges including conspiracy to support terrorism, murder, attempted murder and damaging US acilities.

The courtroom was closed for security reasons during the CIA officers’ testimony Tuesday, and images from the witness stand were blacked out on video streamed to an observation room for journalists. Live audio of their testimony was streamed into ancillary rooms where journalists and other observers could listen.

Charles and Edwards, disguised in what the judge called light disguises, testified that US forces on the ground could scarcely tell friend from foe among rival militia groups, and were delayed by conflicting aims of keeping a low profile while still moving in force to avoid being ambushed and needing rescuing themselves.

After the CIA’s chief of station in Tripoli tried in vain to get help from the Libyan ministries of defense and interior and the intelligence service for a flight to Benghazi after the attack began at 9:40 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2012, Charles reached out to a Libyan charter flight provider he had met earlier that same day.

Edwards, who worked for the CIA’s secret contract security force called the Global Response Staff, said the team of four GRS officers, Charles, and two US military operatives arrived at the Benghazi airport before 1 a.m., shortly after the assault on the annex had started, but was stranded because the Libyan military unit they expected to be waiting to drive them to the annex did not show, triggering hours of negotiations and phone calls.

“Obviously nothing worked, because we were on the ground for approximately three hours,” said Charles, who said he worked 30 years with the US government or with the CIA.

Edwards said the CIA team was directed to retrieve a wounded Westerner reportedly at a Benghazi hospital who possibly could be Stevens.

Later, however, the team received a report that the person was dead, and the CIA station chief in Tripoli told the team to move on the annex, which had already repelled two ground attacks, Edwards testified.

A leader of a Benghazi-based militia at the airport had refused to take the CIA team members to the hospital, possibly for their own safety, but agreed to take them to the annex, Edwards told jurors.

Within minutes of arriving at the annex, about 5 a.m., “All hell broke loose,” Charles said.

Edwards had asked a key member from Tripoli, a former Navy SEAL commando and medic named Glen “Bub” A. Doherty, to assist other GRS officers on watch on the roof. Doherty wanted to join a GRS friend there, his SEAL school classmate Tyrone S. Woods, Charles said.

Suddenly, a mortar round exploded nearby. Another landed closer, then several hit the roof.

Voice breaking with emotion, Edwards said he raced to the roof, but wearing night-vision goggles, he could not recognize one of the victims until a colleague said, “Bub is dead. Move to other medic.”

The other, Woods, was alive, Edwards testified, but as Edwards pulled him to a ladder to get off the roof, “he expired in that time.” GRS officer Mark Geist and State Department security agent David Ubben were wounded.

Expecting a “final assault to wipe us out,” Edwards said, the Americans evacuated to the airport.

Fate then seemingly stepped in, according to an account from Charles, who said he decided to walk near Libyan revolutionary militiamen guarding them at the airport.

“I don’t know why, maybe it was divine intervention,” Charles said, “I heard two Libyans talking to each other. They said, ‘Should we tell them about this dead American at the hospital?’ ”

Charles said he offered all the money in his backpack for the body, to which the men’s commander said, “ ‘I don’t want your money.’ He said, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’ About 15 minutes later, the body of the ambassador was delivered to the airport.”

The Washington Post

Haftar: Failure of Dialogue Compels Libyans to Determine Fate

Cairo – General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), considered that the ongoing dialogue in Tunis is the only solution for the Libyan problems and in case the dialogue fails to find political solutions then doors will be wide-open for the Libyan people to determine their fate.

In two separate meetings, Haftar met officers and soldiers from the LNA pointing out that the unity of the army was formed in the field and that the victory was achieved thanks to all sons and fighters of the army.

He announced that his forces now have control over the majority of the Libyan territory, with only 30 square kilometers remaining.

Haftar said there were no “indications” that the ongoing UN-sponsored dialogue could be the solution to the current political crisis in the country, pointing out that the door of other alternatives approved by the people remains wide open.

“The army and all security services will answer to the wishes of the people,” he added.

For its part, ISIS Fighting Operation Room (IFOR) in Sabratha denied the figures provided by Haftar because the army has no control over many regions in the west of Libya.

The Supreme Council of the Libyan Tribes and Cities, however, called on fighters and civilians to clear their cities and villages from militias, adding that the cohesion between the armed forces and people in Sabratha led to liberating it from terrorist gangs.

In its statement, the council added that the successive governments failed to protect the people from grave violations and horrible crimes against children, elders, and women that are taking place every day.

He added that throughout seven years, these governments couldn’t prevent the exhaustion of the Libya’s wealth.

Swehli: The ‘UN Roadmap’ Is a Practical Plan for the Solution in Libya

Head of Libya’s State Supreme Council Abdulrahman al-Suweihly

Cairo- The head of Libya’s State Supreme Council, Abdulrahman al-Swehly said that international and regional actors have become convinced that “no party to the Libyan conflict can win or defeat the other.”

