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Libyan terrorism: the case against Gaddafi.

FREEDOM fighter or terrorist? Prophet or common criminal? The recently imposed United Nations sanctions against Libya again focus attention on an issue which has troubled the world for more than two decades. The evidence implicating the Gaddafi government in the bombings of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 and a UTA DC-10 in 1989 is extensive albeit not conclusive. At the same time, there is considerable reason to believe the Libyan government has been a consistent supporter of state-sponsored terrorism for more than two decades. Equally important, there is little evidence today of any real change in the policies it has single-mindedly pursued since coming to power in 1969.

Evidence of anti-Western feeling surfaced in Libya in the 1960s, but the revolutionary government led by Muammar Gaddafi was the first to develop and articulate an Arab nationalist ideology. From the outset, Gaddafi was the Arab nationalist par excellence preaching a radical, uncompromising form of Arab nationalism which glorified Arab history and culture. Libya became the heart, the vanguard, and the hope of the Arab nation and thus the custodian of Arab nationalism.

Gaddafi soon developed a theoretical foundation for his version of Arab nationalism which he called the Third Universal Theory. In effect, this was an attempt to develop a practical alternative to communism and capitalism which Gaddafi found unsuitable to the Arab environment. He based his global theory on the twin pillars of nationalism and religion which he argued were the paramount drives moving history and mankind. Since Arab nationalism had especially deep roots in the ancient past, Gaddafi concluded that it was the duty of the Arab nation, led by Libya, to convey the Third Universal Theory to the world.

After the 1969 revolution, the Palestinian issue became the focal point for Libyan foreign policy with bilateral and multilateral relations generally defined in terms of how other states approached this question. In rejecting the state of Israel, the revolutionary government was in reality rejecting the prevailing international system. Although Libyan jihad or holy war aimed at a radical solution to the Palestinian question, its broader concern was the establishment of a new world order based on the ideas outlined in the Third Universal Theory.

Given his commitment to Arab nationalism, it is not surprising that Gaddafi endorsed the common Arab viewpoint on the Palestinian issue. He saw jihad as the requisite tool to achieve freedom of action and social justice inside and outside Libya. As to the source of evil, Gaddafi initially viewed communism and capitalism with equal concern; but he later concentrated on capitalism as the most serious threat. He argued frequently that any action, diplomatic, economic, or military, which helped liberate the world from capitalism could rightly be viewed as an integral part of jihad.

Within a year, the revolutionary government of Libya began to give practical expression to this emphasis on holy war. It established a |Jihad Fund' whose stated purpose was to support the armed struggle to liberate usurped Arab territories from Zionist control. It also created an Islamic Call Society to educate and support Muslim missionaries. Within a decade, missionaries trained at the centre were reportedly working in over thirty countries. At the end of the 1970s, the so-called Islamic Legion, partially composed of mercenaries from the Sahel and the Sahara, made its first public appearance. Its official aim was to support the Palestinian struggle together with Islamic movements fighting against oppression. More recently, Gaddafi has formed a shadowy group called the Pan-Arab Command with the declared purpose of combating American influence around the world.

While Gaddafi's concept of jihad found its most practical expression in support for the Palestinian movement, his regime also extended assistance to a wide variety of other organizations engaged in self-styled wars of national liberation. The Libyan government was soon providing material support to a wide range of dissident groups which included minority Muslims in the Philippines, the Irish Republican Army, and militant black groups in the United States. The resulting diplomatic furore eventually led to a reduced public commitment to some of these organizations; however, solid evidence of ongoing support for guerrilla-cum-terrorist groups has continued to accumulate over the years.

In response to the adverse publicity, Gaddafi later attempted to distinguish between terrorism, which he claimed to reject, and revolutionary violence, which he openly advocated. Not surprisingly, these efforts at differentiation were largely unsuccessful as Gaddafi repeatedly blurred the distinctions he hoped to make. When a series of attacks on Libyan dissidents in Europe raised a public outcry, for example, Gaddafi told the General People's Congress in Tripoli that Libya had the right to liquidate any opponent to its revolution in or out of the country. Comparing Libyan dissidents in Europe to members of the Red Army Faction, the Red Brigades, and the Irish Republican Army, he indicated that his government would continue to support such groups as long as European governments protected opponents to his regime.

In the second half of the 1980s, the inconsistencies in the Libyan position on terrorism were increasingly apparent. In the immediate aftermath of the December, 1985 terrorist attacks on the Rome and Vienna airports, for example, Gaddafi repeatedly contradicted himself in terms of both the legality and effectiveness of such actions. In the process, he bluffed beyond recognition any reasonable distinction between the Libyan definitions of terrorism and wars of national liberation. In the following year, the General People's Congress added to the confusion when it announced the creation of suicide commandos to attack the worldwide interests of the United States and Israel. About the same time, the Libyan government hosted an International Conference for Combating Imperialism, Zionism, Racism and Fascism. Meeting in Tripoli, the conference elected Gaddafi leader of the world revolution of progressive forces and called for the creation of an international revolutionary force.

