Tag Archives: Libya civil war

Favorite of the West: Niger as Police State

Niger Soluxe hotel

Niger, a poverty-stricken nation perched on the southern belt of the Sahara, is rapidly being transformed into one of the world’s most strategic security hubs….“This place is a nest of spies,” said one contractor … “Below the radar, it’s become a key country for the West.”  A surge in financial assistance from European nations seeking to stem the flow of African migrants has made Niger the world’s largest per capita recipient of European Union aid…Western military forces operate from at least nine bases in Niger, government officials said…. The U.S. is finishing a large air base in Agadez, while the Central Intelligence Agency has begun flying armed drones from an airstrip outside the northern town of Dirkou, Nigerien officials said.

U.S. and European policy makers praise the government as a good partner that has welcomed foreign military personnel and slashed the migrant flow by almost 90% from 2015 highs. …Locals, nongovernmental organizations and opposition activists say the government is using international backing to neutralize dissent and embezzle millions of dollars in aid, charges the government denies. The opposition—backed by rights group Amnesty International—says President Mahamadou Idriss Issoufou, in power since 2011, is arbitrarily jailing activists and spending Western aid on bolstering his elite Presidential Guard…

Swaths of the nation’s centuries-old transportation economy—the movement of people and goods from West Africa through the Sahara—has essentially been criminalized by the EU crackdown on migration.  Some of the desert-dwelling Tuareg people, who have transported goods for centuries, are now smuggling weapons, men and money for cash-rich jihadist insurgencies. Migrants are dying in the desert in failed attempts to find new routes.

“The West is pleased because Niger’s government is a willing partner,but as Niger’s security chief, Mohammed Bazoum, says “We have become a hinge country, a geostrategic hub, but it is a disaster for us. We are known as a land of terrorism and migrant traffic.”

Across Niger’s western border with Mali, jihadist groups including Islamic State and al Qaeda franchises control stretches of territory around the northern city of Gao. Along the southern frontier with Nigeria, a rejuvenated Boko Haram is mounting intensifying attacks against security forces, including around the city of Diffa, where the U.S. has dozens of troops stationed. To the north lies Libya, which has become a hotbed of instability, weapons and radicalization.

The European Development Fund last year awarded $1 billion to Niger through 2020, and unusually for a country governance watchdogs deem chronically corrupt, 75% is now infused directly into the Nigerien budget instead of through nongovernmental organizations.The money funds hundreds of off-road vehicles, motorcycles and satellite phones for Nigerien security forces as well as new infrastructure and technology along the borders and countrywide development programs.

In Niamey’s central Plateau district, tall black screens block the soaring new U.S. Embassy headquarters, which will be one of the largest in West Africa. Saudi Arabia has broken ground on its own huge mission, while buildings belonging to EU agencies occupy whole city blocks. Hotels and conference centers are rising in tandem, reconfiguring the economic and political landscape of a nation ranked the world’s second-poorest behind the Central African Republic.

The government says the building boom is creating jobs. Locals say it has stoked runaway inflation and priced them out of their neighborhoods. In the past year, the cost of a kilogram of rice has risen 29%, sending shock waves through homes where the average wage is $2.66 a day.

“The cost to live here rises with each new European coming,” lamented Abdulraham Mamoudou, repairing his motor scooter on a dusty corner near the expanding U.S. Embassy compound.

A similar pattern is playing out further north in the smuggling hub of Agadez, where the EU-coordinated migration crackdown has transformed a boomtown into a simmering bust.  The city’s jails are bursting with men who have been convicted of smuggling. Vast depots on the town’s outskirts house hundreds of trucks confiscated by authorities…“This place is now for the Americans and French,” said Sadiq, a former migrant smuggler who evaded arrest and is now unemployed. “They took our livelihood and don’t give us anything in return.”

Excerpts from ‘A Nest of Spies’: Niger’s Deserts Become Front Line of Fight Against Jihadis, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 12, 2018

How to Profit from Chaos: the case for Libyan oil

The Scoglitti Restaurant blocked by the US Treasury.

On February 26, 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today sanctioned six individuals, 24 entities, and seven vessels pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13726 for threatening the peace, security, or stability of Libya through the illicit production, refining, brokering, sale, purchase, or export of Libyan oil or for being owned or controlled by designated persons.  Oil smuggling undermines Libya’s sovereignty, fuels the black market and contributes to further instability in the region while robbing the population of resources that are rightly theirs.  Illicit exploitation of Libyan oil is condemned by United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) 2146 (2014) as modified by 2362 (2017).  As a result of today’s actions, any property or interest in property of those designated by OFAC within U.S. jurisdiction is blocked.  Additionally, U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with blocked persons, including entities owned or controlled by designated persons.

