US embassy cable - 09TRIPOLI208 (original version)


Identifier: 09TRIPOLI208
Wikileaks: View 09TRIPOLI208 at
Origin: Embassy Tripoli
Created: 2009-03-09 16:08:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Redacted: This cable was redacted by Wikileaks. [Show redacted version] [Compare redacted and unredacted version]
DE RUEHTRO #0208/01 0681608
O P 091608Z MAR 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 TRIPOLI 000208 
E.O. 12958: DECL:  3/4/2019 
REF: A) 08 TRIPOLI 564, B) 08 TRIPOLI 592, C) TRIPOLI 198, D) 08 TRIPOLI 870 
, E) 08 TRIPOLI 679, F) 08 TRIPOLI 494, G) TRIPOLI 196, H) TRIPOLI 134, I) 0 
8 TRIPOLI 227 
CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy - 
Tripoli, U.S. Dept of State. 
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 
1. (C) Summary: A series of events since last summer suggest 
that tension between various children of Muammar al-Qadhafi has 
increased, and that heir-apparent Saif al-Islam is arrayed 
against Muatassim, Aisha, Hannibal, Saadi and perhaps even his 
own mother.  Much of the tension appears to stem from resentment 
of Saif al-Islam's high-profile as the public face of the 
regime; however, deeper tension about contradictions between 
Saif al-Islam's proposed political-economic reforms, which would 
hurt his siblings' economic interests, and the old school manner 
by which he has tried to monopolize the most lucrative economic 
sectors, also play an important role.  The arrest and 
intimidation of a number of Saif al-Islam allies since last 
summer, on the one hand, and moves to circumscribe Muatassim's 
role in military equipment procurement, on the other, suggest 
that the current level of discord among al-Qadhafi's children is 
acute.  While internecine strife is nothing new for the famously 
fractious al-Qadhafi family, the recent escalation of tension 
comes during a particularly momentous period.  Amid turmoil 
related to the 40th anniversary of the revolution, Muammar 
al-Qadhafi's recent election as African Union chairman, proposed 
political-economic reforms and persistent rumors about 
al-Qadhafi's health and the absence of a viable mechanism to 
orchestrate a succession, the sharp rivalry between the 
al-Qadhafi children could play an important, if not 
determinative role, in whether the family is able to hold on to 
power after the author of the revolution exits the political 
scene.  End summary. 
2. (C) As reported ref A, National Oil Corporation Chairman 
Shukhr Ghanem was approached by National Security Adviser 
Muatassim al-Qadhafi, son of Muammar al-Qadhafi, in late June 
2008 with a request for USD 1.2 billion, reportedly to establish 
a military/security unit akin to that of his younger brother, 
Khamis, and to make unspecified security upgrades.  In early 
July, Ghanem informed Muammar al-Qadhafi; however, he laughingly 
dismissed it.  According to Ibrahim el-Meyet (strictly protect) 
a prominent Tripoli-based attorney and business consultant, 
Ghanem subsequently submitted a letter of resignation in 
mid-August, believing that Muatassim or his confederates would 
seek revenge against Ghanem and/or his family for having denied 
the request for funds. (Note: El-Meyet has known Ghanem for more 
than 40 years; the two men's families socialize together at 
least once a week, usually at the families' farms outside 
Tripoli.  End note.) 
3. (C) Ghanem's attempt to resign roughly coincided with two 
other disturbances of al-Qadhafi family comity: the arrest of 
Hannibal al-Qadhafi, a son of Muammar al-Qadhafi, in Geneva in 
mid-July (ref B subsequent) and a visit to Rome by Saadi 
al-Qadhafi, a son of Muammar al-Qadhafi, against his father's 
express wishes in early August.  Hannibal and Saadi both have 
checkered histories of unseemly behavior and public scuffles 
with authorities in Europe and elsewhere.  Although Muammar 
al-Qadhafi was reportedly fed a carefully vetted version of the 
events attendant to Hannibal's arrest to help minimize the 
perception that Hannibal was to blame, the elder al-Qadhafi was 
reportedly vexed that Libya, for reasons of protecting the first 
family's pride, had to engage in a bilateral spat with 
Switzerland at a time when it was trying to move ahead with 
negotiations for a framework agreement with the European Union. 
