Officer investigating Turkish arms smuggling survives assassination attempt – Al Marsad

Libya – The officer charged with investigating last month’s discovery of a boatload of Turkish weapons being smuggled into Libya has survived an attempt to kill him.

A senior security official told Al Marsad that on Sunday four gunmen in a Toyota Sequoia tried to intercept Captain Tariq Zriqait’s car near Suq Al Khamis, between Zliten and Khoms, east of Tripoli, pointing weapons at it.  Zriqait, who is with the customs’ investigation unit in Khoms, lives in Zliten and was on his way home from work when the attack occurred. According to the source, the vehicle belonging to the would-be killers cut in front of his car and blocked his way. Realising what was happening, he swerved right onto farmland where he abandoned the car. Passers-by who saw what had happened then rushed over and provided cover for him until the security forces arrived and took him to safety.

The identity of the attackers is so far unknown but the source said that a link with smuggled arms shipment had not been ruled out.

On 18 December, some 3,000 Turkish-made 9mm Beretta handguns plus other weapons and 2.3 million rounds of ammunition were discovered in two 40-foot containers unloaded the previous day in Khoms port from a vessel, the Antigua-flagged BF Esperanza. It had sailed from Mersin in southern Turkey on November 25 and then to several other Turkish ports before arriving in Khoms with its cargo.

According to documentation seen by Al Marsad, the container with the ammunition was registered as having building materials, while the second was supposed to contain wooden flooring.

The discovery of the smuggled arms resulted in protests to Turkey from the Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and a demand for an explanation from the head of the Tripoli-based Presidency Council, Fayez Sarraj. The LNA leadership called on the UN Security Council and the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to condemn Turkey over the smuggling and asked for an immediate investigation into the support for all terrorist organizations in the country.

In response, UNSMIL said that reports of weapons shipment were “extremely disconcerting” and that it expected the UN’s Panel of Experts to look into the matter.

On 22 December, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu flew into Tripoli for talks on the matter, reportedly at the request of the PC’s foreign minister Mohamed Siala. The Turkish minister and insisted that his government was not responsible for what had happened. Weapons smuggling did “not represent the policy or approach of the Turkish state”, Cavusoglu insisted. He and the PC agreed to set up a joint Libya-Turkish investigation into the matter.

It is this investigation that Zriqait is involved in.

The Khoms shipment is not the first case of armaments being allegedly smuggled from Turkey to Libya.

Exactly a year ago, a Tanzanian-flagged vessel, the Andromeda, arrested and held at the port of Iraklion on Crete after 29 containers with 410 tonnes of explosives were discovered being shipped to Libya.  The vessel, described by the Greek officer who discovered the cargo as a “ticking time bomb”, was stopped after a tip-off to the Greek authorities.  The explosives had been loaded at Mersin and had originally been registered as destined for Ethiopia, but the destination was subsequently changed by the ship’s Greek owner to Misrata.