The Case of the Illegal Ukranian Flights from Turkey to Libya – SPECIAL REPORT – Al Marsad

As Jihadi fighters from Idlib in Syria pour into GNA forces, and Erdoğan sends further armored vehicles and weapons to Salah Badi’s militias to fight the LNA, regular secret flights by the Ukranian Air Alliance from Turkey to Misrata with unknown cargo are adding to accusations of illegal shipment of arms and fighters. In this Special Report Al Marsad looks at the evidence and provides details to help connect the dots.

[Libya, 7 June 2019] – The Ukraine Air Alliance (UAA) recently conducted intensive flights between various Turkish airports and Misrata International Airport, with almost daily flights in both directions. The Ukraine Air Alliance (UAA), an airliner that operates cargo and passenger charters, has flown secret flights on Antonov planes to Libya.

The UAA was previously accused by Indonesian authorities in December 2017 of transporting and smuggling weapons to a rebel terrorist movement in the Indonesian archipelago.

The company, according to international registration data seen by Al-Marsad, has a fleet of 10 different cargo planes operating between Europe and Asia. In the Middle East, at least three of these planes, according to available data, operate in airports in Turkey and Israel, and recently conducted unscheduled trips to Libya.

The First Plane: Antonov AN-12-BK

Registration details for Ukraine Air Alliance (UAA) Antonov AN-12-BK, obtained by Al-Marsad, indicate that the plane has not been active since December 2018. However, the UAA Antonov AN-12-BK resumed flights early May 2019; its first flight, UKL4073, outside the Ukrainian People’s Republic, was to Misrata International Airport from Ankara International Airport on 1 June, 2019.

UAA Flight UKL4073 was again scheduled on Monday, 3 June, 2019 to Misrata International Airport. The plane took off to Monastir Habib Bourguiba International Airport (MIR) in the Tunisian Republic. The cargo, in the two flights, was unknown.

Al-Marsad sent an email to the UAA, to inquire about these flights, but did not receive any reply from the Ukrainian airliner.

The Second Plane: Antonov UR-CNT12-BK

The second aircraft is also an Antonov 12 PK with the registration code UR-CNT and has also made flights from Turkish airports to Misrata International Airport since the outbreak of fighting in Tripoli. Some of these flights either lacked scheduled binary codes, or their route tracking pattern could have been disabled.

The last available data for these flights was for a cargo flight that departed from Ankara Esenboğa Airport (ESB), the international airport of the Turkish capital, Ankara, to Misrata International Airport (MRA) on 28 May, 2019. It was an unscheduled flight without a binary code or destination. The plane flew on the same day from Misrata to Monastir Habib Bourguiba International Airport (MIR) in Tunisia.

 

It is noteworthy of mention that the aircraft sometimes flies from Ankara on a route that suggests that it is heading to Tunisia, or one of the southern European countries before, and it then changes its course and heads southward at a 90° angle towards the Mediterranean Sea and approaches Misrata International Airport for landing. At other times, the tracking system is disabled once the plane enters Libyan airspace.

The Third Plane: Antonov AN-12-B

The third plane, Antonov AN-12-B, owned or rented by UAA, with registration code of UR-CGW, has also been flying from Ankara to Misrata. The most recent flight was on 31 May, 2019. The significant point was the scheduling of unnumbered flights for at least five times to Misrata (UKL 4073 and UKL 4074) without specifying the final destination.

What casts doubt on the nature of these flights is that the UAA aircraft technically conceals its route and disables the flight tracking system once it leaves Turkish airspace. However, these devices function properly once it is on its way back to Turkey.

The Ukraine Air Alliance (UAA) plane could be tracked as soon as it entered the Turkish airspace from the south coming from Misrata. Likewise, all these planes follow the same pattern when they turn southwards at an angle of 90 degrees towards their final destination.

Is Turkey Involved?

On May 19, Al-Somoud Militia forces, led by the internationally and US sanctioned Salah Badi, received their consignment of Turkish armored vehicles and weapons which arrived at the Tripoli seaport from the Turkish port of Samsun. Al-Somoud Militia, however, did not report the consignment, whether financially or administratively, to the Tripoli-seated Government of National Accord (GNA).

Video footage and photos published by various Libyan local sources on Facebook showed Ashraf Mami receiving on behalf of Salah Badi, the consignment of Turkish weapons shipment for Al-Somoud Militia. The footage showed some of the BMC Kirpi armored vehicles that were unloaded at the wharfs of the Tripoli seaport. The shipment was then transported to a storage location in Ain Zara where they prepared the newly arrived armored vehicles for engagement on the battle front. Mami represented Badi at the reception for the arrival cargo reception ceremony because he is Salah Badi’s field assistant, in addition to Badi being unable to enter downtown Tripoli due to animosity with other warlords since the intra-militia infighting last September which culminated in his name being added to the UN Sanctions’ list.


