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Apology sought for Libyans' victims

Published 15/05/2015

CCTV footage shows the two Libyan men on the streets of Cambridge. Moktar Ali Saad Mahmoud, circled in green, and Ibrahim Abugtila, circled in red, have been convicted of raping a man (Cambridgeshire Police/PA Wire)
CCTV footage shows the two Libyan men on the streets of Cambridge. Moktar Ali Saad Mahmoud, circled in green, and Ibrahim Abugtila, circled in red, have been convicted of raping a man (Cambridgeshire Police/PA Wire)

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has been urged to make a public apology to the victims of Libyan soldiers brought to the UK for training with the British Army, who carried out a string of horrific sex attacks on locals.

Moktar Ali Saad Mahmoud, 33, and Ibrahim Abugtila, 23, were both jailed for 12 years today after acting like "hunting dogs" as they raped a man in central Cambridge last year.

Their jail terms for the brutal attack followed the jailing on Wednesday of three other cadets who attacked women in the city on the same night, October 26.

They were arrested while undergoing training at Bassingbourn Barracks in Cambridgeshire as part of an agreement by the British Government to help war-torn Libya after the 2011 collapse of Muammar Gaddafi's regime, a scheme that was later scrapped.

Lewis Herbert, the Labour leader of Cambridge City Council, described the attacks as "horrific and avoidable" today, saying: "The least the victims and their families deserve is for the Secretary of State for Defence to issue a public apology.

"They also deserve a clear promise from the Ministry of Defence that it will not repeat the multiple, catastrophic errors in any future programmes for UK training of overseas troops from war-torn countries, whichever UK barracks or location is used.

"Never again should the Ministry of Defence keep details of troop visits secret from communities affected like Cambridge. Never again should the MoD carefully produce a risk assessment requiring all visits to 'places of local interest' to be escorted and then, as occurred in August 2015, flagrantly break it and allow totally unsupervised visits to cities like Cambridge, putting our people or other British citizens at risk."

The arrests coincided with other concerns over the conduct of Libyan cadets training at the base following a "collapse of discipline". The incidents prompted the Ministry of Defence to send 300 soldiers back to their home country prematurely, ending an agreement to put 2,000 soldiers through basic infantry and junior command training in an attempt to help rebuild the troubled nation.

Mr Fallon told Parliament there were "things we could have done better" and he admitted regrets over the way it was handled.

Mahmoud and Abugtila denied attacking the drunk man but were caught on CCTV leading him to the park after meeting him after a night out.

They were found guilty of raping and aiding and abetting the rape of the man, by a jury at Cambridge Crown Court.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told police: "I cannot believe what I'm saying, they raped me. It was horrible, I feel horrible. Don't say anything to my mum."

The three other Libyan cadets admitted unrelated sex attacks and were sentenced at Norwich Crown Court on May 13, but this could not be reported until the other case was concluded.

Khaled El Azibi, 19, admitted two counts of sexual assault and the theft of a bicycle, and was jailed for 12 months and put on the sex offenders' register for 10 years.

Naji El Maarfi, 21, admitted three counts of sexual assault, one count of exposure and the theft of a bicycle. He was jailed for 10 months and put on the sex offenders' register for 10 years.

Mohammed Abdalsalam, 28, admitted two counts of sexual assault, one count of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour and the theft of a bicycle. He was jailed for 10 months and put on the sex offenders' register for 10 years.

In these cases the group accosted women in Cambridge city centre, Cambridgeshire Police said.

The victims were all teenagers and the attacks included trying to kiss a woman without consent and then sexually assaulting her. El Maarfi exposed himself to one of the women.

Peter Robinson, chairman of Bassingbourn Parish Council, said concerns of villagers living near the Army base about the Libyan troops' lack of discipline and poor behaviour at the barracks had been dismissed as unfounded nimbyism.

He said: "Our concerns were dismissed from the start - they were determined this was going ahead and we were treated like hysterical locals.

"Now, sadly, our concerns have been completely vindicated - it's just a shame it had to happen in such a terrible way."

An MoD spokesman said: "As we have previously made clear, we condemn the incidents that took place in Cambridge and Bassingbourn.

"Following the conclusion of the training the Prime Minister tasked the MoD with producing a report on the programme and the Defence Secretary has now presented its findings to the House of Commons.

"We accept that communication with the local authorities and community was not good enough and we are now carefully considering how best to implement the report's recommendations. We have been clear that this training will not be repeated at Bassingbourn."

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