OFAC designated Darren Debono, Gordon Debono, Rodrick Grech, Fahmi Ben Khalifa, Ahmed Ibrahim Hassan Ahmed Arafa, and Terence Micallef pursuant to E.O. 13726 for their involvement in the smuggling of petroleum products from Libya to Europe.  In 2016, Maltese nationals Darren and Gordon Debono formed an unofficial consortium for illicit fuel smuggling from Zuwarah, Libya, to Malta and Italy in an operation that reportedly earned the group over 30 million eurosLibyan national Fahmi Ben Khalifa managed the Libya side of the fuel smuggling operation, and Maltese national Rodrick Grech transported the Libya-originated fuel to European ports where it was sold using falsified fuel certificates, reportedly forged by Egyptian-Maltese citizen Ahmed Ibrahim Hassan Arafa, to obfuscate the fuel’s origin.  Additionally, Maltese national Terence Micallef operated a Malta-based shell company to sell the smuggled petroleum products in Europe.

The February 26, 2018 Treasury action also targeted 21 companies for being owned or controlled by Darren and Gordon Debono and three additional companies for being involved in the illicit exploitation of crude oil or any other natural resources in Libya, including the illicit production, refining, brokering, sale, purchase, or export of Libyan oil.  [These included]….the Malta-based Scoglitti Restaurant, Marie De Lourdes Company Limited, World Water Fisheries Limited, and Andrea Martina Limited for being owned or controlled by Darren Debono.

Excerpts from Press Release, Treasury Sanctions International Network Smuggling Oil from Libya to Europe, Feb. 26, 2018

A Certain Sort of Absurdity: the repatriation of corpses

Seven months after Libyan forces defeated Islamic State in Sirte, hundreds of bodies of foreign militants are still stored in freezers as authorities negotiate with other governments to decide what to do with them, local officials say.   The corpses have been shipped to Misrata, a city further to the west whose forces led the fight to defeat Islamic State in Sirte in December 2016.

Allowing the bodies to be shipped home to countries such as Tunisia, Sudan and Egypt would be sensitive for the governments involved, wary of acknowledging how many of their citizens left to fight as jihadists in Iraq, Syria and Libya.   “Our team removed hundreds of bodies,” a member of the Misrata organised crime unit dealing with the bodies told Reuters, his face masked to conceal his identity because of security concerns.

“This is the main operation which allows us to preserve the bodies, document and photograph them and collect DNA samples
At the height of its territorial control, [ISIS] attracted recruits from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe to its ranks.   In Tunisia, officials say more than 3,000 citizens left to fight in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

Excerpts from  Hundreds of IS corpses await repatriation from Libya, Reuters, July 24, 2017

How to Destroy a Country: attack the central bank

Libyan Dinar. image from wikipedia

The United Nations condemned a reported attack on an office of Libya’s central bank in the eastern city of Benghazi, calling for an inquiry into the incident that has complicated talks between the country’s warring parties.,,The incident at the bank, which has tried to stay out of the conflict, weakened the Libyan dinar against the dollar on the parallel market. The bank is controlling the country’s vital oil revenues and foreign currency reserves.“The United Nations Support Mission in Libya condemns the reported armed attack against the Central Bank branch in Benghazi, a sovereign symbol of the Libyan State,” it said in a statement…

A Reuters reporter could see damage to the bank building located in the city center, the scene of heavy battles for weeks between eastern government troops and Islamist fighters…Both conflict parties have been fighting for control of the oil producer and appointed separate heads for the central bank which held $109 billion in foreign reserves at the end of June, the last published figure. Experts believe the figure has fallen due to a slump in oil output.  Oil revenues are booked abroad on accounts of a state bank to which only the central bank has access. About half of the currency reserves are held in illiquid or rather exotic assets such as equity stakes from Italy to Bahrain or Chinese bonds.

Excerpt from U.N. condemns attack on Libyan central bank, demands inquiry, Reuters, Friday, 23 January 2015

The Division of Libya

Libya satellite image

Libya’s self-proclaimed prime minister [Omar al-Hassi] has warned that attempts by a rival government in the east to assert control over the oil industry could escalate the political conflict dividing the OPEC member state and force it to break in two.  Libya has had two governments competing for power since August 2014 when a group called Operation Libya Dawn, which opponents say is backed by Islamists, seized Tripoli and forced the elected Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni to flee 1,000 km to a small city near the border with Egypt.

The warning by Omar al-Hassi, prime minister of the rival government, came after Thinni’s government claimed air strikes on Tripoli’s Mitigate airport this week, escalating a confrontation that started with an attack by Libya Dawn on a rival force in Tripoli in July.  The new rulers in the capital are not recognised by the United Nations and world powers but have taken over ministries, oil facilities, airports and much of western and central Libya.

