United Nations special representative for Libya Martin Kobler has been negotiating since March 2016 with former war lord Abdelhakim Belhadj and other militia leaders to install Fayez El Sarraj's national unity government in Tripoli. Belhadj, the former emir of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), is thus continuing to play a key role in the discussions with the international community which began with the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
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He was for a time suspected of involvement in the 2004 terrorist attack in Madrid and of having links with the leadership of Al Qaeda but has today swapped his battle dress for a three piece suit. He has had a tumultuous career. He fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s, was interrogated in the prisons of the CIA in the early 2000s and then held in Libya’s Abu Salim Prison. In 2009, with the help of Muslim Brotherhood preacher Ali Sallabi, he negotiated his liberation with Gaddafi’s son, Saïf al-Islam. In 2011, he went to Qatar to take command of the elite February 17 Brigade when the insurrection against the regime in Libya began.
Five years on, Belhadj, now in his fifties, has begun a new life. He remains Influential with the government in Tripoli and the Fajr Libya militia coalition but keeps out of the fighting as he works to extend his business activities from his fiefdom in Mitiga, where he controls the airport and the area surrounding it, and his rear base in Turkey. The soldier turned businessman is active in a range of sectors, including health care, property, air transport and the media, and this in the Sudan, Tunisia, and Turkey, as well as Libya. To achieve this success, Belhadj has been able to rely on political and economic support from a network of businessmen and other influential figures.
Here, we will be investigating Belhadj’s business affairs, including: his close relationship with preacher Ali Sallabi; the support he receives from Libyan families like the Abusedras and the Elaradis; the powerful backers he has in other countries in the region, including, notably, Tunisia’s Chafik Jarraya; his role in air transport company Libyan Wings and the Al Nabaa TV channel.
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