Ashraf Mami inside one of the armored vehicles after receiving them for Al-Samoud Militia.

Another warlord, Mohamed Bin Ghuzzi, from the Al-Marsa Militia, was also present at Tripoli seaport to receive the Turkish weapons shipment along with Mami. Bin Ghuzzi’s controversial photo, wearing traditional Libyan clothes, went viral on social media. The two warlords accompanied the Kirpi armored vehicles to an undisclosed location.

Ashraf Mami holds a pistol in front of the armored vehicle and shows behind him Mohammed bin Ghuzzi.

Mami, who is also a clerk in the foreign ministry, fought alongside Salah Badi in the clashes that erupted in Tripoli in September 218. He joined Badi in the Tripoli battle against the Libyan National Army (LNA) on 9 April. Both Salah Badi and Mani are fighting under the banner of the Tripoli-based GNA. This footage shows chronologically Mami’s participation with Badi since the outbreak of the Tripoli battles until he received the armored vehicles’ shipment.

Both Ashraf Mami and Salah Badi were seen on Sunday eating a Ramadan Iftar meal in ​​Ain Zara, south of Tripoli. Mohammed bin Ghuzzi appeared in a meeting with Salah Badi on Monday according to pictures posted by Mami through his personal account on Facebook.

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The Turkish shipment arrived on board a cargo ship flying the Moldovan flag, according to Facebook posts by Salah Badi, the internationally sanctioned leader of the Al-Somoud Militia, on the official page of the battalion, which regularly posts news and media items since the September war.

The shipment included BMC Kirpi armored vehicles, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, high-powered sniper rifles, and ammunition. According to the official Facebook account of the Tajourah Revolutionaries, the shipment contained Turkish military equipment and was delivered to the main pro-GNA militias controlling Tripoli and fighting the LNA, including armed groups loyal to Salah Badi as well as the 33rd Infantry Regiment led by Bashir Khalafallah.

On its official Facebook page, the Al-Somoud Militia documented the shipment through the videos it posted and which showed around 40 BMC Kirpi armored vehicles. The arrival of these Turkish weapons was celebrated by elements of the Al-Somoud Battalion who showed their determination to utilize these armored vehicles to make a qualitative difference on the frontlines and push the LNA to Tarhuna and even to al-Rajma, the location of the headquarters of the General Command of the LNA. The rest of the armed groups also received their share of the Turkish shipment.

The Marsa Militia confirms Turkish shipment arrival.

Real time information obtained from marine traffic website indicated that the vessel, called Amazon, sailed from the northern Black Sea port of Samsun, Turkey. The name of the ship is identical with its data at the point of departure, and when it was docked off the Tripoli seaport.

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When matching the armored vehicles images, they seem identical with the BMC Kirpi, or the Hedgehog in Turkish language. The Kirpi armored vehicle is manufactured by the Turkish armored vehicle manufacturer BMC. Qatar Investment Fund owns 49.9% of the shares of this Turkish company which is also based in the city of Samsun, the city of origin of this shipment.

According to the Nordic Monitor published in 2018, Turkey’s top tank factory, BMC, has been transferred to a Turkish-Qatari private venture. The report revealed that BMC is run by Turkish businessman Ethem Sancak, a member of the governing body of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party.

Ship data from the Marine Traffic website.

 

In the absence of transparent business practices, including competitive bidding, the agreement entitles the new company with the rights to operate Turkey’s national armored tank factory for a period of 25 years. The Qatari Armed Forces via the Qatar Investment Fund owns 49.9% of the BMC shares. According to the same report, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the real owner of BMC whilst Ethem Sancak is just a caretaker of the Turkish president’s business interests.

The Nordic Monitor report also documented the agreement between the State of Qatar and the Republic of Turkey which was presented to the Turkish parliament on December 5, 2018, just three days after Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan delivered a speech at the Turkish Defense Industry Summit held in Ankara, in which he stressed that both public and private sectors would participate in Turkey’s defense industries.


Salah Badi with Ziad Kavo, leader of the militia of the revolutionaries Tripoli of the Ministry of Interior Accord , 20 April 2019

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) strongly criticized weapons shipments to Libya. “You sent arms to Syria and now you are sending them to Libya so that Muslims kill each other. Why? What do you have there? This is a regrettable mistake,” said Kilicdaroglu, addressing the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the political arm of Turkey’s Muslim Brotherhood.

