Belfast Telegraph

Gaddafi's end marks start of fight for truth

Campaigners believe Tripoli's interim government will honour compensation payments to victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism. But they may have to join the queue, says Alan Murray

What happens in Libya in the coming weeks and the speed at which it happens will determine when Colonel Gaddafi's terror victims in Northern Ireland will receive compensation for the injuries his supplied munitions inflicted on them.

Whether at the hands of the Red Brigades, small Islamic terror-groups, or the IRA, many ordinary people suffered grievously from the toppled dictator's thirst for revenge for the actions of Britain and the US in the bombing of his fortified compounds and other targets.

At least 100 people were killed when 66 American jets, some of them flying from UK bases, targeted Tripoli and the Benghazi region in April 1986.

President Ronald Reagan justified the attacks by accusing Libya of direct responsibility for terrorist attacks aimed at the US, or places frequented by Americans, like the La Belle discotheque in West Berlin.

Among those killed in the 1986 attack on Gaddafi's residential compound was his adopted baby daughter, Hanna.

From then on, Gaddafi plotted to exact a cruel revenge against British and American citizens, including the Lockerbie Pan Am atrocity, and by supplying the IRA with more weapons than it could ever use.

But in the hands of the IRA, the weapons which Muammar Gaddafi provided were used to kill and injure scores - if not hundreds - of people in Northern Ireland and Britain.

Semtex explosive provided by Gaddafi enabled the IRA to construct small but deadly bombs which ripped through vehicles and shredded their intended targets, or were used to trigger large quantities of fertiliser-based explosives. The crates of AK47 assault rifles gave the IRA a limitless supply of weapons to arm and rearm their so-called active service units.

With an estimated $12bn (£7.4bn) worth of assets frozen in the UK and a further $20bn (£12.3bn) in the US, the colonel's victims should be set fair for appropriate compensation awards.

But with public-sector workers in Libya going unpaid for four months and the purchase of medicines and other vital materials, not least food, urgently needed, those justifiably seeking compensation may have to join a queue.

The nightmare of having to judiciously administer and release the Libyan people's assets will test the international powers which are now hovering over the country to both help the Libyan people and gobble up the business which will be generated by the modernising of the nation's significant oil-fields.

There have already been calls for America, Britain and Italy to release some of the billions held in frozen assets to allow the National Transitional Council (NTC) to begin the task of restoring normal life in the strife-torn country.

Reports have suggested that many public servants haven't been paid for four months, others for three, in different parts of Libya where the fighting has been particularly intense and disruptive.

Medical supplies are needed; food, too. And, of course, the remnants of Colonel Gaddafi's militias remain active in some parts of the country.

Honouring commitments to pay compensation to victims of Libyan-funded terror campaigns will be a little way down the priority list for the NTC just now.

But DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who has been closely involved in the quest to secure rightful compensation for the injuries sustained in Gaddafi's global terror offensive, remains optimistic that the objective will be achieved within a reasonable timeframe.

"We have a memorandum of understanding signed by the National Transitional Council and we are satisfied that that commitment will be honoured.

"The new Libyan government will have many priorities, which it will have to deal with immediately, which will involve using some of the frozen assets in the USA and the UK.

"We will press through our legal team and at a political level for an early settlement of the compensation claims, but, as to the timeframe, nobody can be clear about that," Mr Donaldson added.

Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott has raised the other side of the coin to the compensation one, urging David Cameron to seek the murky details of who within the terrorist fraternity, here and beyond, dealt with the Gaddafi regime.

The debriefing of Gaddafi's closest aides would undoubtedly yield disclosures which would relate to IRA figures - some dead, some very much alive - who were keen to seize the opportunity to avail of his offer of arms.

"This may be inconvenient, or uncomfortable, for some senior figures in the Northern Ireland political scene, but surely this is the very essence of the type of truth-recovery process that certain people here have long called for," said Mr Elliott.

The Foreign Office, through MI6, one presumes, already knows the essence of these details and, for understandable tactical intelligence reasons, has not been inclined to divulge what it knows to protect hugely important sources close to the regime.

But with Gaddafi's regime gone, the opportunity to release that information through the cover of 'recently uncovered documents in Libya', or some other convenient euphemism, may soon present itself.

The unravelling of Muammar Gaddafi's financial and terrorist dealings are of considerable interest for many of those touched by terrorism in Northern Ireland since the mid-1980s when the Colonel's weapons consignments were first hauled up secluded beaches by the IRA.

The battle for compensation and truth-recovery is only just beginning.

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