In the spring of 1987, after suffering a humiliating military defeat in Chad, the Libyan government stepped up its support for so-called wars of national liberation. In apparent retaliation for the assistance provided to the Chadian government by France and the United States, the South Pacific region became a new focus for revolutionary support. In an address to a conference on anti-colonialism in the South Pacific, Gaddafi accused the Western nations of turning the region into an area of conflict and strife and called on the revolutionary groups located there to fight for their freedom. At the time, the Libyan government was reportedly providing military or other support to the East Timor Liberation Movement, the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (New Caledonia), and the Free Papua Movement (Irian Jaya) as well as to Muslim guerrillas in the Philippines. Libya also tried in the latter half of the 1980s to establish diplomatic or commercial links with Fiji, Tonga and the Solomon Islands.

Elsewhere in Asia, evidence of Libyan involvement in the domestic affairs of local governments continued to surface. Indonesian army officials charged that 140 rebels from the westernmost province of Aceh had received military training in Libya. The rebels were believed to be members of the Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh), a separatist group that has been campaigning for a Muslim state in Aceh since the mid-1970s. A few months later, the Libyan government denied involvement in a riot by thousands of Shiite Muslims in southern Thailand. It acknowledged that it had granted educational scholarships to Thai Muslims but rejected the more serious charge of providing training in sabotage and terrorism. Most recently, a three-man Libyan team, posing as academics, reportedly held clandestine meetings with the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines.

Elsewhere, the Libyan government provided financial assistance to selected Latin American states in addition to more militant support to a variety of guerrilla organizations in countries like Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. In early 1987, the government of Surinam deported a Libyan diplomat who was allegedly trying to set up a training camp for French Guyanan separatists. At the same time, the Gaddafi regime continued its long-term efforts to undermine the governments of Africa. In recent years, Libya has been implicated in destabilization attempts in Kenya (1987), Benin (1988), Burundi (1989), and Ethiopia (1990).

The United States government in March 1990 renewed charges made in 1988 that Libya was manufacturing chemical weapons at a plant located in the Libyan desert at Rabta. Libya responded that it was fully committed to all international agreements banning the use of chemical weapons and stated that it was ready to co-operate with international initiatives in this direction. The dispute led to a sharp exchange between the United States and West German governments over a claim by the former, which proved true, that West German companies had helped to construct the plant. A West German businessman involved in building the suspected poison gas plant was subsequently sentenced to a five year prison term.

In a bizarre episode, Gaddafi claimed credit in the spring of 1990 for the release by a radical Palestinian group, the Fatah Revolutionary Council or Abu Nidal Group, of three European hostages held for several years. The French press later reported that the hostages had originally been seized by the Libyan navy and that Gaddafi had then asked the Abu Nidal group to claim responsibility. Portraying their release as a humanitarian gesture, Gaddafi warned of more hostage taking if Israel and the Western countries refused to release Arab prisoners. A few weeks later, the United States government accused Libya of direct involvement in an unsuccessful attack on Israel calling it a clear example of state-sponsored terrorism. The Abu Nidal Group later claimed responsibility for the raid.

The Libyan government has also been linked since the early 1970s to alleged attempts to build a nuclear bomb. In the fall of 1991, Libya denied a charge made by the Indian ambassador to the United Nations that it had sought to buy nuclear weapons technology from India in the late 1970s. In turn, the Libyan foreign minister pledged that Libya would not take advantage of the disintegration of the Soviet Union to lure Soviet nuclear scientists to Libya. He added that Libya had no nuclear programme and saw no need for one. In the face of such denials, the Gaddafi regime was reported, less than one month later, to have twice offered jobs to two such nuclear scientists. Reports have continued to surface in Europe and the United States that Libya is offering Soviet nuclear scientists large sums of money to work on a nuclear project near Sirte.

Finally, evidence discovered in 1990 suggests that Libyan intelligence agents could have assembled and planted the bomb which destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In addition, similar techniques and explosives appear to have been used in the 1989 bombing of the UTA DC-10 over Niger. As a result, the United Nations Security Council asked the Libyan government to surrender two Libyan agents thought to have been involved in the Pan Am attack, offer solid proof that it had renounced terrorism, and co-operate in the investigation of the four Libyans suspected of involvement in the bombing of the UTA flight. The Libyan response was an unsatisfactory mixture of bluster, condescension, and guile.

The United Nations then imposed a series of relatively mild sanctions on Libya which included an embargo on arm sales, the suspension of airline travel, and a reduction in Libyan diplomatic personnel stationed abroad. But no action was taken to restrict sales of Libyan oil, the lifeblood of the nation's economy. In consequence, the impact of the present sanctions on the Libyan government remains in doubt as does its total role in both terrorist incidents. As many observers have emphasized, considerable evidence exists to suggest that other states or organizations were also probably involved. In any case, the ongoing investigation, whatever its eventual outcome, should not be allowed to obscure the prolonged participation of the Gaddafi regime in state-sponsored terrorism.

Over the last two decades, the Libyan government has armed, financed, trained, and provided safe haven to members of various dissident, insurgent, and terrorist groups. In so doing, Gaddafi has seldom differentiated between separatist groups, liberation movements, terrorist outfits, and individuals with no real power base or ideology other than self-aggrandizement. It has generally been enough that they opposed the existing international system. Opposition to the current world order remains a cornerstone of contemporary Libyan foreign policy. Until that changes, it will be difficult to place any real credence in the occasional Libyan renunciation of terrorism, terrorist acts, or terrorist activities.

[Ronald Bruce St John is the author of Gaddafi's World Design: Libyan Foreign Policy, 1969-1987 (1987) and the Historical Dictionary of Libya (1991).]
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Author:St. John, Ronald Bruce
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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