Willie Morris, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, to Michael Stewart, Foreign Secretary, ‘British policy towards Saudi Arabia’, 16 April 69 (National Archives, FCO 8 / 1181)

‘Valuable as this export market [ie Saudi Arabia] is, it is of less importance to us than Saudi Arabia’s role in the preservation of our wider politico-economic interests in the Middle East… King Feisal’s hostility to communism is as crude and obsessive as the anti-westernism in some other Arab states: but it is solidly based on a sound sense of where Saudi Arabian interests lie – which happens to be where our own lie. The Saudi stand gives encouragement to other Arab governments, and elements within other Arab countries, who wish to resist the extension of Soviet and other anti-western influences… A collapse of the Saudi regime, whether followed by the substitution of some form of revolutionary government or disintegration of the Saudi kingdom, could therefore cause damage far wider than to our commercial interests here. It would leave other non-revolutionary regimes – eg, Jordan, Libya and Kuwait – dangerously exposed… There would be a serious danger of the trouble spreading to other oil producing countries… From this.. it appears that our interests would be best served by: (a) the survival of the present regime for at least the next few years; (b) internal reform and some liberalisation to give it a better chance of survival, and to make external policies more effective and more appealing; (c ) some reinsurance for us against possible change; (d) the continuation of Saudi Arabia’s present general external policies and a more cooperative policy on the Gulf; (e) anything which improves our commercial opportunities in the Saudi market’.

Willie Morris, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, ‘Saudi Arabia, 1971’, 28 April 71, (National Archives, FCO 8 / 1733)

‘Our narrow commercial interests are of lesser importance than the politico-strategico-economic interest to us of Saudi Arabia as a major supplier of oil to the West, owner of the largest reserves of any country outside the United States and a major factor in the stability of the whole Gulf oil-producing area. To a degree, the stability of Saudi Arabia and that of the Gulf states are interdependent. The Saud regime would be threatened by radical regimes in the Gulf states; the present regimes in these states could hardly be expected to survive a revolution in Saudi Arabia. Libya is a fearful example. We can hope that when change comes in Saudi Arabia, it will be less unpalatable and we can in a limited way reinsure against it by extending non-political contacts outside the regime and the surrounding establishment. But we should work on the assumption that, however unsatisfactory, this is the best regime in Saudi Arabia we have, or can count on getting. There is little or nothing we can do to improve it, so we must make the best of what it is. It is in our interests that it should survive for a few more years’.


‘Future of the UK in world affairs: Note of a meeting held in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 5 December 1957′

‘What are our essential interests overseas? The following suggestions (not in any order of prioritiy) were made: (i) maintenance of our position as a world power, (ii) the strength of sterling, (iii) ensuring continued United States participation in world affairs, (iv) the importance of our trade, (v) safeguarding our oil interests’.

National Archives, T234/768

Report for the World Development Movement (May 2013)

This briefing, based on research commissioned by the World Development Movement, outlines the role played by British companies in controversial energy projects in developing countries. It shows the nexus of interests, and revolving door, between these companies and former and current civil servants and Ministers. Many British companies currently promoting dirty energy projects are managed or advised by former British officials. Furthermore, senior executives in these companies serve on government-linked advisory boards which shape the UK’s financial and trade policies. The nexus goes to the heart of government. Several Cabinet ministers have past or present links to the energy or finance companies under analysis.

To read the report, click here

Report for War on Want (December 2012)

This report shows that hundreds of millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money is being used to promote projects designed to benefit some of the world’s richest agribusiness corporations and to extend their control over the global food system. DFID is at the centre of an intricate nexus of corporations and donor-sponsored institutions seeking to maximise private profit from agriculture. Personal connections play a vital role, and there is a significant ‘revolving door’ of staff between DFID and agribusiness corporations, with the personal links going beyond DFID to the heart of the UK government and its economic policy. In addition, this report reveals DFID’s involvement in a network of private enterprises and investment fund managers incorporated in the secrecy jurisdiction of Mauritius.

