Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

British SAS rescue planes fired on during Libya airlift mission

Planes carrying rescued oil workers from the Libyan desert in an SAS rescue mission were hit by gunfire, according to the Ministry of Defence.

Special Forces using RAF Hercules transporters picked up hundreds of civilians, many from the UK, from a number of remote landing strips amid fast-deteriorating security conditions.

The news came as Prime Minister David Cameron urged Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to “go now” as the UK imposed sanctions in an effort to force him from power.

Speaking from Downing Street, the Prime Minister also said he was “delighted” at the success of a second Special Forces-led operation to rescue oil workers stuck in the remote Libyan desert.

The UK, in line with a United Nations Security Council resolution, has frozen the assets of Gaddafi and his family and barred them from entering the UK.

Mr Cameron said: “All of this sends a clear message to this regime: it is time for Colonel Gaddafi to go and to go now. There is no future for Libya that includes him.”

Workers rescued in the SAS-led operation deep in the North African state were met by Red Cross staff and put up in Maltese hotels.

The Ministry of Defence revealed that one of the aircraft involved in the rescue mission appeared to have been struck by gun fire during the operation.

“We can confirm that during the operation to recover civilians from the Libyan desert, one of our C130 aircraft appears to have suffered minor damage consistent with small arms fire,” a spokesman said.

“There were no injuries to passengers or crew and the aircraft returned safely to Malta. This incident shows how challenging the operating environment has been for our forces in assisting the evacuation efforts.”

Oil worker Mike O'Donoghue (62), from Bridlington, East Yorkshire, said he was grateful for the rescue efforts.

He said: “My heart and hand goes out to them. They are the best in the world and they make it look so easy, like all good professionals.”

Mr O'Donoghue said he and his colleagues received a phone call from the Foreign Office days before the operation saying progress was being made to evacuate them.

Days ago, he said, they were robbed by local militia toting guns and knives and stealing vehicles from their compound in the southern area of Libya.

Even as they boarded their flight out of the country, criminals armed with machetes tried to attack their aircraft.

He said: “The Foreign Office arranged for us to be transferred to a suitable location which we can't talk about.

“We were evacuated to that place and taken to Malta.”

Asked to describe his feelings towards his rescuers, he said: “They were magic people, perhaps the best in the world.

“We owe our lives to them. They were certainly risking theirs.”

The Republic played a key role in yesterday’s multinational evacuation efforts from Tripoli.

Yesterday morning, an Irish government jet transported a joint |EU consular team into Tripoli airport where it remained on the ground until after nightfall to act as the co-ordination hub for the operation.

During the course of the evacuation 16 EU nationals, including three Irish nationals, were safely evacuated.

The aircraft and all members of the team have now returned safely to Malta. A number of additional evacuees were also onboard.

The teams and aircraft remain in place to be used as required as further evacuation flights are planned for today.

Meanwhile, the final Foreign Office-chartered flight from Libya arrived in Britain.

Around 100 people, including 53 Britons, touched down on Saturday night on Flight BUR220 at Gatwick Airport.

Elsewhere, the last group of Britons believed to still be in Libya streamed onto a Royal Navy frigate yesterday, bringing with them stories of looting and lawlessness.

“There's now no law down there,” said Simon Robinson, who had been in charge of one of the rigs. “Gangs are stealing anything they can get their hands on.

“I had a vehicle stolen directly off me. Three guys appeared with AK-47s. I know exactly which kind of gun it was as I can remember reading the small print on the barrel when one was pointed at me.”

What now?

Hillary Clinton was last night flying to Geneva for talks to further co-ordinate the international response to the crisis in Libya. Washington is now considering including a “no-fly” zone over Libya. The UN Security Council on Saturday unanimously imposed “biting sanctions” including travel bans and asset freezes on Gaddafi and his family. The resolution adopted by the 15-nation council also called for the immediate referral of the crackdown to the International Criminal Court.

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