UK government 'approved Abdel Hakim Belhaj's rendition'

Abdel Hakim Belhaj Mr Belhaj is now head of the Tripoli Military Council in the new Libya

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The UK government approved the 2004 rendition of a terror suspect to the Gaddafi regime, the BBC can reveal.

A letter from an MI6 officer refers to Abdel Hakim Belhaj's rendition to Libya. It congratulates the Libyans on the "safe arrival" of the "air cargo".

Mr Belhaj says he was tortured in jail. Successive UK governments have denied complicity in rendition or torture.

But BBC correspondent Peter Taylor says he understands Mr Belhaj's rendition was given ministerial approval.

However it is not clear at what level of government the decision was authorised.

The letter from the senior MI6 officer, Sir Mark Allen, to Col Gaddafi's intelligence chief, Musa Kusa, was found last year in the rubble of Musa Kusa's headquarters, which were bombed by Nato.

As well as congratulating the Libyans on the arrival of the "cargo", it points out that "the intelligence was British".

The letter was sent in 2004 when Mr Belhaj was the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

MI5 believed the group was close to al-Qaeda and involved in recruiting young Muslims in Britain to fight in Iraq.

Start Quote

Britain regarded Belhaj as a terrorist who had met Osama Bin Laden during the Afghan jihad against the Russians in the late 1980s, and whose group MI5 believed was involved in recruiting young British Muslims”

End Quote Peter Taylor BBC correspondent

Our correspondent says it appears MI6 had discovered that Mr Belhaj was in Malaysia and about to head for London in the hope of obtaining political asylum.

MI6 informed its foreign intelligence partners, and as a result Mr Belhaj was intercepted in Bangkok, presumably by the CIA, and rendered to Libya.

Our correspondent says the letter suggests MI6 was complicit in Mr Belhaj's illegal rendition and alleged torture in Libya - but that MI6 was not acting unilaterally.

He says his understanding is that MI6 obtained authorisation from the Labour government of the time for its action.

Jack Straw was the Labour Foreign Secretary in 2004 when the rendition took place. In an interview on BBC Radio 4 last year he said: "We were opposed to unlawful rendition. We were opposed to any use of torture or similar methods. Not only did we not agree with it, we were not complicit in it and nor did we turn a blind eye to it."

He added: "No foreign secretary can know all the details of what its intelligence agencies are doing at any one time."

His office told the BBC Mr Straw had nothing further to add in the light of the current allegations.

Mr Belhaj - now a senior military commander in the new Libya that Britain helped create - is suing MI6 and the British government, accusing them of complicity in his illegal rendition and alleged torture.

He says he believes he was rendered from Bangkok to Libya by the CIA.

The Metropolitan Police is also investigating his allegations.

Mr Belhaj worked with Nato as one of the leaders of the forces that helped overthrow Col Muammar Gaddafi.

But he claims that during his more than four years in prison he was interrogated by agents from countries including the UK and US.

'Very worrying'

He had been living in exile in Beijing after leading opposition to Col Gaddafi.

Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who now chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, said the report is a cause for great concern.

He said: "It's very worrying indeed because if he was rendered to Libya and if the United Kingdom intelligence agencies and the United Kingdom government were involved, that is not only contrary to the policy that the British government has pursued for a long number of years, but also to assurances that were given to the intelligence and security committee as well as to Parliament as a whole."

In 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron established a detainee inquiry into "whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees, held by other countries, that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11".

However, the inquiry was mothballed in January 2012 after the Metropolitan Police announced it was investigating Mr Belhaj's claims.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said the government was committed to holding a judge-led inquiry once these were investigated.

Watch Modern Spies on BBC 2 at 21:00 BST on Monday 9 April for more on this story.


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  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Deplorable that this country's govt knowingly send people to countries where they are aware torture will be inflicted upon them. I feel ashamed. Blair and his cronies, along with others prolonging our activity in wars, have a lot to answer for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    They can deny it all they like, but they know, and we know it happpened.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Its obvious that this and worse goes on its only when it comes to light does anyone get up in arms face reality the so called war on terroism is alien and unknown to most of us If any of it is illegal let the perpatrators face trial or hide it away forever

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Who cares ? There are many more like him living amongst us who need to be removed to somewhere where justice will catch up with them .The protection of human rights legislation is something we should not be extending to terrorists or would be terrorists. If they operate outwith the bounds of human decency, they deserve no sympathy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Every now and then we get to see how Govt really works despite the spin. Before the recent Western brokered regime change in Libya the UK was happy to deal with Gadaffi. Britain the torture nation.
    Yesterday's 'terrorist' sometimes becomes todays senior Govt minister. The perils of military adventuring come home to roost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    We are following the Americans our friends in the Arab world are now seen by they people of The arab ,spring as anti islam or pro western so must go? The middle east will be at war for many years to sort this out as parts are well equipt with all manner of western bought guns and amour ships and tanks many innocent people will be killed Spies are just a small part.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    @shgp13, the western powers have already sent the"new Libya" a bill for services it amounts to billions. The loss of life in making this "new Libya" was more than Gaddafi is reported to have killed in forty years of power. The countrys riches now belong to western super companys setup by western governments who reep the rewards through shares and dividends while the remaining 99% suffer Austerity!

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I`m sure we have always been and always will be complicit in the redition of detainees, it`s all part of secret deals western governments have with each other as a matter of policy, but i`m also sure that if this ever comes to court the government will make use of secret courts to cover it up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Let's not get the flags out yet. There are plenty more where he came from.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    He's suing the British Government !

    No doubt our civil rights minded judiciary (chums of Chery Blair) using the Human Rights Act will uphold his claim.

    Time to bring a bit of sense to this issue

    But Theresa Mays pronouncement on directing the judiciary is all hot air. Doesn't she know they take their lead from the European Court.

    The only way to effect change is by legislation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    "He added: "No foreign secretary can know all the details of what its intelligence agencies are doing at any one time.""

    These would be the same intelligence agencies that would like carte blanche to monitor all of us?And your telling us the govt dont actually even have control of them 24/7. Just goes to prove what most people thought you cant trust them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Is any of the intelligence information the secret services proffer to be relied upon.
    Remember WMD that was way off target.
    I think this man's days are numbered. Can't have all this getting out surely? The met smokescreen is always useful.
    Look forward to the book when it comes out. Straw needs sorting out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    better the corrupt, murderous, obnoxious regimes you know than than those you dont.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Now can we please have what every straw poll seems to suggest the people of this country want and see Blair go on trial for crimes against humanity??

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I wonder whether seeing what types are gaining control in Egypt, Libya, etc., enthusiasts of 'Arab Spring' (which has already turned into Winter) are going to change their views.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    "But BBC correspondent Peter Taylor says he understands Mr Belhaj's rendition was given ministerial approval."

    Rule Britannia...Britannia waives the rules.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Al Qaeda leading the "new Libya" set up by the very people who are at war with them, what a mess the world is in. The people need to rise up and take control of their own futures. The elite are leading us into WW3 and untill people realise this nothing will ever change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Typical, they crawl out of the gutter whenever there is a chance of easy money. Shall the UK Government send the new Libyan administration a bill for services rendered?


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