REPORT: Bashagha’s Civil State Rhetoric Conceals Growing Militia Tension and Extremism – Al Marsad

The Interior Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fathi Bashagha renewed last week the threat to take over Al-Watiya airbase and the city of Tarhouna. The nature of the takeover of Surman and Sabratha recently, and the violence that followed demonstrated once more that Bashagha continues to build alliances with militias and armed criminal gangs he had criticised for creating the chaos and criminality in Tripoli during his outreach to the international community. Intense and violent clashes this weekend in downtown Tripoli between RADA and the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade (TRB) shows how fragile are Bashagha’s security arrangements.

[Libya, 23 April 2020] – At a recent press conference Fathi Bashagha said GNA forces were on the outskirts of Al-Watiya airbase, and he threatened to soon take over the base, as well as the city of Tarhouna—a city which the GNA had failed to invade and control last week.

Analysts say that Bashagha’s focus on Al-Watiya is an attempt to resume Operation Far Libya that started in 2014, which was blocked before they could set foot in the airbase, leading to the halt in the frail political operation altogether.

“He [Bashagha] loses control in front of the media cameras, and often mixes up his roles as Minister of Interior and as coordinator for the Hatin Brigade. The Hatin Brigade took many losses in Fajr Libya during 2015, in Al-Assa and Al-Aqrabiya, while trying to invade Al-Watiya to no avail”, according to one observer who noticed his focus on the airbase.

In his lengthy speech at the recent press conference, Bashagha also spoke about maintaining security and controlling what he called “the mercenaries fighting alongside Haftar”. He did not, however, address the Syrian militants that are fighting with the GNA in Tripoli. Furthermore, he claimed that “Haftar militias” have smuggled prisoners from the Sabratha and Surman prisons. Evidently, he did not watch the footage documented by international media that clearly proved that those responsible were members of his GNA militia units.

MINISTER, PARLIAMENTARIAN OR MILITIA LEADER?

Bashagha has lectured about the importance of rejecting the formation of a new dictatorship, which few Libyans would disagree. However, what they do disagree with him is his pontification on the secular civil state and law while failing to clearly describe whether his role is one of a boycotting MP, a Minister of Interior who has not been sworn in by the Libyan Parliament, a member of a dialogue group, or a militia leader.

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At the Tripoli “Parliament’” accountability session for the Crisis Committee that was held in Tripoli, Baghagha joined other boycotting parliamentarians who also have not been sworn in since elected in 2014. Like Bashagha these boycotting parliamentarians consider themselves to hold legitimate positions, despite the fact that many of their members have no legal standing or geographical representation that grants them legitimacy as a legislative body that replaces the internationally-acknowledged Parliament headed by Chancellor Aguila Saleh. Bashagha has failed to be a legitimate MP and a formally sworn-in minister.

Results of parliament elections for the district of Misrata (2014)

There is no precedent for Fathi Bashagha’s actions, in that a person that is elected in fair parliamentary elections to represent their district ends up boycotting the parliament without submitting his resignation to the speaker. This means that, in the absence of his resignation, his membership to the parliament persists, especially since he has been signing his name and using the title as being part of what is called the “political assembly of members of parliament in Misrata.” Furthermore, he participates in the political dialogue meetings sponsored by the UN as a “boycotting MP”, and is then assigned to a ministerial position as Minister of Interior by the chairman of governing authority, and not legislatorial authority. 

Bashagha therefore contravenes the laws of the Libyan state. He has neither resigned his position as a member of parliament nor has he been sworn in as a minister in front of the internationally recognised House of Representatives (HOR), the Libyan Parliament.

CRAFTING A FALSE NARRATIVE

In addition to being an minister and member of Parliament, Bashagha faces regular accusations for his role as coordinator of the Fajr Libya Operation which resulted in the horrific political division that the country witnessed since 2014 and which aimed to overthrow the elected Parliament of the Libya people. He was a key figure in the Hatin Brigade and the Misrata Military Council that led the war on the capital along with the internationally-sanctioned Salah Badi. After living in Istanbul from 2015, Salah Badi returned to take part in the conflicts in Tripoli in 2018, and it led to the Tripoli Protection Force accusing Bashagha of conspiring with Badi against the city and causing war and turmoil.

In an interview on 5 January 2019 to the BBC, Bashagha responded by stating that the militias lacked discipline and were controlling main locations in the country and committing blackmail and robbery. He said that they did not belong to the Ministry of Interior except by name, and they are trying to force themselves by attacking and acting as they please since they have the financial capabilities due to their influence over the state’s financial resources, and economic and political decisions.