In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, Swehly defended the UN plan to amend the Skhirat Agreement and to integrate militants and Islamic organizations into the political life, describing it as “a logical plan and a process that enjoys great consensus among the Libyan political parties.”

Commenting on the reduction of the members of the Presidential Council, according to the UN map, from nine to three, he said: “This is not a matter of disagreement, and will not be, because the practical and popular requirements dictate that.”

According to Swehli, the roadmap, announced by UN Special Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salameh, “is based on three important elements, characterized by a clear sequence for amending the political agreement (signed in the resort of Skhirat, Morocco, December 2015), completing constitutional reforms and ending the transitional period by holding elections in accordance with the new constitution.”

“According to this map, these elements will be dealt with under Article 12 of the Agreement, which states that the Supreme Council of the State and the Parliament are the institutions entrusted with the amendment of the Skhirat Agreement, and on this basis, we see it as a logical and practical plan,” he stated.

Asked about some objections to the second phase of the “international map”, which calls for holding a national conference to integrate the “marginalized” into the political process, Swehli said: “We, in the Supreme Council of the State, agree with Salameh on the importance of looking at the National Conference as an event that will end, not as a basis for a new situation that some fear. We believe that mobilizing support for any agreement before, during and after negotiations is necessary, and is one of the lessons that we learned from the Skhirat Agreement.”

As for the integration of militants and Islamic organizations into the political life, the Libyan official stressed that the political agreement signed in Skhirat described the integration and rehabilitation of members of armed factions as one of the priorities of the national reconciliation government.

“I do not think there is any disagreement about this. As for Islamic organizations or any other organizations that want to engage in the political process and abide by the democratic rules, they can help build a nation that everyone needs,” he noted.

Asked about foreign interference in the ongoing peace talks, Swehli said: “Fortunately, this time, international and regional actors have become convinced that no party to the conflict in Libya can win or cancel the other parties out. This has a positive impact on the dynamics of the scene.”

However, the Libyan official warned that although circumstances have become more favorable than ever before to reach a real consensus, some people might seek to obstruct the implementation of the plan.

“Some parties in the current authority are seeking to thwart the political process. The best way to mitigate this risk is to broaden political participation,” he said.

On the role of Italy in joining efforts to resolve the crisis in Libya, Swehli said: “I believe that Italy shares our view on the importance of concerted efforts at this critical stage in order to comply with the Security Council resolutions on Libya, the plan of action put forward by the UN envoy and the need to support his efforts to facilitate a settlement between the Libyan parties. We hope that these efforts will be in this direction.”

Sarraj Stresses Holding Elections to Resolve the Libyan Crisis

French

Cairo, Tunisia — Head of Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez al-Sarraj stressed the importance of holding the parliamentary and presidential elections to resolve the current crisis in the country.

Following his meeting with Turkey’s special envoy to Libya Emrullah Isler, Sarraj preferred not to repeat the transitional phase since this would bring new burdens to the country, affirming that the parliamentary and presidential elections is the only way out along with providing the adequate climate.

In his statement, Sarraj pointed out that some are objecting under the pretext of the security condition while the main reason for objecting over elections lies in concerns of losing positions, interests and privileges as well as removing some figures from the political scene.

In his turn, Turkey’s special envoy to Libya Emrullah Isler renewed his country’s support to Sarraj government and the road-map announced, expressing Turkey’s readiness to cooperate with all Libyan parties.

Isler also revealed the intention to proceed the agreed upon projects and the determination to implement new projects in Libya. There is a common ground for cooperation between Turkey and Libya, agreed Sarraj, expressing his government’s wish that this cooperation expands to include various service and economic fields.

Reliable sources affirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat Tunisia’s impartiality towards various Libyan parties – they expected that the tour outcome of United Nations special envoy to Libya Ghassan Salameh would be decisive in taking decisions towards the return of Libyan parties to the dialogue.

In a related matter, more than 4,000 migrants have been transferred to a hangar in the coastal city of Sabratha by a UN migration agency, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said. In a written statement, UNSMIL said the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is providing emergency assistance to migrants in Sabratha’s Dahman district who had been “previously held in numerous informal detention centers and camps.”

Libyan Authorities Recover Bodies of Beheaded Copts

Libyan authorities have recovered the bodies of 21 Coptic Christian workers, mostly Egyptians, beheaded in 2015 by ISIS in the coastal city of Sirte.

Sadiq Al-Sour, head of investigations for the Attorney General’s office, said last week that Libyan authorities had arrested a senior ISIS commander who supervised the beheadings.

“He gave details on the incident and indicated their place of burial,” Sour said.

“We are seeking with military authorities in the central region to discover where the bodies are, and hopefully we will find them, despite the time that has passed,” he added.

The beheaded bodies in orange uniforms were reportedly found with their hands cuffed to the backs. They included 20 Egyptians and one African.

The killings were documented in a grisly video released online by the terrorist organization that shocked Egypt and led it to launch punitive airstrikes.