With respect to Saadi's trip, Muammar al-Qadhafi was reportedly 
livid that Libyan officials had permitted him to exit the 
country when it was known that he was not supposed to travel. 
Al-Qadhafi was particularly upset that Abdullah Sanussi, a 
former director of military intelligence and senior regime 
figure who had played a role as minder of the more troublesome 
al-Qadhafi offspring, had not done a better job of keeping track 
of Saadi. (Note: Sanussi is related by marriage to al-Qadhafi 
and is a trusted figure.  He is usually in physical proximity to 
the tent in which al-Qadhafi holds meetings with visiting 
foreign dignitaries and, according to members of al-Qadhafi's 
protocol office, personally oversees al-Qadhafis' close 
protection detail.  End note.) 
4. (C) The upshot of Muatassim's solicitation of funds, 
Hannibal's arrest and Saadi's jaunt was an al-Qadhafi family 
meeting in mid-August.  Al-Qadhafi reportedly decided to reduce 
Sanussi's role as a minder for the most troublesome children (he 
is still a key adviser to Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi) and to 
TRIPOLI 00000208  002 OF 005 
instead assign his daughter, Aisha al-Qadhafi, the task of 
monitoring the activities of ne'er-do-wells Saadi, Hannibal and 
Saif al-Arab.  (Note: The latter is the least publicly know of 
al-Qadhafi's children; he lives in Munich, where he pursues 
ill-defined business interests and spends much time partying. 
The German Ambassador has expressed concern to us that it is 
only a matter of time before there is an incident involving him. 
 End note.)  At the meeting, Saadi reportedly criticized his 
father for having ignored him, and specifically cited the fact 
that his (Saadi's) efforts to establish an Export Free Trade 
Zone near the western Libyan town of Zuwara had not enjoyed the 
kind of support that Muatassim's activities as National Security 
Adviser or Saif al-Islam's high-profile efforts under the 
Qadhafi Development Foundation and Libya Youth Forum.  As 
reported ref C, Muammar al-Qadhafi subsequently made an unusual 
visit to Zuwara last September and significant work on the 
development project began within a few days of his visit. 
Although the Zuwara Free Trade Zone is an ambitious and 
expensive project, Muammar al-Qadhafi likely views it as a 
relatively small price to pay if it helps occupy the notoriously 
ill-behaved Saadi and lends a patina of useful engagement to his 
otherwise less than sterling reputation. 
5. (C) Al-Meyet and Zahri Muntasser (strictly protect), a 
well-connected businessman whose wife socializes regularly with 
Aisha al-Qadhafi and Safia al-Qadhafi (wife of Muammar 
al-Qadhafi), have told us that Aisha played a strong role in 
urging a hardline Libyan position with respect to the 
Swiss-Libyan contretemps over Hannibal's arrest.  Separately, 
the Swiss Ambassador told us that Aisha's less than accurate 
rendering to her father of the events surrounding Hannibal's 
arrest and treatment by Swiss authorities helped stoke Muammar 
al-Qadhafi's anger, limiting the extent to which Libyan and 
Swiss officials could maneuver to find an acceptable compromise. 
