The Imam Musa Sadr, Sheik Mohammad Yaacoub, and journalist Abbas Badreddine case, like the Tell Tale Heart in Edgar Allen’s Poe novel, will not stop crying out for justice despite more than three decades of political efforts to close the file.
Recent visits to Egypt and Libya as well as common knowledge here in Lebanon, make plain that there is still much interest in finally solving this mystery. But while the fall of the Gadaffi regime initially led to much speculation that the Sadr-Yaacoub case would finally be solved new factor’s including Egyptian-Libya-Lebanese economics and political relations, among other factors are slowing the investigation.
Against this backdrop comes the most recent speculation about the Lebanese trio’s fate, this time from Kuwaits Al Rai newspaper. Without revealing its claimed source for the sensational story, which has been denied by former Gaddafi operatives in both Cairo and Tripoli, including investigators at the Libyan Justice and Interior ministries, Al Rai weaves a most improbable story, that Sunni Palestinians murdered the Shia delegation.
At first glance the tale does lead one to at least take notice because for years, Libyan intelligence was closely involved with Abu Nidal and funded his “Fatah: The Revolutionary Council”, commonly known as the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO).
Following the US bombing of Gadaffi’s residence on April 15, 1986, when U.S. warplanes launched a series of bombing raids from British bases against Tripoli and Benghazi, killing 45 Libyan soldiers and 15 civilians in claimed retaliation for the bombing, ten days earlier, of a Berlin nightclub used by U.S. service personnel, that relationship solidified fast, with Abu Nidal becoming the recently appointed head of Libyan intelligence, Abdullah Senussi’s “favorite mercenary.”
In June of 1986 this observers visited Abu Nidal’s office which was being set up in an apartment building four blocks from Green Square. The visit was arranged by former Libyan Ambassador Omar el Hamdi now laying low in Cairo. Omar served as Secretary-General of the Sennusi-created “International Secretariat For Solidarity With The Arab People And Their Central Cause Palestine” on which this observer served five years as North American Representative while working at the US Congress.
The ANO, along with other Palestinian “radical-rejectionist” groups, who favored armed struggle over what they considered, fake negotiations with the Occupiers of Palestine, had a representative on the International Secretariat so we were welcomed to their new office. While the seriously paranoid Abu Nidal was “not available” at the time, we visited with three of his taciturn aids as they unpacked cardboard boxes containing office and kitchen supplies.
Again with Omar, this observer visited the bomb site which included Gaddafi’s private residence. After viewing the canisters of 14 CBU/58 A/B cluster bombs that the US dropped on Gadaffi’s Bab al-Azizia (The Splendid Gate) compound we were shown damaged home including his bedroom with its huge heart shaped bed with silk sheets, his, also huge, bathroom with gold fixtures and a large bathtub as well as his bedside safe where he kept cash, a pearl handled pistol, and a stash of drugs.
Two of Gaddafi’s biological children were injured. Gaddafi himself was reportedly so shocked he was unable to appear in public for two days, but he did survive, to the dismay of the United States government. The story released by Gaddafi that Hanna Gaddafi, a baby girl who he and his wife adopted, was killed by the American attack was false. This observer met Dr. Hanna Gaddafi in Tripoli during July of 2011. She is very much alive, appeared fine and is no doubt a skilled pediatrician which she discretely trained for in Europe. Unlike her older sister Aisha, Hanna seems nearly oblivious to politics and is devoted to her patients.
As explained to this observer by one former Libyan official with detailed knowledge of what Abu Nidal did for the Gaddafi regime, shortly after the bombing of his home, they plotted revenge and more than one Palestinian faction was invited to Tripoli by Senussi. Guests were booked into the Grand Hotel near Green Square for consultations. Several projects were reportedly discussed and groups were judged and rewarded depending on their success.
In early June, 1986, Abu Nidal started his move from Syria to Libya. Some of the initial ANO projects included the murder of two British school teachers, Leigh Douglas and Philip Padfield, plus an American, Peter Kilburn who was kidnapped in Lebanon by Abu Nidal associates. Their bodies were found in a village east of Beirut on April 17, 1986. While not made public before, this date was chosen, according to a former Gadaffi official now in Cairo, to send a message from Gadaffi to Reagan. It was three years to the day following the bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut on April 17, 1983.
Ironically, on that day, this observer was in Athens, Greece with Omar el Hamdi and thirty or so delegates from the International Secretariat including two from the ANO. One of the 63 victims of the Embassy bombing was Janet Lee Stevens, an American journalist and brilliant advocate for the liberation of Palestine with whom this observer had spoken the night before. British journalist John McCarthy was kidnapped the same day and another British journalist Alec Collett, kidnapped in Beirut on March 25, 1986, was hanged by Abu Nidal operatives in response to the Tripoli bombing. And that was just the beginning. Pan Am 103 (the ANO’s only direct role in the Pan Am operation was to put together the bomb, a skill they excelled in) while Senussi’s contractors did the rest.
So why should we not credit the Kuwaiti story?
The above noted brief history of what we know about Abu Nidal in Libya suggests to this observer that either Senussi did not make a statement blaming Palestinians or that he made it because he wanted to mislead his interrogators. Senussi doubted that the Lebanese delegation that interviewed him in Mauritania was serious. He also knows that some current Lebanese officials, despite public assurances, are not all that eager to have the Musa Sadr mystery solved just now. On the other hand, while the Libyans want to close the file they do not have all the details of what happened, which makes them play around with the issue.
