LONDON, (Reuters) – Britain’s elite special forces have been training Libyan troops for the last six months, possibly as part of an agreement to free the Lockerbie bomber, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported on Saturday.
The British government did not deny that the Special Air Service (SAS) had been working with Libyan forces, but said there had been no defence deal connected to the release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi.
Megrahi, terminally ill with prostate cancer, was flown home to Libya last month after being freed from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds to the anger of Washington and many relatives of the 1988 airliner bombing which killed 270 people.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says the decision to free him was taken by the Scottish government and had not been done to improve Britain’s trade links with Libya.
Commentators say the move has damaged Britain’s relations with the United States. On Thursday President Barack Obama told Brown during a phone call of his disappointment about the decision.
The Daily Telegraph reported that SAS sources believed the elite unit had been sent to help train Libyan soldiers as part of an agreement struck with Tripoli over Megrahi.
“From our perspective we cannot see it as part of anything else other than the Megrahi deal,” one unnamed source told the newspaper.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office said they could not comment on the work of the country’s special forces. However, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “We have ongoing cooperation with Libya in the field of defence, but to suggest that this is part of any deal related to Megrahi is simply untrue.”
The spokeswoman said there had been defence cooperation with Tripoli since Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi renounced weapons of mass destruction.
After diplomatic isolation for many years, Gaddafi announced in December 2003 that he would scrap Libya’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, leading to closer ties with Western nations.
The Telegraph said the SAS role would be embarrassing for Brown who said last Sunday he would back compensation claims against Libya by families of Irish Republican Army victims who say Tripoli helped arm the guerrillas in the 1980s and 1990s.