  The Swiss have told us that in the most recent effort between 
the two sides to resolve the issue in Davos, Saif had approved 
an agreement that had the Swiss literally bending over backwards 
to assuage Libyan demands.  After making a phone call (to either 
Aisha or the leader), Saif returned somewhat chastened after 
several minutes to rescind the aproval.   The Swiss crisis, 
together with other points of intra-family tension, has 
reportedly brought Aisha, who enjoys closer relations with 
Hannibal than with her other brothers, together with Hannibal, 
Saadi and, to a lesser extent, Saif al-Arab.  Muatassim 
reportedly agreed with the hardline approach vis a vis the Swiss 
and has been closer to Aisha's end of the spectrum than to that 
of Saif al-Islam, who urged a more moderate approach.  Muhammad 
al-Qadhafi (the eldest son, but by al-Qadhafis' first wife) and 
Khamis al-Qadhafi (fifth son by al-Qadhafi's second wife and the 
well-respected commander of a special forces unit that 
effectively serves as a regime protection unit) have remained 
neutral.  Exacerbating family tensions is the fact that Saif 
al-Islam and his mother, Safia, have been on the outs since Saif 
al-Islam declined to accept as his bride the young woman his 
mother picked for him some two years ago.  Safia al-Qadhafi 
expressed frustration as recently as two months ago to 
Muntasser's wife that Saif al-Islam had not only spurned her 
choice, but had persisted in his hard-partying, womanizing ways, 
a source of concern in a socially conservative country like 
6. (C) Against that backdrop of tension, competition between 
Saif al-Islam, whom most still regard as the heir-apparent, and 
Muatassim, whose viability as a potential alternative successor 
has risen since his appointment as National Security Adviser, 
has increased since last fall.  Several well-informed contacts 
with ties to family circles have reported that Saif al-Islam and 
Muatassim have not spoken in over three months.  Saif reportedly 
bridled at the fact that Muatassim accompanied Muammar 
al-Qadhafi on the latter's visit to Moscow, Minsk and Kiev last 
year (ref D), and played a key role in negotiating potential 
weapons contracts.  Muatassim (who flew back early) and his 
older brother Muhammad greeted Muammar al-Qadhafi at the airport 
upon the latter's return to Tripoli; Saif, who was in town, was 
pointedly absent.  The Serbian Ambassador, citing conversations 
with National Security Council staff and members of al-Qadhafi's 
entourage, recently told us that Muatassim had presented a 
number of proposed contracts for weapons, equipment and training 
to the Secretary of the Temporary Interim Defense Committee 
(MOD-equivalent), Abu Bakr Yunis shortly after his return from 
Moscow.  Yunis rejected them, arguing that the terms Muatassim 
had negotiated were not favorable and that Libya did not need 
TRIPOLI 00000208  003 OF 005 
much of the equipment Muatassim had proposed buying.  Muatassim 
interpreted Yunis's response as an attempt to freeze him out of 
military procurement affairs; there was a heated meeting late 
last December between Muatassim and Yunis, at which there was 
sharp disagreement about who had the lead on military 
procurement.  Muatassim reportedly argued that he alone should 
make such decisions.  According to the Serbian Ambassador's 
contacts, Muammar al-Qadhafi called a rump session of the 
Security Committee in December to mediate the conflict.  It was 
reportedly decided that while Muatassim would have the clear 
lead in non-military security equipment procurement, Yunis and 
the MOD-equivalent would continue to play a role in military 
procurement.  It was further determined that Khamis al-Qadhafi 
would play a larger role in military procurement, since his 
Khamis Regiment (the 32nd Brigade) had demonstrated some success 
in procurement.  Muatassim, whom the Serbian Ambassador 
described as "a bloody man" and "not terribly bright", 
reportedly believed that Saif al-Islam was behind some of the 
pushback against his having a clear lead on military 
procurement, worsening the tension between them. 
7. (C) Saif al-Islam's highly-publicized visit to the U.S. last 
November-December exacerbated tension with his siblings, 
particularly Muatassim, who viewed it as grandstanding.  Saif 
al-Islam's high-profile role as the public face of the regime to 
the West has been a mixed blessing for him.  While it has 
bolstered his image (he is probably the most publicly-recognized 
figure in Libya other than Muammar al-Qadhafi), many Libyans 
view him as self-aggrandizing and too eager to please foreigners 
at the expense of Libyans' interest.  His role in the denouement 
of the Bulgarian nurses' case, in which he acknowledged in media 
interviews that the nurses had been tortured and the 
investigation into their alleged injection of the AIDS virus 
into Libyan children bungled, badly damaged his reputation.  The 
fact that his recent visit to the U.S. came not long after his 
August 2008 Youth Forum address - in which he strongly 
criticized the existing Jamahiriya system of governance, 
(disingenuously) said that most of his proposed reforms had 
already been achieved, and declared his intention to withdraw 
from political life to focus solely on civil society issues (ref 
E) - reportedly irritated his siblings.  Senior GOL contacts 
have suggested to us that Muatassim's desire to visit Washington 
this spring and his seemingly overweaning focus on having 
meetings with senior USG officials and signing a number of 
agreements are driven at least in part by a strong sense of 
competition with Saif al-Islam. 