To read the report go to Curtis Research website

An edited extract from Secret Affairs

Saudi Arabia and the utility of intervention

Whitehall’s long-standing special relationship with the theocratic rulers in Riyadh has been enhanced by the new coalition government at a time when evidence continues to emerge on the extent of Saudi funding of terrorism and when the Saudis have taken drastic measures to clamp down on democracy in Arabia. Britain’s alliance with the House of Saud has also taken on new importance with the coalition government’s announcement of deepened relations with the Gulf states. The new government’s Gulf initiative, aiming to enhance trade and investment with countries such as Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, has resulted in a string of meetings with the region’s autocratic rulers and constant apologias for their rejection of democracy, but have been ignored by the mainstream media.

As noted in chapter 18, Saudi Arabia has long been the most significant source of funds for radical Islamic and terrorist causes around the world. A secret cable written by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in December 2009, revealed in late 2010 by wikileaks, noted that ‘donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide’ and that ‘Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT [Laskhar-e-Toiba], and other terrorist groups, including Hamas, which probably raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources’. The cable added that ‘it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority’ and that ‘Riyadh has taken only limited action’ to interrupt the flow of money to terrorist groups which have launched attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Yet not only Saudi Arabia, but also other Gulf states were recognised in the cable as being the source of terrorist funding. The Kuwaiti regime of Emir Sabah al-Sabah ‘has demonstrated a willingness to take action [against terrorist financing] when attacks target Kuwait’, the cable noted, but ‘has been less inclined to take action against Kuwait-based financiers and facilitators plotting attacks outside of Kuwait’. Thus ‘al-Qaida and other groups continue to exploit Kuwait both as a source of funds and as a key transit point’. Donors in the United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, ‘have provided financial support to a variety of terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups, including Hamas’. The cable added that ‘the UAE’s role as a growing global financial centre, coupled with weak regulatory oversight, makes it vulnerable to abuse by terrorist financiers and facilitation networks’.

Finally, Qatar ‘has adopted a largely passive approach to cooperating with the US against terrorist financing’ and its overall level of counter-terrorism cooperation with the US ‘is considered the worst in the region’. Terrorist groups were said to exploit Qatar as a fundraising locale and ‘although Qatar’s security services have the capability to deal with direct threats and occasionally have put that capability to use, they have been hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the US and provoking reprisals.’ A US Congressional Research Service report has noted ‘possible support for al-Qaida by some Qatari citizens, including members of Qatar’s large ruling family’.

The states listed in Clinton’s cable are those with which the British coalition government has recently announced a significant deepening of relations. In October 2010, for example, the Queen welcomed the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh al-Thani, to Windsor Castle. During the visit, a joint statement by Cameron and al-Thani noted that Qatar and Britain ‘enjoy a special defence relationship’ underpinned by a Defence Cooperation Arrangement signed in 2006, involving British military training of the Qatari armed forces in Qatar and Britain. It also noted that Qatar has a diverse range of investments in Britain and is a major supplier of energy, providing 11 per cent of Britain’s gas demand. As regards Kuwait, David Cameron announced in February 2011 the creation of a UK-Kuwait Trade and Investment Task Force, a commitment to double trade to $4 billion a year by 2015, and the signature of a memorandum of understanding on trade and technical cooperation. The Kuwait Investment Authority has its overseas headquarters in London and has invested some £150 billion over the last fifty years, the majority of it in Britain. The Gulf states including Saudi Arabia now account for around half of all British arms sales and the government estimates that they will spend around $100 billion on ‘defence and security’ technology over the next five years.

Along with these contacts have come extreme British apologias for the Gulf regimes’ political orientations. Governments which Britain opposes are simply told by Ministers to adopt democracy. When it comes to allied regimes, however, notably those in the Gulf, a large amount of latitude is allowed. A standard formula, as outlined by David Cameron in a speech to the Kuwait National Assembly in February 2011, runs as follows:

‘It is not for me, or for governments outside the region, to pontificate about how each country meets the aspirations of its people. It is not for us to tell you how to do it, or precisely what shape your future    should take. There is no single formula for success, and there are many ways to ensure greater, popular participation in Government. We respect your right to take your own decisions, while offering our goodwill and support’.