Moreover, Abu Nidal was not based in Tripoli until 1986 whereas Sennusi supposedly stated that Musa Sadr was handed over to him in 1981. Granted, while Gaddafi later wanted Abu Nidal’s uniquely psychopathic brilliance to carry out a number of operations abroad, he did not need him to eliminate Musa Sadr who was in Tripoli where many regime operatives were available to carry out his commands. Removing Musa Sadr and Mohammad Yaacoub could also have been done in Lebanon. Both commonly rode together driving their own vehicles without security, unthinkable for some Shia leaders these days in Lebanon.
In addition, on the 13th of this month, Political Adviser of the First Deputy of the National Conference for the Libyan Opposition, Khaled al-Tarjaman, told reporter, Salama Abdellatif, that Musa Sadr was indeed murdered, that Libya has the killers (Abu Nidal died 11 years ago) and that they are alive and in prison. He claims that the killers” are former Libyan officials and symbols of the Gaddafi regime.”
If Senussi did not make the claimed statements why did the newspaper publish this hoax? Sources in Libya speculate that it is because Kuwait has joined the intensifying regional project of fomenting conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims and having a Sunni Palestinian fingered as the murderer of a Shia Imam and a Shia Sheik would create more tension. Given all his current problems, why would Senussi want to be part of this scheme? His era in Libya was essentially free of Shia-Sunni conflict, which only now, in post-Gadaffi Libya, is being exploited.
There are a few dozen ex-Gaddafi officials still around who know the truth about the Sadr-Yaacoub-Badr-Eddine case but the pool is drying up. One, who has been silenced, at least for now, is Ahmad Qaddafi al-Dam, a cousin of Moamar who was an intelligence official close to Senussi and Gaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, now in prison in Zintan, Libya. As part of a deal, Egyptian prosecutor Talaat Abdallah also ordered the arrest of former Libyan ambassador Ali Maria and Mohammed Ibrahim, the brother of senior Gaddafi-era official Ahmed Ibrahim,. All were detained in Cairo on March 19 and turned over to Interpol.
Among a list of 40 Gaddafi era Libya officials being hunted with Interpol Red Notices, Al-Dam is considered a national hero who participated in Egypt’s 1973 war against Israel, and is also a confident of Sabri Shadi, the right hand man of Senussi who is currently in Lebanon having been picked up at Beirut airport on an Interpol Red Notice warrant. During this past week, the billionaire Mr. Shadi reportedly spread around $ 4.5 million to certain individuals in order to get moved from a dank underground cell to a hospital. The Lebanese government officially denies any knowledge of Shadi being in Lebanon. The same source who has direct knowledge of the matter claims that there is another $5 million offer from someone in Lebanon in exchange for Shadi not being handed over to the Libyans. For some in Lebanon it’s a win-win situation — big bucks and Shadi’s silence about the history of this mystery and who in Lebanon was involved. On 3/27/13, upping the ante from the earlier 40 names, a Libyan intelligence delegation visited Cairo and submitted to the Egyptian government another list of 88 names of ex-Gadaffi associates who Libya wants without further delay.
The Libyan regime also wants Mr. Shadi bad but will likely reject the offer to exchange him for complete access Libya’s Sadr/Yaacoub files and a free hand with interviewing Senussi and seven others. The latest offer also reportedly includes a demand for proof positive regarding DNA and cooperation with an American team that wants exhumation near Sabha and to allow a Japanese team to work there and for body samples to be given to the custody of a British laboratory for DNA testing.
Libya’s enhanced ability to retrieve former Gaddafi officials has caused a near panic in Cairo among former powerful Gaddafi associates who thought their bribes and their long history of working with Egyptian officials would protect them. To their dismay, they are discovering that the protection many bought and paid for has become unreliable because most of their former friends no longer occupy the posts they did under Mubarak. In addition, Libya has started using its new oil money to encourage governments to hand them over. This month they “bought” four Gadaffi associates and submitted a list to the Morsi government for 40 more including all who have NATO Red Notices against them. These days Cairo is witnessing preparations by many Libyans to seek refuge elsewhere. To secure Mr. Gaddafi Al-Dam, Libya made deposits in Egypt’s Central Bank exceeding $2 billion. They did something similar to retrieve Abdullah Senussi from Mauritania, and former Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoudi from Tunisia and the process is just getting underway.
The Lebanese and Libyan governments appear not to be following up the Musa Sadr case and the families have been left on their own to get to the truth of this case.
During meetings with representatives of Libya’s Justice and Interior ministries, it was learned that the Libyan government did not allow the Lebanese delegation to ask probative questions for the reason that they feared Senussi would divulge information about the involvement of current Libyan officials in the disappearance of the Sadr delegation. Several months ago Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf who is currently the President of the General National Congress and in this role is effectively Libya’s de facto head of state was asked publicly if his government would allow the Lebanese delegation to participate in the re-questioning of Senussi in private. Magariaf tersely replied La! (Arabic for No!) Because he fears that Senussi will reveal something about Lebanon, while refusing further comment.
Once again the Sadr-Yaacoub-Badreddine file has been returned to the political bazaar with the two governments most concerned with the case appearing unwilling to act. The families hold varying views of the fate of their loved one. During a recent visit to Libya this observer crossed paths in the lobby of the Radisson Hotel with Dr. Ali Yacoub, who continues to investigate the case. His father, Sheik Mohammad Yacoub is only 67 years old and hope remains that Imam Musa Sadr and Abbas Badreddine may be alive. Despite the passage of time and the many false reports about the case, DNA testing with the full cooperation of Libyan officials will expedite this overdue process.
Meanwhile, trying to involve Palestinians in the disappearance of the revered Lebanese trio, simply because they are an easy target these days and are trying to stay on the sidelines of the Sunni-Shia strife is a disservice to every Palestinian everywhere. And it sidetracks the pursuit of truth and justice for the Musa Sadr case which is in need of more cooperation from all concerned.
Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and Syria and can be reached c/o firstname.lastname@example.org