Bashagha continued to attack these militias, and during his official visit to Washington on 29 February 2019, he even announced in an interview to the US-based Al-Hurra TV, that they have reached a dead end in their dialogue with these groups. He asserted that their security measures have failed and were but ink on paper. The statements he made on Al-Hurra TV contradicted what his chairman, Fayez al-Sarraj, had stated prior in the week to France 24 in Paris, where he said that these security measures had been successful. Ghassan Salamé also confessed the failure of these measures to achieve any substantial progress.

STRENGTHENING MILITIAS

During the three months of 2019 prior to the start of the war on 4 April 2019, UNSMIL’s Ghassan Salamé had briefed the Security Council several times, and delivered several media interviews, where he stated that “Tripoli militias” had taken control over the country and influence in government decision making. He had accused them, along with the ruling political elites, of organised theft and corruption and of obstructing political resolutions. This was around the same time when the Tripoli Protection Forces submitted a letter to the Attorney General against Bashagha, accusing him of bringing armored vehicles from Turkey to be used by militant groups. Bashagha had confirmed knowledge of the import of these vehicles that were seized at Al-Khums port. To read more about this, click here.

Letter from the Tripoli protection force to Attorney General accusing Bashagha

جمارك الخمس : مليشيا مكلفة من باشاآغا تحاول الإستيلاء على المدرعات التركية دون إجراء قانوني

 

US sources, however, indicate that Bashagha spoke about these same groups that he formerly called “militias” but he now described them as “supporting forces” that aim to liberate Tarhuna and Al-Watiya. During his visit to Washington, he presented the same image of the militias and requested that the US government support his attempt to impose his concept of security, especially in Tripoli.

This might explain the support that Donald Trump’s administration showed to LNA’s Commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in his efforts to destroy the groups that, prior to the war, Bashagha, Ghassan Salamé and others had described as criminal militias. This description is one that Field Marshal Haftar and the intelligence and security departments still maintain.

SURMAN AND SABRATHA: THE RETURN OF ORGANISED CRIME

The composition of the GNA forces that attacked Surman and Sabratha was more evidence over the last two weeks that Islamist militants affiliated to ISIS, Ansar Al-Sharia and the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, along with mafia leaders notorious for human trafficking, fuel smuggling and organised crime, are working closely with Bashagha. The abuse of human rights, violence, assassination, arson, culminating with the prison break that led to the release of over 600 hardcore criminals, is an indication of everything that does not reflect the civil state that Bashagha preaches to the world.

At a recent press conference Bashagha said the prison breaks in Surman and Sabratha were caused by the LNA, even though the footage recorded shows that the prisoners were released by the GNA gangs.

PRISON BREAK: Bashagha Silent on “Released” Prisoners, Pro-GNA Wolfram Lacher Calls it a Catastrophe

The control of these two cities and the appearance of the UN-sanctioned traffickers Ahmed Al-Dabbashi and Abdul-Rahman al-Milad (Al-BIja) means that criminal cartels will once again reappear in the west coast area of Libya under the protection of Bashagha’s Ministry of Interior.

A report published by pro-GNA Middle East Eye said: “‘The violent way in which the GNA took control of the area is totally unacceptable,’ said a businessman from Tripoli with associates in Sorman, speaking on condition of anonymity. ‘Dabbashi is part of a powerful local tribe so the GNA probably thought he had sway and was a good option to lead the attack, but everyone knows about his involvement with smuggling and other criminal activities and, because he is wanted internationally, the fact he is free to lead military operations is very embarrassing.’”

EXTREMISM AND SUICIDE ATTACK FATWAS

With the influx of over 5,300 Syrian militants to Libya with the help of Turkey to shore up the GNA militias, many with links to ISIS, Al Qaeda and Nusra Front, the security situation in areas controlled by the GNA looks both problematic and unsustainable. It flies in the face of the vision of the civil state that Bashagha espouses. Furthermore, given the ostensibly Islamist make up of his militias and the Syrian mercenaries wirh their links to violent extremist organisations, the radical Islamist cleric added further controversy by issuing a fatwa that suicide attacks against the enemy were permissible for GNA fighters.

Over the weekend, fierce clashes between RADA and the Ministry of Interior against the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade (TRB) were further indication that Fathi Bashagha in reality does not have control over the militias.

© Al Marsad English (2020)

 

FURTHER RESOURCES

Military Expert: GNA Will Facilitate Smuggling of Weapons and Mercenaries in Coastal Cities

The Correction and Rehabilitation Institution in Surman Burned By GNA Gangs

REPORT: Al-Ammo Celebrates His Control of Sabratha After Killing the Sons of Major General Abdul-Jalil

Ghuwaila: Only the Release of “Innocent” Inmates from RADA Prisons in Tripoli Will Make Victory Complete

Jonathan Winer: Acts of Retribution by GNA Forces Will Further Damage Libya

REPORT: Sarraj Welcomes the “Liberation” of Sabratha and Surman by the Same “Gangs” He Fought in 2017

 

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