These words can be expected to be received gratefully by Gulf leaders keen to stave off the threat of democracy. At other times, British ministers have convinced themselves that Kuwait – run by the al-Sabah family since the mid-eighteenth century – is already a democratic society. For example, during his visit in February 2011, Cameron referred in a press conference with the Kuwaiti prime minister to ‘small and democratic countries like Kuwait’. He also mentioned the ‘gradual development of a liberal democratic society that you are overseeing, the vital steps you’re taking on your own journey to democracy’. In fact, although Kuwait allows elections to its National Assembly, real power lies in the hands of the Emir and the prime minister, who is appointed by the Emir and not accountable to parliament, which has extremely limited powers.

Sultan Qaboos of Oman, meanwhile, has been in power since a British coup installed him in 1970, and became the world’s longest serving ruler once Qadafi was overthrown, a fact not advertised by Whitehall. Qaboos’ regime, a major British ally, was described as ‘enlightened and effective’ by then International Development Minister Alan Duncan in October 2010. In reality, Oman is an absolute monarchy with almost all power concentrated in the hands of the Sultan, who serves as chief of state and head of government, supreme commander of the armed forces, prime minister, and minister of defence, foreign affairs and finance, in addition to personally appointing all other ministers.

But Saudi Arabia remains the biggest prize for British patronage and is by far Britain’s largest export market outside the OECD, while the UK is world’s second largest foreign investor in the country. A further Freedom of Information Act request by the author, this time asking the Foreign Office for its assessment of terrorist funding emanating from Saudi Arabia, was met with the response that such ‘disclosure of information is likely to prejudice relations between the UK and Saudi Arabia’. Whitehall’s knowledge of Saudi sponsorship of terrorism can be taken for granted, however. The real concern was described by Foreign Office Minister Lord Howell, who told an audience in Riyadh that ‘Saudi Arabia is the heart of world oil production that underpins global markets’, located in ‘a region which contains the planet’s largest oil reserves’. Thus, in the words of the Foreign Office website, ‘Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom have long been close allies, and the breadth and depth of Britain’s relationship with the Kingdom continues to increase’.

The website adds that the two countries have ‘a shared interest in ensuring regional stability’. ‘Stability’ here is understood as ongoing British/Saudi opposition to democracy in the region and the long-standing British backing – documented in previous chapters – of Saudi Arabia’s role of superpower on the Arabian peninsula to ward off threats to continued feudal rule. One case in point is the Saudi intervention in Yemen in November 2009, when its air force bombarded the north-western Yemeni region of Sa’dah to counter the Shia Houthi insurgent group; the action was undertaken in support of Yemeni government forces which had earlier launched a military offensive against the Houthis called ‘scorched earth’. The Saudis used British-supplied Tornado fighter-bombers, damaging or destroying civilian buildings such as market places, mosques, petrol stations, small businesses, a primary school, a power plant, a health centre and dozens of houses and residential buildings. Amnesty International commented that the Saudis ‘carried out indiscriminate attacks and other violations of international humanitarian law’ that resulted in hundreds and possibly thousands of civilian deaths.

But the Saudi role as regional policeman and counter to democracy is principally evidenced in its intervention in Bahrain in March 2011. Then, 1,000 Saudi troops with armoured support crossed the narrow causeway into Bahrain in support of the Bahraini King’s call to help put down pro-democracy demonstrations. Beginning in mid-February, thousands of Bahrainis had set up a camp city at the Pearl Roundabout in the capital, Manama, mirroring the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. They had, however, more limited demands than their Egyptian counterparts, calling for greater political participation essentially under a constitutional monarchy, a legitimate parliament, free and fair elections, an end to corruption and equality for the long-repressed Shia majority in Bahrain.

