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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  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Mike, I'm glad you can sleep happy tonight knowing that you've been saved a few bob.
    It horrifies me, as a British citizen, to think that any government in the UK could condone mistreatment, let alone actively contribute to it.
    This makes a mockery of the trumped-up claim that the UK is being forced to comply with European Law (i.e. decent standards) in one case, yet is complicit in others

  • Comment number 38.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Blair met Gadaffi in Mar 2004.It would be interesting to find out when this rendition happened. Was it before or after?Blair was warned to treat that visit with utmost caution with many thinking at the time it was ill-judged.Guess we're seeing that now in more ways than one.It makes one wonder what else will come out during Blairs 10yrs when the 30yr rule applies to govt papers being made public.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Looks like the politicos have closed ranks, again. They do seem have difficulty working out the difference between the good guys and the bad guys.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Considering that 20% of torture-instruments are made in good-ol-blighty we have very very little to crow about.

  • Comment number 34.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I have no problem with not playing by the rules-why would you go into a boxing ring with your gloves on when your opponent has a gun?
    However,I am concerned about cosying up to despots who we (or sections of government) have decided are okay now or, more to the point,have some financial incentive to smooth the path.
    You can't blame the Middle East for considering us and the US two-faced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Lot of fuss over nothing. He's not a British citizen and he was on his way here to ask for asylum from a country where he was safe. Why didnt he ask for asylum there? Because Britain is a soft touch that's why. As I see it the government acted to prevent a suspect terrorist coming here and living off benefits paid by taxpayers. I call that a RESULT and the only good thing Jack Straw ever did.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Wow bbc tooki you long enough to say an honest thin g when it comes to the wests war crimes of the last 15 years.
    I guess the journo will be sacked at best now he has broken with your worship of money and its wishes over truth honesty and remembering who really pays your wages

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Apparently he survived! No doubt he is now exacting revenge on his former torturers - but we hear little of what the new breed of Libyan extremists are up to - not PC news of course! We are going to reap the whirlwind for all this support of Shia islamic militants - just ask a Sunni or other muslim minority. Christians already are in Nigeria, Iraq and Egypt. Big mistake.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    So that’s why most of Libyan government buildings were bombed by UK and NATO, to destroy all the evidences that prove the US and Britain involvements in unlawful acts with Gaddafi regime. (Oops they found the paper).

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Interesting how this man we extradited on terrorism charges is now a senior official in the new Libya

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    kaybraes - I second your comments- First person on this site to talk common sense and not the masochistic -"Their lives are more important than ours"!

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Commit acts of terrorism,come to England, get free board and lodgings then stick two fingers up to the lot of us knowing the idiots in Brussels will ensure you are well looked after at OUR expense.This rubbish with human rights must stop now & all that need deporting must go.If Brussels don't like it TOUGH.A government with a backbone would be nice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    A pity we don't render the Russian mafiosa who are conducting gang warfare on or streets! Powermeerkat (Msg 4) is correct. What has Western intervention produced? A change of deckchairs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Tough on war crimes, tough on the causes of war crimes. This needs a proper, full and totally independent investigation and those responsible should be punished. How can the UK or any other 'civilised' country be involved in these practices and hope to have the moral high ground? Do as we say not as we do?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Another Human Rights Act shambles.

    Time to change the legislation because Theresa May directing the judiciary will not work and the higher courts are all stuffed with Human Rights types after 13 years of Blairism.

    Then again wouldn't it be good if Blair was sued personally under the HRA and his fortune earned from his foreign policy adventures was taken away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Interesting this comes out while Cameron's government is on the back foot, accused of incompetence and corruption... !?

    Good to know that MI6 & GCHQ frequently operate outside of ministerial input and approval ... considering they're to be allowed access to all our communications. Under those conditions any promises that the contents of communications won't be monitored seem rather hollow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Why did we only send one?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    There are so many things that happen to keep us safe - none of us would want to carry out these actions but we are glad someone else does. I agree ith kaybraes "who cares" now lets see some rendition of Hamza and Qatada and start getting our perspective again


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