8. (C) Recent events have fueled speculation that inter-sibling 
rivalries, and those of the more conservative regime elements 
they represent, have been increasing.  In what was viewed as a 
warning to Saif al-Islam against pressing his reform agenda too 
hard, regime critic Dhaw al-Mansuri was severely beaten on the 
street early last summer by men variously described as members 
of the Revolutionary Committees or security elements.  The 
Executive Director of the QDF-affiliated Human Rights Society of 
Libya, Muhammad Tarnesh, was detained in late April in 
connection with an editorial he had written criticizing the 
government's poorly coordinated campaign of housing and 
infrastructure development that featured as its primary 
accomplishment the seemingly random destruction of large numbers 
of residences and businesses.  Tarnesh told us the investigation 
was orchestrated by Prime Minister al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, who 
had taken umbrage at the column and who has been engaged in a 
quiet struggle with Saif al-Islam over the latter's 
political-reform agenda. (Note: Al-Mahmoudi was appointed as a 
sop to conservative regime elements in 2006 after Shukhri 
Ghanem, former PM and a pro-reform protigi of Saif al-Islam, was 
sacked.  End note.)  More recently, the detention in early 
February of Juma'a Atiaga on charges that he was involved in a 
banned political organization and had a hand in the 1984 
assassination of Libya's former Ambassador to Rome, Ammar Daw, 
has been widely interpreted by informed observers here as a run 
against Saif al-Islam by conservative regime elements (ref G). 
In interviews with al-Sharq al-Awsat at the time, Saif al-Islam 
decried the arrest as "ridiculous" and the QDF issued a 
statement calling for Atiaga's release and criticizing GOL 
authorities for having arrested Atiaga while ignoring other 
cases involving allegations of human rights abuses that the QDF 
had brought to the attention of authorities.  Reports suggest 
that National Security Adviser Muatassim al-Qadhafi orchestrated 
the arrest through the Prime Minister's office in retaliation 
for Saif al-Islam's recent encroachment on a business deal 
TRIPOLI 00000208  004 OF 005 
Muatassim was trying to broker. 
9. (C) Perhaps most tellingly, Saif al-Islam's longtime business 
partner and financial adviser, Abdulrahman Karfakh, left Tripoli 
under duress in January, ostensibly to study English in 
Australia.  The shadowy Karfakh ran the National Engineering 
Supply and Services Company (NESSCO), a large holding company 
through which Saif al-Islam holds quiet partnerships in a number 
of foreign entities whose entry into the Libyan market he helped 
facilitate.  Established as an oil field services companies in 
the late 1990's, NESSCO now owns large stakes in over 20 major 
joint-venture projects and runs a profitable business in 
providing "facilitation" (usually visas and meetings with key 
GOL officials) for foreign companies seeking to enter the 
market.  Together with Saif al-Islam's quiet allotment of oil 
lifts from an offshore mooring point near the western Libyan 
area of al-Jurf, NESSCO represents his primary source of revenue 
and the principal means by which he finances his many 
activities.  As reported ref H, we were told last May that 
Muatassim appeared to be moving to play a larger role in 
contracts with foreign companies, a bailiwick that had largely 
been reserved to that point for Saif al-Islam.  Karfakh was 
arrested last spring on corruption charges, supposedly at 
Muatassim's behest, and was only released after an impassioned 
plea by Saif al-Islam to his father.  Housing and Infrastructure 
Board Chairman Abuzeid Dorda told a contact of ours that Saif 
al-Islam had told Muammar al-Qadhafi that if he insisted on 
keeping Karfakh in prison, he might as well jail him (Saif 
al-Islam), too.  In the latest evolution, Muatassim's 
confederates approached Karfakh in late December/early January 
and warned him against interfering in Muatassim's business 
interests, threatening to kill him if he did not.  Saif al-Islam 
reportedly assessed that he could no longer guarantee Karfakh's 
safety or protect him from arrest, and arranged for him to 
quietly leave Tripoli for Australia for an indeterminate period 
to let things settle. 