The Saudi intervention in Bahrain was backed by Britain at the same time as ministers were claiming, with regard to their campaign in Libya, that ‘it is for the people of Libya to choose their own government’. Moreover, it is likely that the British gave the Saudis and Bahrainis a green light for the intervention. Only five days before, on 9 March, as protests were growing in the country, David Cameron’s National Security Adviser, Peter Ricketts, and Chief of Defence Staff General David Richards, met King Hamid al-Khalifa in Bahrain. ‘Ricketts paid tribute to Bahrain’s major and remarkable strides on the path of reform and modernization thanks to the royal reform project initiated by HM the King’, one Bahraini news report noted. The British meeting was followed by one by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, on 11 March. Evidence has also emerged from two diplomatic sources at the UN that the Saudis were given a green light to intervene in Bahrain by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in exchange for a ‘yes’ vote by the Arab League for the no-fly zone over Libya.

Saudi forces entered Bahrain in a convoy of British-made armoured personnel carriers known as Tacticas, which were manufactured by the British company, BAE Systems. Saudi Arabia’s National Guard, trained by Britain since 1964 to ensure the defence of the House of Saud, was part of the Saudi force and British training in internal security over many years would no doubt have helped develop tactics to suppress the popular uprising in Bahrain. Other British-supplied equipment available to the Bahrainis included tear gas and crowd control ammunition, equipment for the use of aircraft cannons, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles and sub-machine guns, all of which had been supplied in 2010.

Following the intervention, Amnesty International noted that ‘the Bahraini government launched a clearly planned and orchestrated crackdown using excessive force to suppress protests calling for political change and reform’, while ‘security forces used shotguns, rubber bullets, tear gas and, in some cases, live ammunition, sometimes at very close range, and in circumstances where the use of weapons… could not be justified’. Over 600 civilians were detained without charge in unknown conditions, including doctors, lawyers, human rights workers, academics and youth bloggers. At the same time, some 2,000 Shia workers who stayed away from work during the unrest were sacked without any unemployment insurance while teachers and students were expelled from schools and universities. Two months after the intervention, Amnesty was still documenting the government’s ‘relentless crackdown on human rights’, as emergency powers were used to arrest people without judicial warrant and detain incommunicado protesters and political activists, while some detainees had been tortured or ill-treated following arrest. Amnesty also noted ‘suspicions that the whole of the majority Shia population of Bahrain is being punished for the February-March protests’.

British acquiescence in the intervention was entirely predictable given that the coalition government had announced its intention to back the Bahraini regime soon after it won the election in May 2010. ‘We began, from our first day in office, a major, long-term effort to intensify Britain’s links with the countries of the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf – in diplomacy, trade, education, health and civil society – as part of a distinctive British policy towards the region’, William Hague said later, in February 2011; he added that ‘I reaffirmed last week to leaders in Bahrain and the UAE that we are committed to intensifying our engagement on foreign policy.’ In July 2010, the King of Bahrain visited David Cameron at Number 10 Downing Street and the two leaders ‘agreed to expand existing co-operation between their countries across the board including on culture, education, defence and security, trade and investment and foreign policy’. Five months later, in December 2010, the Foreign Secretary welcomed the Crown Prince of Bahrain to London, ‘underlining the coalition government’s commitment to building its relationship with Bahrain’, the Foreign Office stated. The latter’s report of the meeting added that Hague ‘noted concerns raised ahead of the elections, regarding implementation of the electoral law and allegations of restrictions on campaigning, and welcomed the positive response of the Bahraini Government and their assurances that they would continue progress on political reform’.

In the early hours of 17 February 2011, the Bahraini police moved into the Pearl Roundabout area of Manama to clear the encampment of protesters and in a brutal crackdown left five dead and over 200 injured. Foreign Secretary Hague said that he conveyed the ‘concern’ of the British government to Bahrain and ‘urge[d] all sides to avoid violence and the police to exercise restraint’ while praising the regime for recent ‘important political reforms’ and ‘the long friendship between Bahrain and the UK’. On the same day, the British government announced it was reviewing its ‘recent licensing decisions’ concerning military exports to Bahrain. Two days after the Saudi intervention in March the Prime Minister’s website stated that David Cameron personally telephoned the King of Bahrain calling on him to end the violent suppression of street protests and to ‘respect the right to peaceful protest and respond to the legitimate concerns of the Bahraini people’. Yet British policy explained by William Hague was decidedly more conciliatory. Hague told the Foreign Affairs Committee that he spoke to Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud on 14 March and that:

‘He assured me that these [Saudi forces in Bahrain] were for the defence of installations     and the external defence of Bahrain, while it would be the Bahraini forces and police that     tried to restore order in their own country. So that is where we are on Saudi Arabia.’