In a step to assert control over the oil industry, Thinni’s government said it had appointed a new chairman of the National Oil Corp. Thinni had initially retained the state oil firm’s previous head, Mustafa Sanallah, but he remains in Tripoli.  The conflict gripping Libya three years after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi poses a legal dilemma for oil traders, who are left wondering who owns Libya’s oil exports, worth more that $10 billion a year. The country sits on Africa’s largest oil reserves…

“There are attempts (by Thinni) to set up an eastern Supreme Court, there are attempts to launch a central bank in the east, there are attempts to establish a separate oil ministry in the east,” said Hassi, who said he was against partition.

Thinni’s government has sought to move heads of state-run institutions to the east as he is recognised by the international community, but he too denies any plans for secession.

But Hassi said Thinni’s government had shown it intended to control oil facilities in the eastern rump state by picking al-Mabrook Bou Seif as new NOC Chairman, since he was from the same tribe as Ibrahim Jathran, a former rebel leader who seized eastern ports for a year to press for regional autonomy.

Struggle over Libya’s oil risks breaking up country -rival PM, Reuters,  Nov. 28, 2014

Minority Rights in Libya: the Berbers

Berber flag. Image from wikipedia

Protesters have shut Libya’s gas export pipeline to Italy, its only customer, demanding more rights for the c, or Berber, minority and depriving the weak government of a major source of income.  The closure worsens turmoil in Libya where Prime Minister Ali Zeidan warned that the government might face budget problems next month after protesters cut oil production to a fraction of its capacity.

The North African country faces anarchy as the government has failed to rein in armed militias and radical Islamists who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but kept their weapons.  Although the closure on Nov. 11, 2013 of the Greenstream pipeline will take several hours to register at the other end, it adds to Italy’s energy headaches after Ukraine halted gas imports from Russia, which could also impact supplies. Italy depends heavily on Russian gas.

Amazigh protesters last month seized the port at the Mellitah complex, some 100 km west of Tripoli, and have already shut down oil exports from there. The oil and gas complex is operated by Libya’s National Oil Corp and Italian energy company Eni.”We tried to convince them not to close the pipeline, but it’s closed now,” Munir Abu Saud, head of the local oil workers’ union, told Reuters…

Tripoli has seen its authority crumbling over its restive regions and fears an exodus of foreign oil companies and investment.  The Amazigh minority in September shut a pipeline feeding gas from Eni’s Wafa field to export facilities at Mellitah. Although this squeezed exports, much of the gas Libya sends to Italy comes from offshore fields.

The Amazigh protesters want their language guaranteed under Libya’s planned new constitution and a bigger say in a committee to be elected to draft the constitution. They say Berbers are treated as second-class citizens in the Arab country.

Excerpt, By Ghaith Shennib and Ulf Laessing, Libyan Berbers shut gas pipeline to Italy, cut major income source, Reuters, Nov. 11, 2013

 

 

 

Where is the Central Bank of Libya?

Central_Bank_of_Libya, photo 2010 from wikipedia

Libyans have become accustomed to chaos in a country flooded with weaponry where militias and tribes call the shots, two years after NATO bombing helped rebels topple Muammar Gaddafi.But the daylight robbery of $55 million from a Central Bank van suggested that Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s cabinet is losing the struggle to provide security and build state institutions.Ten gunmen intercepted the van when it left the airport in Sirte, a former Gaddafi stronghold, snatching the cash flown in from Tripoli for the local central bank branch…

Sirte, a central coastal town near Gaddafi’s birthplace, has escaped the violence rife in cities such as Benghazi in the east, where assassinations and bombings are part of daily life. But the city showcases the lawlessness engulfing postwar Libya after four decades of Gaddafi’s quirky one-man rule.The fledgling army has largely moved out of Sirte, unable to rein in armed bands or the Islamist militants of Ansar al-Sharia which runs training camps nearby, residents say.

Unable to impose security here and in other cities, the government has co-opted former anti-Gaddafi rebels, putting them on the state payroll to guard public buildings or man checkpoints, nominally as part of state security forces.In fact these gunmen report to their own commanders who have their own agendas. Some are close to Islamists like those who briefly grabbed Zeidan from his Tripoli hotel room this month in protest at a U.S. raid to seize an al Qaeda suspect.Other militias pursue tribal interests or smuggle weapons, drugs and anything else that makes money…

[I]nsecurity in the streets is exacerbated by infighting between supporters of Zeidan, a liberal, and his Islamist opponents in the General National Congress, or parliament. “The government is very weak compared with other political forces, criminals and terrorists,” said Libyan political analyst Rami Mussa.

Exploiting the power vacuum, protesters have shut down oil terminals and oilfields around the country. Oil output, the main source for the budget, is down to a fraction of the 1.6 million barrels a day Libya pumped before the uprising against Gaddafi…In the east, disfavored in Gaddafi’s time, tribes and other armed groups demand autonomy and oil wealth. Regional councils have sprung up which want to sell crude bypassing Tripoli.

Excerpt, Central Bank falls victim to Libya’s rampant crime, anarchy, Reuters, Oct. 29, 2013