MI6 drew up top-secret plans to allow Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to flee to another African country which was not subject to international law, a new book to be serialised in tomorrow’s Daily Telegraph discloses.
By Holly Watt, Whitehall Editor
The explosive plan was drawn up at the highest levels of the British Government as fears mounted over how to remove the dictator during the Libyan conflict.
Andrew Mitchell, the then International Development Secretary, was dispatched to build covert contacts with the controversial regime in Equatorial Guinea.
The plan was never executed as Gaddafi was killed in October 2011, although there has always been speculation that this happened as he was leaving the country.
The details of the Gaddafi exit strategy are disclosed in In It Together by Matthew d’Ancona. The book, which will be serialised in the Daily and Sunday Telegraph this weekend is based on interviews with key Government figures and discloses hitherto unknown details about the key moments for the Coalition.
In a chapter dedicated to the Libyan crisis, Mr d’Ancona describes the secret plan to smuggle Gaddafi out of Libya – in order to create one option for ending the bloodshed caused by the uprising.
As Colonel Gaddafi’s rule collapsed in 2011, MI6 prepared to move the dictator to the small west African country, which does not recognise the International Criminal Court.
As Nato forces bombed Libya in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, British officials debated options for the Libyan leader.
An internal safe haven in Libya was considered, but rejected because it was unlikely to be accepted by the Libya’s National Transitional Council.
“There were signs that the Colonel might accept some form of internal exile – as long as he were allowed an adequate protection force to ensure his security,” writes Mr d’Ancona. “Not surprisingly, this was dismissed as impractical.”
The Cabinet Office and MI6 therefore “prepared an exit strategy for Gaddafi in case it was necessary to strike a deal and to end the conflict.”
Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator, for example, lived out his life in Saudi Arabia. Equatorial Guinea, “oil-rich but awesomely corrupt”, was selected for Colonel Gaddafi.
Although Britain has no bilateral links with Equatorial Guinea, contributing only small amounts in aid, Mr Mitchell “was able to assist the officials tasked with these delicate contingency plans, helping make the necessary contacts in the capital, Malabo, and elsewhere”.
Equatorial Guinea “was chosen as a prospective retirement home”, according to the book.
Ultimately, Colonel Gaddafi was killed by rebels as he tried to flee Sirte in October 2011. It was believed that he was heading for the border of Niger at the time of his death.
His 50-car convoy was attacked by Nato airplanes before rebels attacked on the ground. Colonel Gaddafi was tortured before he was killed.
It has previously been reported that Colonel Gaddafi was being escorted by a group of private force of South African fighters when he came under attack.
One of the South Africans subsequently claimed that they believed the escape attempt was operating with tacit support from Western countries.
However, the group drove into an ambush with sustained air strikes from French warplanes and ground attacks from rebel fighters.
Equatorial Guinea gained notoriety after an unsuccessful coup attempt in 2004 led by the old Etonian Simon Mann.
The “Wonga Coup” failed after a group of mercenaries were arrested in Zimbabwe shortly before launching an attack.
Although the ICC had issued an arrest warrant for Colonel Gaddafi, Equatorial Guinea’s refusal to recognise the court’s authority would have kept Colonel Gaddafi outside its reach.
It is believed that some of the mercenaries involved in the Equatorial Guinea coup were also involved in the attempt to extract Gaddafi.
Crause Steyl, a pilot and one-time business partner of Sir Mark Thatcher, claimed he was asked, just after the Libyan dictator’s death, to fly stranded mercenaries – former soldiers and South African policemen – out of a mission “which had gone badly wrong”. Mr Steyl was not involved in the Libyan rescue attempt.
Dr Julian Lewis, the Conservative MP for New Forest East, said that Colonel Gaddafi’s fate might make it harder to negotiate with dictators in the future.
“Whilst no-one need shed any tears for him personally, his fate will not encourage other tyrants to accept Western encouragement to turn away from terrorism. If you don’t give such dictators a possible way out, they have nothing to lose by fighting on to the bitter end,” said Dr Lewis.