Hague added that he had been assured by Bahraini Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid al-Khalifa, that the Bahraini government ‘remained absolutely determined to continue that process of dialogue’ and repeated the mantra that ‘there are casualties on both sides’. Other statements by Hague did condemn the Bahraini use of force but were always qualified by urging restraint on ‘all sides’ or praise for the regime’s supposed offer of dialogue with opposition groups.

Faced with massive international criticism of his government’s brutal crushing of protest, the King of Bahrain instituted a commission of enquiry into the events of February and March. Released in November 2011, the report concluded that the security forces had used ‘excessive force’ and had tortured detainees and killed 35 people. In early December, however, David Cameron once again met King al-Khalifa in Downing Street. According to the prime minister’s office, Cameron ‘emphasised the importance of strengthening respect for human rights in Bahrain’ and ‘urged the King to deliver swiftly on the commitments he has made to implement the recommendations from the Inquiry’. At the same time, however, ‘the leaders also discussed how they could boost trade co-operation between the two countries and the opportunities for British business to invest in Bahrain, particularly in the infrastructure sector’. While Cameron was hosting al-Khalifa, hundreds of people wrongfully detained or convicted following unfair trials were still languishing in Bahraini jails while those dismissed from the posts had received no signs of being reinstated.

The new,updated edition of Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam was published on 22 March 2012.

Read the introduction here

Order the book here

Read the media release here

An extract from Secret Affairs on the British plot in the mid-1990s

While Bin Laden was drafting his declaration of jihad in early 1996, British intelligence was plotting with al-Qaida-associated terrorists in Libya to assassinate Colonel Qadafi. Qadafi had long challenged British interests and Western hegemony in the Middle East and Africa. The revolution that brought him to power in September 1969, recognised as ‘popular’ by British planners, overthrew the regime of eighty-year-old pro-British King Idriss, which provided a quarter of Britain’s oil and was home to £100 million worth of British oil investment. The ‘security of oil supplies must be our greatest concern’, one Foreign Office official noted a year after the revolution. However, Qadafi set about removing long-standing US and British military bases, nationalising the oil import and distribution industries and demanding vastly increased revenues from the oil-producing companies. The regime later sealed its fate as a British and US bête noire by espousing an independent militant nationalism and sponsoring various anti-Western regimes, as well as terrorist groups such as the IRA.

Britain and the US have long been accused of involvement in plots to overthrow Qadafi. The most direct attempt was the US bombing of Libya in 1986, conducted ostensibly in response to Libyan sponsorship of a terrorist attack in Germany and believed to have targeted Qadafi personally, but instead killing his adopted daughter. Ten years later, another opportunity occurred when a Libyan military intelligence officer approached MI6 with a plan to overthrow Qadafi, according to former MI5 officer and whistle-blower David Shayler. The Libyan, codenamed ‘Tunworth’, proposed establishing links with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an organisation formed in Afghanistan in 1990 from around 500 Libyan jihadists then fighting the Soviet-backed government. One former senior member of the LIFG, Noman Benotman, who first went to Afghanistan as a twenty-two-year old in 1989, later said in an interview that during the Afghan War his mujahideen commander was Jalalludin Haqqani, and that he and fellow militants had benefited from British training programmes:

‘We trained in all types of guerrilla warfare. We trained on weapons, tactics, enemy engagement techniques and survival in hostile environments. All weapons training was with live ammunition, which was available everywhere. Indeed, there were a number of casualties during these training sessions. There were ex-military people amongst the Mujahideen, but no formal state forces participated. We were also trained by the elite units of the Mujahideen who had themselves been trained by Pakistani Special Forces, the CIA and the SAS … We had our own specially designed manuals, but we also made extensive use of manuals from the American and British military.’

