Profile: Moussa Koussa

In a huge blow, Libya's long time foreign intelligence chief has become the most senior of Gaddafi's men to defect

It was not so long ago that Moussa Koussa, Libya's foreign minister, was being wheeled out to defend Muammar Gaddafi's regime to foreign journalists at Tripoli's luxurious Rixos hotel.

A small and tidy man, aged 64, he would appear – usually tieless in his pale grey suit – and read haltingly from a scripted statement.

His message then echoed word for word, idea for idea, that of all of the other loyalists in Gaddafi's regime. He blamed a coalition of al-Qaida and western colonial interests intent on dividing Libya to steal its oil. He accused the foreign media of being part of that plot.

Challenged on one such occasion by journalists, he angrily stormed out.

Now the country's long time foreign intelligence chief, who became its foreign minister in 2009, has become the most senior of Gaddafi's allies to defect, after fleeing through Tunisia.

From one of the regime's most loyal of the loyal, Koussa has become its most prominent defector, after the Foreign Office announced he was "no longer willing" to represent the dictator's regime.

What is clear is that his flight has caught many observers on both sides of the Atlantic on the hop. US observers had previously speculated that the American-educated former head of Libya's external security service – and a keen basketball fan – was too closely implicated in the previous wrongdoings of the regime to be a likely candidate as a defector.

The Libyan opposition certainly will regard him as very tainted goods, as well as proof that Gaddafi's regime may finally be fracturing and those who once saw their future with him now rushing to reinvent themselves.

For although credited with helping to negotiate Libya's rapprochement with the west, ending Libya's pariah status, in a deal which involved its renunciation of weapons of mass destruction, Koussa was head of his country's foreign intelligence service during a time of several terrorist outrages conducted overseas.

In 1980, he was expelled from his position as Libya's envoy in London for calling in a newspaper interview for the killing of dissidents and threatening to back the IRA if the United Kingdom didn't hand them over.

Then he told The Times: "The revolutionary committees have decided last night to kill two more people in the United Kingdom. I approve of this."

Libya later claimed he had been misquoted.

Opposition figures have also accused him of being behind the kidnap and murder of several prominent Libyan opposition figures living abroad, including Mansur Kikhia, a former UN ambassador who was abducted from Cairo in 1993 and disappeared.

He has also been accused by regime opponents – although it has never been proved – of being involved in the Lockerbie bombing as well as the downing of a French airliner over the Sahara in 1989.

Although a French judge originally asked Interpol to seek him for questioning, for the second incident his name was later dropped from the investigation.

He has never been charged with any offence and has denied all knowledge of any of the attacks.

His role changed, however, after the 11 September 2001, attacks, when Gaddafi offered the west intelligence on al-Qaida. Then it was Koussa who emerged from the shadows to meet with senior UK and US intelligence figures, paving the way for Gaddafi's rehabilitation.

More recently he had been at the centre of controversy again when he was accused of being one of the key players behind the scenes pushing for the Scottish courts to release the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi.

Guma El-Gamaty, an organiser in Britain for a leading Libyan opposition group, said Koussa's action would be "a big hit" that would weaken Gaddafi.

"He says he is resigning, that means he is defecting," El-Gamaty said.

"He has been Gaddafi's right-hand man for years, running intelligence, running the Lockerbie bomber negotiations, running many things."

El-Gamaty said he does not think Koussa is likely to remain in Britain but would likely end up in another country in an effort to avoid possible prosecution. He said that Koussa would not be welcomed into the opposition movement because of his prior actions on behalf of the Gaddafi government.

When it emerged that Koussa was on his way to the UK, the Libyan authorities initially claimed he was on a diplomatic mission for Gaddafi.

But within hours, the Foreign Office announced his real motive was to seek refuge.

While his departure from the regime will be welcomed, what Britain will do with its toxic guest is another question.

Contributor

Peter Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Libya: blow to Gaddafi as foreign minister defects to UK

Moussa Koussa says he is no longer willing to represent the regime in a morale boost for the rebels

Patrick Wintour, Richard Norton-Taylor, Nick Hopkins, and Chris McGreal in Ajdabiya

31, Mar, 2011 @12:18 AM

Article image
Libyan rebel leadership set to reject Moussa Koussa in mediation role
Benghazi's interim ruling council unimpressed by former foreign minister's scaremongering statement

Chris McGreal in Benghazi

12, Apr, 2011 @7:20 PM

Moussa Koussa defection hailed by David Cameron - video

PM confirms that Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa has not been granted diplomatic immunity

01, Apr, 2011 @7:28 AM

Article image
Libya foreign minister Moussa Koussa must face atrocities trial, rebels declare
Rebel leadership wants defector returned and tried for crimes against humanity once Gaddafi is toppled

Chris McGreal in Benghazi

31, Mar, 2011 @12:02 PM

Article image
Libyan defector Moussa Koussa keeps low profile at Doha conference
Gaddafi's ex-foreign minister plans to meet Libya's rebel national council privately in Qatari capital

Ian Black in Doha

13, Apr, 2011 @5:12 PM

Moussa Koussa to leave Britain
Defector expected to attend Libya conference in Qatar after being questioned over Lockerbie bombing

Ian Black, Middle East editor

12, Apr, 2011 @10:32 AM

Article image
Lockerbie prosecutors yet to meet Libyan defector Moussa Koussa
Detectives and Scottish Crown Office lawyers are in London but there has been no interview with former Gaddafi minister

Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent

07, Apr, 2011 @6:43 PM

Article image
Libyan defector Moussa Koussa interviewed over Lockerbie
Scottish officials confirm that meeting between ex-Libya minister and police investigating the Lockerbie bombing has taken place

Rowenna Davis

07, Apr, 2011 @11:41 PM

Moussa Koussa's defection surprises Libya – and maybe Britain too

'It would be fair to say this all happened rather quickly' says key Whitehall source of Gaddafi ally's defection

Nick Hopkins, Ian Black, Severin Carrell, Richard Norton-Taylor

31, Mar, 2011 @7:44 PM

Article image
Koussa among defectors 'helping Nato bomb secret Gaddafi sites'
Gaddafi ex-loyalist is black box of regime, say Libyan officials as UK military calls for more air strikes despite deadly hostel hit

Martin Chulov in Tripoli, and Richard Norton-Taylor

15, May, 2011 @7:18 PM