 

Jihadists from Syria and the GNA

Al-Marsad reported on 28 March that the Head of the pro-Government of National Accord Libyan Permanent Mission to the United Nations, Ambassador Elmahdi S. Elmajerbi had dispatched a confidential letter to the GNA Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Siala, regarding a special briefing given by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to the UN Security Council on 21 May at a closed session. The UNSMIL Head, Ghassan Salamé, did not question the credibility of the referred letter as a document, but he questioned the validity of its content and the statements attributed to him.

A copy of Elmajerbi’s letter with reference (7-15-2 000476) from New York to Tripoli dated 22 May was obtained by Al-Marsad, through a senior diplomat, and was confirmed to be fully authentic. Salamé’s briefing that was presented in a closed session was different in some parts from the briefing he presented to the UN Security Council members in the open session according to the content of this document.

Elmajerbi told Siala that Salamé assured the members of the Security Council that the situation in the frontlines at the outskirts of Tripoli has not changed since 4 April, 2019. He told members of the Security Council that many countries were providing weapons to all parties in the conflict without exception in violation of the Libyan arms embargo. Elmajerbi in his letter also said Salamé accused both the GNA and LNA of seeking to recruit mercenary soldiers to fight in their ranks because of the shortage of Libyan fighters.

However, the striking news from New York, as conveyed by Elmajerbi’s letter to Mohamed Siala in Tripoli, was that the UNSMIL Head said that “there was some intelligence on a terrorist group from Idlib, Syria, participating in the fighting,” in reference to GNA forces. UNSMIL, however, denied that its envoy Ghassan Salamé accused a Libyan party of using armed or terrorist groups coming from Idlib, Syria, in Tripoli’s war. Recent Western reports said that the terrorists remnants from Idlib, near the Turkish border, were sought for recruitment to fight with the GNA forces. Some accounts talked about the arrival of some of those terrorists by sea and air from Turkish cities to Tripoli and Misrata.

On the other hand, Elmajerbi informed Siala that the head of UNSMIL told the Security Council members that the parties of the conflict demand unrealistic conditions for any possible ceasefire, and that he called on the Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council to issue a progress report on violations of UN Security Council embargo on arms shipments to Libya.

The National Security and Defense Committee (NSDC) of the Libyan House of Representatives (HOR) called on the Quartet Meeting on Libya, the United Nations, the African Union, the Arab League, and the European Union to take a declared stance against Turkey’s attempts to replicate the Syrian experience in Libya and prevent it from continuing its interference in the internal affairs Libya. The HOR said that Turkey’s involvement threatened regional stability and security, stressing that the LNA is determined to fight and eliminate terrorism, at a time when its soldiers are still being attacked by ISIS fighters in recent weeks since the army advanced towards Tripoli.

According to a statement issued by the NSDC, it confirmed the arrival of terrorists from Al-Nusrat Front from the Syrian city of Idlib to fight alongside the Tripoli militias, and they accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of sending foreign fighters from Syria to Libya.

It is noteworthy that the city of Idlib and its countryside, in addition to part of the countryside of Hama, represent the last strongholds in Syria under the control of terrorist groups, led by Al-Nusra Front—a militant organization on the global terrorism list as well as in the resolutions of the Security Council. Although the areas controlled by Al-Nusra Front were included in “de-escalation zones” deal in Syria which was concluded in the city of Sochi between the Russian president and his Turkish counterpart, the terrorist groups, however, did not abide by the de-escalation agreement. They continued to target civilians in the towns under their control in Syria, not to mention targeting the Arab Syrian Army positions.

It is well-known that the “de-escalation zones” deal is temporary because both Syria and Russia insist on extending the Syrian state authority all over the Syrian territories. Therefore, the Syrian army will resume its fight against terrorism to save Syria and the Syrian people from the grip of terror since terrorists have also used Syrian territories as a transit point to other countries as well, including Libya, at a time when Erdoğan stated that he “will do everything in his power to help the Libyan people in the fight against Haftar,” as he put it.

The mysterious Ukraine Air Alliance (UAA) flights between various Turkish airports and Misrata containing unknown cargo, the continuing supply of equipment and arms by Turkey to GNA militias, and the arrival of hardcore jihadi fighters from Idlib—are all issues of immense concern to Libyans. The international community and its monitoring agencies are call upon to investigate these infringements, especially the supply of jihadi fighters from Syria to fight alongside GNA militias that again call into question the status of legitimacy conferred to it by the UN.

© Al Marsad English. 2019.

Additional Resources:

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صور وفيديو | شحنة أسلحة تركية بينها مدرعات “كيربي” تصل طرابلس قادمة من ميناء ساسمون التركي