After Afghanistan, the LIFG joined the armed struggle in Algeria, fighting alongside the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), with whom it had built up close relations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The British Home Office later noted that the LIFG’s ‘aim had been to overthrow the Qadafi regime and replace it with an Islamic state’. The US government later described the LIFG as an ‘al-Qaeda affiliate known for engaging in terrorist activity in Libya and cooperating with al-Qaeda worldwide.’ It shared the same aspirations and ideology as al-Qaida, although it never formally joined the organisation, having a more nationalistic stance and preferring to focus on the ‘near enemy’, i.e., the Qadafi regime. Shayler asserts that he was told by David Watson, an MI6 officer, that at Christmas 1995 he had supplied Tunworth with $40,000 to buy weapons to carry out the assassination plot and that similar sums were handed over at two further meetings. A secret MI6 cable dated December 1995 – leaked in 2000 and published on the internet – revealed MI6’s knowledge of an attempt to overthrow Qadafi in a coup led by five Libyan colonels scheduled for February 1996. It provided a detailed schedule of events:

The coup was scheduled to start at around the time of the next General People’s Congress on 14 February 1996. It would begin with attacks on a number of military and security installations including the military installation at Tarhuna. There would also be orchestrated unrest in Benghazi, Misratah and Tripoli. The coup plotters would launch a direct attack on Qadafi and would either arrest him or kill him … The plotters would have cars similar to those in Qadafi’s security entourage with fake security number plates. They would infiltrate themselves into the entourage in order to kill or arrest Qadafi.

The cable also noted that one Libyan officer and twenty military personnel were being trained in the desert for their role in the attack, and that the plotters had already distributed 250 Webley pistols and 500 heavy machine guns among their sympathisers, who were said to number 1,275 people, including students, military personnel and teachers. Messages to these sympathisers ‘were passed via schools and mosques’ while the plotters also had ‘some limited contact with the fundamentalists’ who were ‘a mix of Libya [sic] veterans who served in Afghanistan and Libyan students’. It continued:

‘The coup plotters expected to establish control of Libya at the end of March 1996. They would form an interim government before discussions with tribal leaders. The group would want rapprochement with the West. They hoped to divide the country into smaller areas, each with a governor and a democratically elected parliament. There would be a federal system of national government.’

The plot went ahead in February 1996 in Sirte, Qadafi’s home city, but a bomb was detonated under the wrong car. Six innocent bystanders were killed, and Qadafi escaped unscathed. Shayler recollected how:

‘At a meeting shortly after, [David Watson] ventured to me in a note of triumph that Tunworth had been responsible for the attack. ‘Yes, that was our man. We did it,’ was how he put it. He regarded it, curiously, as a triumph even though the objective of the operation had not been met and reporting indicated that there had been civilian casualties. Despite that, I very much got the impression that this was regarded as a coup for MI6 because it was playing up the reputation that the real James Bonds wanted to have.’

Annie Machon, Shayler’s partner and a former MI5 officer, writes that, by the time MI6 paid over the money to Tunworth, Osama Bin Laden’s organisation was already known to be responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and MI5 had set up G9C, ‘a section dedicated to the task of defeating Bin Laden and his affiliates’. This is significant in light of Britain’s toleration of Bin Laden’s London base – the Advice and Reformation Committee – which would not be closed down for another two and half years. US intelligence sources later told the Mail on Sunday newspaper that MI6 had indeed been behind the assassination plot and had turned to the LIFG’s leader, Abu Abdullah Sadiq, who was living in London. The head of the assassination team was reported as being the Libya-based Abdal Muhaymeen, a veteran of the Afghan resistance and thus possibly trained by MI6 or the CIA. A spattering of other media investigations confirmed the plot, while a BBC film documentary broadcast in August 1998 was told that the Conservative government ministers then in charge of MI6 gave no authorisation for the operation and that it was solely the work of MI6 officers. All these reports contradicted the earlier claim by now Foreign Secretary Robin Cook that MI6 involvement in the plot was ‘pure fantasy’. Equally, the government’s denial of knowledge of the plot was decisively contradicted by the leaked cable, which showed that civil servants in the permanent secretary’s department, GCHQ, MI5 and the MoD were all aware of the assassination attempt some two months before it was carried out. It is inconceivable that none of them would have informed their ministers. At the same time, Shayler was persistently hounded and prosecuted, the British elite’s usual treatment meted out to insiders divulging information incriminating it.

