Moussa Koussa, the Libyan foreign minister and former intelligence chief who flew to London on March 30, may spill secrets of Libya’s trail of terror, including the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, as he tries to gain favorable treatment from the U.K., former intelligence officials said.
Koussa, saying he would no longer represent Qaddafi’s regime, flew to London this week, after crossing from Libya to Tunisia by land. He’s since been sequestered at an undisclosed location for questioning, U.K. Foreign Minister William Hague said.
“He certainly knows backward and forward what Libyan intelligence has been doing for the last several decades,” said Bruce Riedel, a former U.S. intelligence officer who negotiated with Koussa to dismantle Libya’s nuclear and chemical weapons programs. “He probably knows exactly what happened to Pan Am 103 and may well have his own fingerprints on that.”
Koussa also may have knowledge about the workings of Qaddafi’s inner circle, now thought to be composed primarily of the dictator’s family, Riedel said in an interview.
“He will be able to provide a picture of what’s going on in Tripoli inside the inner circle of the regime that is quite timely and useful for coalition planners -- who is calling the shots and what the tone is like,” Riedel said.
British, U.S. and French officials want to ask Koussa about terrorist acts linked to the Qaddafi regime. They include the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270; the 1989 bombing of French UTA flight 772 over Chad, which killed 171; the 1986 bombing of the LaBelle discotheque in Berlin that killed three, including two U.S. soldiers; and the 1984 killing of London police constable Yvonne Fletcher by a gunman in the Libyan Embassy during a demonstration, said Matthew Levitt, a former U.S. counterterrorism official.
Saudi Arabia cut ties with Libya over a 2003 attempt to assassinate Crown Prince Abdullah.
Koussa may seek to protect himself from retribution by U.K. courts. In 1980, Koussa told the Times of London he supported killing Libyan dissidents in Britain, though his government later said he’d been misquoted. Koussa oversaw Libya’s relations with terrorist groups when the country was supplying arms, including Czech-made Semtex plastic explosives, to the Irish Republican Army in Britain’s province of Northern Ireland.
“My guess would be that Moussa Koussa will tell us it was all Mr. Qaddafi’s work and it was a product of Qaddafi’s own hand,” said Riedel, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Koussa helped negotiate the payments to the Flight 103 victims’ families that helped Libya restore diplomatic relations with Western countries. A Libyan intelligence agent, Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi, was the only person convicted for the attack. He was freed in 2009 by the Scottish government on the grounds that he would die from prostate cancer within months. He returned to Libya to a hero’s welcome and is still alive.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said March 31 the Lockerbie case “is still open” and Scottish authorities, who’ve asked to interview Koussa, are “entirely independent” of the national government. He said Koussa hadn’t been offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for coming to Britain.
Families of the UTA bombing victims called yesterday for Koussa to be interviewed by Paris counter-terrorism magistrates.
Jean-Louis Bruguiere, a French investigator, questioned Koussa for seven hours in Tripoli in 1996, and determined that Congolese dissidents, hired by Libyan intelligence, smuggled the bomb onto the plane. Six Libyans were tried in absentia by a Paris court and convicted in 1999. Libya settled with France in 2008.
“After seven hours of muscular questioning, we concluded we didn’t have the grounds to pursue him,” Bruguiere said of Koussa in an interview this week. “I’m sure he was aware of things, but I concluded I couldn’t prove that he was directly involved. I put some tough questions to him, he defended himself well.”
Disclosing details of the Lockerbie plot would be “suicide,” said Bob Ayers, a 30-year veteran of U.S. intelligence services who debriefed defectors in South Korea and now works as an international security consultant. Koussa will be calculating “how much do I have to tell you to be able to stay here” without getting into trouble, Ayers said.
Koussa may help locate assets Qaddafi has stashed abroad and may be using to pay supporters and mercenaries, said Levitt, now a counterterrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies.
“He knows where key installations are, how stressed Qaddafi is, where his accounts are abroad, and how Qaddafi might be trying to get gold out of Libya to convert it to money,” Levitt said.
He’ll also have collected significant intelligence about Islamic extremists in eastern Libya, the stronghold of the rebels fighting Qaddafi, Levitt said.
The allies can’t assume Moussa will be truthful, said Geoffrey Robinson, a British lawyer and former president of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which tried former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes.
“He’s a man of infinite treachery and we can’t trust his words,” Robinson said in a BBC interview. “The idea he’s spilling the beans, I think, needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.”
Libyan television said Koussa was a very ill man, and said he’d been allowed to leave for Tunisia for medical care.
Koussa’s arrival isn’t necessarily a sign that Qaddafi is ready to leave for another country, Riedel said.
“Cooler minds and perhaps more sane minds are deserting the ship because they can see the ‘great leader’ and his sons are determined to fight it out, probably to their own death,” Riedel said.