UK ‘to offer apology’ to Libyan dissident who was handed over to Gaddafi
Attorney General Jeremy Wright is expected to announce the settlement of a compensation claim by Abdel Hakim Belhaj.
Britain is expected to issue a formal apology to a Libyan dissident who was kidnapped and tortured by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces after an alleged tip-off from UK intelligence.
Abdel Hakim Belhaj, 52, and his wife Fatima Boudchar allege they were returned to Gaddafi’s brutal regime in 2004 through a joint M16-CIA operation linked to Tony Blair’s infamous “deal in the desert” with the Libyan dictator.
Attorney General Jeremy Wright is expected to announce the settlement of Mr Belhaj’s long-running claim for compensation when he delivers the apology in a statement to MPs in the House of Commons.
Ms Boudchar, who was five months pregnant when she and her husband were taken to Libya, will attend Parliament with her son Abderrahim for the announcement.
Her husband, now a politician in Libya, is scheduled to hold a press conference in Istanbul shortly afterwards.
Mr Belhaj was leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, part of the Islamist opposition to Gaddafi who were branded terrorists by the dictator. He fled the country in 2001 and evaded Gaddafi’s agents until his arrest three years later in Thailand.
He spent six years in jail in his native country before Gaddafi fell from power in the Arab Spring of 2011 and claims he was tortured throughout his incarceration. He claims he was questioned by British intelligence officers while in detention.
Ms Boudchar was released just before she gave birth.
Their kidnap in Thailand and rendition to Libya occurred two weeks before then Prime Minister Tony Blair visited the north African state to meet Gaddafi.
The meeting, in Gaddafi’s desert tent, marked a dramatic restoration of ties with the former pariah state following Tripoli’s announcement that it was giving up its weapons of mass destruction programmes and joining the fight against al-Qaida. Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell simultaneously announced a deal for gas exploration rights off the Libyan coast.
Mr Belhaj and his wife have been suing the British government, former foreign secretary Jack Straw, and former head of counter-terrorism at M16 Sir Mark Allen.
They claim MI6 provide key intelligence on their movements which led to their capture and rendition by the US to Libya.
Documents found in the abandoned British embassy and regime offices following the violent overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011 revealed details of UK intelligence links with Libya.
They included a faxed letter from Sir Mark in which he congratulated Gaddafi’s intelligence chief Moussa Koussa on the “safe arrival” of Mr Belhaj, saying that it was “the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over recent years”.
Another Libyan dissident, Sami al-Saadi, who was returned to Tripoli from Hong Kong in a joint British-Libyan operation and jailed for six years, accepted a settlement of £2.2 million in 2012 from the UK government.
But Mr Belhaj has always said that he will drop their case for an apology and an admission of liability by the British government and a nominal sum of £3 – amounting to £1 from each of the defendants in the civil action.