As the LIFG stepped up its confrontation with the Libyan regime in 1995, it issued calls for Qadafi’s overthrow. One communiqué, written in October 1995, around the time the organisation was plotting with MI6, described the Qadafi government as ‘an apostate regime that has blasphemed against the faith of God Almighty’, and declared that its overthrow was ‘the foremost duty after faith in God’. These calls were mainly issued in London, where several prominent members of the LIFG were based after having been granted political asylum. American political analyst Gary Gambill, a former editor of the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, notes that Britain accepted the LIFG dissidents since British views of Qadafi were ‘at fever pitch’ over the regime’s alleged involvement in the Lockerbie bombing in 1988; thus ‘Britain allowed LIFG to develop a base of logistical support and fundraising on its soil.’ While the Libyan regime complained that Britain was hosting nationals intent on overthrowing it, Whitehall continued to offer de facto protection to the LIFG. Indeed, it was only in October 2005, after the London bombings on 7/7, that the British government designated the LIFG a terrorist group. This was after Libya’s rapprochement with Britain and the West that began in 2003.

One LIFG member was Anas al-Liby. A computer expert based in Sudan in the mid-1990s, al-Liby had moved there from Afghanistan, where he trained al-Qaida members in surveillance techniques. In 1993 al-Liby travelled to Nairobi and used the apartment of an al-Qaida member to develop surveillance pictures of the US embassy. This was the first step in the five-year plot that culminated in the embassy bombings of August 1998, following which al-Liby was indicted and became one of America’s most wanted fugitives, with a $25 million reward for his capture or killing. In 1995 al-Liby came to Britain and applied for asylum. Soon after, the Egyptian authorities sent a detailed file on his terrorist credentials to Whitehall, including allegations of his involvement in a failed assassination attempt on President Mubarak in Addis Ababa in June 1995. But Cairo’s request for his extradition was refused; British officials reportedly questioned whether he would get a fair trial and feared he could face the death penalty. Yet there is also the strong suspicion that the British security services were protecting al-Liby, along with the LIFG, given that MI6 was collaborating with it to kill Qadafi. Al-Liby was allowed to live in Manchester until May 2000, when his home was raided on orders from the Home Office, acting on a request from the US; copies of jihad training manuals were discovered, but al-Liby had already fled. Other members of the LIFG included Abu Hafs al-Libi, who reputedly lived in Dublin from 1996 until going to Iraq in 2004, where he served as one of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s lieutenants in the al-Qaida group there until his death the same year; and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a commander of Bin Laden’s Khalden training camp in Afghanistan.

Significantly, it was the Qadafi regime that in March 1998 urged Interpol to issue the first arrest warrant for Bin Laden. It did so in response to the LIFG’s presumed murder of a German intelligence officer, Silvan Becker, and his wife in Libya in March 1994, some eighteen months before Britain began collaborating with the group. Interpol then issued a red notice on Bin Laden and three of his Libyan associates. Yet, according to two French intelligence experts, Guillaume Dasquié and Jean-Charles Brisard, the British and US intelligence agencies buried the arrest warrant and played down the threat due to MI6’s involvement in the Libyan coup plot. This story was later reported in the Observer under the headline: ‘MI6 “halted bid to arrest bin Laden”’. It was five months after the issuance of the arrest warrant that the US embassies in East Africa were bombed; perhaps if governments, including Britain’s, had acted then, the bombings could have been averted.

The episode is interesting in that it shows how Britain’s secret collusion with radical Islamists has directly undermined its ability to curb and prosecute them – a leitmotif, in fact, of Britain’s postwar foreign policy where Whitehall has often collaborated with the very groups to which it claims to be opposed. Indeed, the extent of this collaboration has been so extensive that many open public trials of the leading terrorist figures are likely to expose it, a fact which also applies to the Saudi, Pakistani and US governments. This partly explains London’s and Washington’s overt opposition to pursuing open legal processes for terrorist suspects – and, most notably, Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay, where suspected militants have been incarcerated and interrogated behind closed doors.


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