Belfast Telegraph

Gaddafi may not have taken all his secrets to the grave

The death of the dictator may persuade former aides to reveal what they know about his IRA links, says Alan Murray

The end of Colonel Gaddafi in Sirte yesterday may not signal the final act in the conflict that has engulfed Libya for eight months.

It does, however, signal the indisputable end of his brutal regime and any prospect of it staging a significant insurgency against the oil-rich country's new rulers.

For the victims of terror in the UK, terror fuelled by Gaddafi's support for the IRA, it will hopefully mean that compensation for the loss of their loved-ones or their own injuries will now be processed.

First reports yesterday, suggesting that Colonel Gaddafi, who ruled with an iron fist, had survived following a skirmish, prompted the prospect of a war crimes' tribunal at the International Criminal Court at the Hague and the possible disclosing from his own lips the channels he used to fund the IRA and other groups over a 20-year period.

The confirmation of his death rendered that prospect redundant, so to the grave Gaddafi will take some secrets that will never be fully known.

But his death will also help free tongues within and without his camp, kept silent by the threat of savage retribution. When American fighter-bombers left from UK airbases to attack Tripoli and Benghazi in April 1986, Gaddafi swore revenge on both the US and Britain. And he delivered his vengeful retribution to the UK through the willing hands of the IRA.

With whom he negotiated the mammoth arms shipments has remained a guarded secret within the Gaddafi regime and the IRA.

The interception of one shipment of 150 tons, including one million bullets, on the Eksund off the French coast in 1987 awakened the Irish authorities to the dreadful reality that four shipments had been ferried to Ireland on earlier journeys from Libya, including more than six tons of semtex explosive.

It was only after 1991, when Gaddafi resumed relations with Britain, that the full extent of his material support to the IRA began to be appreciated in quantative terms.

Bankrupted Bray Travel director Adrian Hopkins was arrested on the Eksund by the French, but the IRA people who gave him his orders and financed his excursions to the Mediterranean were never apprehended.

Hopkins has identified a Libyan intelligence official called Nasser Al-Ashour as someone he met at a safe house in Northern Ireland when the shipments were being planned.

Thomas 'Slab' Murphy and the IRA's then-chief of staff, Kevin McKenna, have been pinpointed as the key terrorist figures who liaised with Al-Ashour over the Libyan weapons shipments.

Others undoubtedly were involved in the operation and there is little doubt that those who served on the IRA's controlling army council would have known something of the secret arrangements.

Some of those involved in earlier contacts with Gaddafi in the 1970s, like Brian Keenan, are now dead, but he was still alive when the contacts were resumed in the 1980s and may have played a key role in facilitating introductions to the then-IRA leadership.

By the time the 1987 Eksund shipment was intercepted, it is suspected that the British security services had become aware of the deadly Gaddafi traffic to Ireland from an agent at a senior level in the IRA.

Nevertheless, the middle-men who played other roles, like setting up contacts again for the IRA with Gaddafi's agents and arranging meetings here and abroad to set up the deadly supply line and banking any cash his regime gave to the IRA, remain publicly unmasked.

Gaddafi may never have named them in public at a war crimes tribunal, but he did know who they were, or at least who among his aides knew who they were.

His death may loosen those tongues and allow the Western intelligence agencies to fill in some of the blanks that have eluded them for more than 20 years.

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