Musa Kusa, the powerful former Libyan intelligence official dubbed “the envoy of death” for sending hit men around the globe to eliminate opposition figures, now sits in Qatar, a man without a country since he fled Tripoli in March.
But it wasn’t for want of trying that Kusa, who tried to defect to the West in March, ended up under the protection of the gulf state monarchy.
According to fresh details from Washington Post national security columnist David Ignatius, the French and then the British “botched” the attempted defection of Kusa, who was also a key CIA interlocutor in the secret negotiations that led to Moammar Gaddafi’s renunciation of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in 2003.
“The Libyan official had originally planned to defect to France. A French intelligence officer is said to have contacted him on March 10 during a meeting of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A French intelligence official met him again on March 29 at the Royal Garden Hotel in Djerba, Tunisia, and pitched him about defecting, promising residency, financial help and legal immunity,” Ignatius wrote Wednesday in The Post.
“The French plan faltered the next morning after Paris demanded that, as part of the deal, Kusa appear publicly with President Nicolas Sarkozy when he arrived in Paris and denounce Gaddafi. Kusa refused, and initiated frantic contacts with MI6 representatives in London about fleeing there. The British first asked for three days to work out details, but when Kusa said he had to leave immediately, MI6 hammered out the basics in several hours, and the Libyan flew to Farnborough Airport, southwest of London.“
It didn’t go much better in London, Ignatius writes.
“MI6 officers met him at the airport, but his visa paperwork wasn’t ready for several hours. The British weren’t demanding that Kusa publicly renounce Gaddafi, but they weren’t offering him immunity from prosecution, either, in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and 1984 shooting of a British policewoman. His debriefing at a safe house on the southern coast was rocky, in part because of the media frenzy about his defection — with Kusa reading tabloid headlines such as the Daily Mail’s description of him as Gaddafi’s “Fingernail-Puller-in-Chief.”
“When Kusa’s passport was returned to him in mid-April, he promptly left for Qatar, nominally to attend a meeting of the ‘contact group’ opposing Libya,” Ignatius writes. “He hasn’t left Doha since. The defection mishaps have been a ‘laughingstock’ back in Libya and undermined hopes of other recruitments, according to one intelligence source.”
Kusa, who was Gaddafi’s foreign minister, won’t be welcomed by the rebel opposition, I wrote back in March.
He has “too much blood on his hands,” a spokesman for a U.S.-based Libyan human rights group told me.
“He will not be part of any democratic government in the future, that’s a sure thing,” said Omar Khattaly, spokesman for the Libyan Working Group, which has offices in Atlanta, the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Meantime, Ignatius writes, Gaddafi’s intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, has dispatched an emissary to the Obama administration.
“The message is that Gaddafi will give up power and retreat into the desert, while technocrats in his regime work with the [Transitional National Council, the rebel headquarters in Benghazi] to form a transitional government,” Ignatius wrote.
“Senussi, widely feared in Libya, would apparently also withdraw from power. The U.S. response couldn’t be learned.”