10. (C) The contretemps over Karfakh coincided with a sharp 
denial by Saif al-Islam of (incorrect) western media reports 
that he had paid USD one million to pop singer Mariah Carey for 
a four song set she sang at a New Year's Eve bash on the 
Caribbean island of St. Bart's.  Saif al-Islam was in the UAE 
and Thailand for New Year's.  Saif's "Oea" newspaper hotly 
denied that their boss had been the financier and corrections 
were printed in western media noting that Muatassim, not Saif 
al-Islam, was the organizer of the party in question. (Note: A 
well-informed contact, who helped bring Lionel Ritchie to Libya 
several years ago to sing at Aicha's al-Qadhafi's birthday 
party, recently confirmed that he had helped put Muatassim's 
people in touch with Carey's manager.  End note.) 
11. (C) Comment: While internecine strife is nothing new for the 
famously fractious al-Qadhafi family, the recent escalation of 
tension between Saif al-Islam and Muatassim, Aisha, Hannibal and 
Saadi, comes during a particularly momentous period in the 
Jamahiriya's history.  The 40th anniversary of the revolution on 
September 1, 2009, together with Muammar al-Qadhafi's recent 
election as Chairman of the AU (ref H), proposed 
political-economic reforms, consideration of a constitution, and 
rumored elections, have contributed to a sense that Libya is in 
the midst of a period of particular political turbulence.  The 
Executive Director of the QDF recently told the DCM that a draft 
constitution had been finished and submitted to the General 
People's Committee (cabinet-equivalent) for approval, and that 
it could be submitted to the General People's Congress for 
ratification sometime this year.  The UN Resident Representative 
recently told the Ambassador that Saif al-Islam had established 
a super-committee under the auspices of the Economic and 
Development Board to draw up plans to implement wealth 
distribution and privatization/government restructuring 
advocated by Muammar al-Qadhafi last March (ref I).  In addition 
to the fact that Saif al-Islam's public calls for 
political-economic reforms are seemingly at odds with the old 
school manner in which he has attempted to monopolize the most 
lucrative sectors of the economy - a source of irritation for 
his siblings - the changes he has called for would directly and 
adversely impact their economic interests and those of other 
conservative regime elements who have few fungible skills other 
than political loyalty.  Saif al-Islam's recent announcement of 
a regional organization that would publicly identify specific 
individuals who perpetrate human rights abuses and target them 
for sanctions has been interpreted by some local observers as a 
manifestation of his frustration with the slow pace of reforms 
TRIPOLI 00000208  005 OF 005 
and as a threat to conservative regime elements, many of whom 
personally played a part in the most serious transgressions of 
the late 1970's and 1980's. 
12. (C) Comment (continued): Persistent rumors about Muammar 
al-Qadhafi's declining health have lent particular urgency to 
questions about succession scenarios, throwing into stark relief 
the fact that, absent a constitution, there is no legal 
mechanism by which to orchestrate such an endeavor and seemingly 
increasing the stakes for the sibling rivalry. Adding to the 
current tension is the fact that some of al-Qadhafi's children 
control military and security assets (Muatassim and Khamis - 
notably, Saif al-Islam does not).  Harking back to the bloody 
feuds between members of the ruling Karamanli family during the 
Ottoman period, a well-informed contact recently noted that it 
is historically not a good thing when rival Libyan siblings have 
armed militias at their disposal.  As Libya lurches forward with 
the effort to balance badly needed economic reform with the 
appearance of some political re-structuring - all against the 
backdrop of looming succession issues - the sharp rivalry 
between the al-Qadhafi children could play an important, if not 
determinative role, in whether the al-Qadhafi family is able to 
hold on to power after Muammar al-Qadhafi exits (one way or 
another) the political scene.  End comment. 

Latest source of this page is cablebrowser-2, released 2011-10-04