July 26, 2012
According to a former Libyan official who was intimately acquainted with Mu’ammar Qaddafi’s personal and political affairs, “Al-Qaddafi was a man with no limits or restrictions; he did anything he wished. He was tyrannical and arrogant. He thought that no one had the right to take him to account about anything.” The revelations emerged in a five-part interview by a pan-Arab daily of Nuri al-Mismari, a former state protocol secretary with the rank of minister of state (al-Hayat, July 15; July 17; July 18; July 19). Al-Mismari was one of Qaddafi’s inner circle of aides and retainers, a position that gave him unique access to the personal and state secrets of the Qaddafi regime, secrets that would later place his life in jeopardy before he split from the regime in 2010.
Nuri al-Mismari (right) with Mu’ammar Qaddafi
The chief protocol officer says he was frequently imprisoned by Qaddafi, who would also occasionally punch him in the face. After leaving for France after being tipped off about a plot to murder him, al-Mismari claims he was told by other officials that Qaddafi was “preparing a basin of acid to drown me in as soon as I returned.”After Libya failed in its attempt to extradite al-Mismari, it sent an assassination team. The former Libyan official was placed in protective custody until the would-be assassins left France. There followed a procession of individuals trying to persuade al-Mismari to return to Libya, including the Libyan ambassador to France, members of al-Mismari’s family and even a personal visit from Qaddafi’s son, Mutassim al-Qaddafi (later killed in captivity after his capture during the October, 2011 Battle of Sirte).
Al-Mismari shed new light on the 1978 disappearance of Musa al-Sadr, the influential Iranian-born founder of the Afwaj al-Muqawama al-Lubnaniya (AMAL – Lebanese Resistance Detachments) and two companions while visiting Libya. Libya has long claimed the three men left Libya for Italy, but Italian officials insist the men never entered the country (see Terrorism Monitor Brief, September 22, 2011). According to al-Mismari, former Libyan intelligence chief Abdallah al-Sanusi (then a junior intelligence officer) asked the chief of protocol to obtain Italian visas for the passports of Imam Musa al-Sadr and his two companions. Al-Mismari claims that Libyan intelligence took advantage of the lax inspection routine for those travelling under diplomatic passports by sending a military intelligence officer to Italy who resembled the Imam and who wore al-Sadr’s clothing. The officer then returned to Libya using his own diplomatic passport while the passports of the missing men were left in a hotel room in Italy to be discovered by authorities, leaving the Qaddafi regime with documented “proof” that Imam al-Sadr and his companions had left Libya for Italy.
Regarding the September, 1989 bombing of UTA Flight 772 over Niger that killed 156 passengers and 15 crew members, al-Mismari confirmed the account of former Libyan foreign minister Abd al-Rahman Shalgham, who said a year ago that the bombing was part of a Libyan intelligence plot to kill opposition leader Muhammad al-Maqrif (who turned out to not be on the plane) (al-Hayat, July 18, 2011). Al-Mismari adds that Libyan officials also thought the plane was carrying a number of leading Chadian officials, including president Hissène Habrè. Abdallah al-Sanusi and five other Libyans were tried and convicted in absentia in a French court in 1999 for their role in the bombing. The missing men are believed to have been killed on Qaddafi’s orders and buried in the desert near Sirte.
Despite his efforts to establish close relations with a host of African nations, Qaddafi privately mocked their heads of state, especially those who proved particularly fawning: “Al-Qaddafi loved to scorn and insult heads of state. He would say ‘bring me the black man’ – meaning the head of state of an African country – who was preparing to meet with him. When this head of state would leave, al-Qaddafi would say ‘the black man has left, give him something.’”
According to al-Mismari, Qaddafi liked to humiliate others by sleeping with their wives. His sadistic proclivities often resulted in scandalous situations that the protocol chief and others were forced to tidy up through large cash payments or the granting of government contracts. Qaddafi was also “terribly sexually deviant… young boys and so on… They used to be called the ‘services group.’ All of those were boys, bodyguards and harem for his pleasure.” Qaddafi would “indulge his debaucheries” in a vast underground residence at the Bab al-Zawiyah compound in Tripoli. According to al-Mismari, Qaddafi was advised on matters of virility by Italian president Silvio Berlusconi and was well supplied with pills by his intelligence chief and brother-in-law Abdallah al-Sanusi “to raise his morale and make him feel brave and strong.” Of the latter, al-Mismari remarks: “He was gentle, generous, respectful to your face. But he was bloodthirsty and carried out the orders of his master.” Al-Sanusi, who is believed to have carried out the 1996 Abu Salim prison massacre of 1,200 suspected Islamists and other prisoners, is now in Mauritanian custody where he faces charges of illegal entry. Libya, France, Scotland and the ICC are all interested in his extradition to face charges in various cases of terrorism and political violence (Reuters, May 21).
Having been present at all state occasions during his time as protocol chief, al-Mismari had a number of observations to offer regarding Qaddafi’s relations with various world leaders:
- Qaddafi hated Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, “cursing him and calling him petty, stupid and reckless.” Qaddafi backed the Iraqi opposition while Saddam supported Qaddafi’s enemies in Chad.
- Qaddafi appears to have been infatuated with former American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “He invited her to dinner, and when she entered his private suite, she saw her portrait in a frame, hanging on a wall in his suite. When she saw it, she was shocked.” Qaddafi lavished gifts on Rice worth over $212,000, including a diamond ring and a locket with Qaddafi’s picture in it. When rebels seized Qaddafi’s compound in August, 2011, they discovered a photo album full of pictures of the Secretary of State (CBS, August 25, 2011).
- Qaddafi was fond of referring to presidents and kings alike as “my son,” including U.S. president Barack Obama: “He used to do that on purpose in order to belittle people. We used to beg him not to say ‘My Son’ when addressing leaders.”
- Qaddafi was especially arrogant in his visits to Leonid Brezhnev in the Soviet Union: “[Qaddafi] would set an appointment then be deliberately late. Then, Brezhnev would go and wait for him outside his room at the Kremlin until he came out. It was embarrassing. Brezhnev was old and he could barely walk. Qaddafi would say that he was coming and Brezhnev would wait and wait.”
- Qaddafi liked to summon visiting leaders in the middle of the night, including Nelson Mandela: “[Qaddafi] told me to get dressed and to fetch Mandela, who was visiting Libya after having left the post of president. I spoke to Mandela’s adviser and he said: “Are you insane? The man is asleep and he is sick and his knees hurt.” I told him: “these are the instructions.” He said: “What kind of instructions? Do you think that Mandela is an employee of yours? I will not allow anyone to wake him up.”
- When UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visited Tripoli to discuss the Lockerbie bombing Qaddafi had him brought to his tent at night by a circuitous route through the desert, though the tent was only 200 meters from the coastal road. When he finally reached the tent, Annan was genuinely alarmed by the bellowing of camels in the pitch black night, which he took for the roar of lions.
- Though Egypt is a far larger and more important country than Libya, Qaddafi never regarded Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak as his equal. During an Arab summit meeting, Qaddafi wore white gloves to avoid directly shaking Mubarak’s hand. Mubarak was also once forced to visit Qaddafi in his desert tent, but said afterwards: “If there’s a desert next time, then I will not go to Libya.”
This article first appeared in the July 26, 2012 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor