Did a French Spy Kill Muammar Gaddafi?

Overlapping news reports in Europe suggest that French intelligence services located and killed fleeing Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 using critical information provided by a fellow tyrant: Syrian President Bashar Assad

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A man holds a burning poster of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi in Benghazi, Libya, in March 2011

Was the October 2011 killing of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi amid a crowd of insurgents in fact a professional hit by French intelligence services — with an assist from Syrian strongman Bashar Assad? That’s the speculation that has emerged from overlapping European media reports in recent weeks, suggesting Gaddafi’s death may have been a bid to prevent him from revealing damaging secrets about the government of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

That speculation arose from a Sept. 29 article by Italian daily Corriere della Sera looking into recent claims by former Libyan official Mahmoud Jibril. Jibril, an opposition leader who served as Prime Minister for Libya’s transitional government, told Egypt’s Dream TV on Sept. 26 that “a foreign agent had been infiltrated into the revolutionary brigades to kill Colonel Gaddafi,” who at the time was on the run in western Libya. The Italian report goes on to quote an unidentified European diplomat arguing that the assassination-bent spy had to be French — noting that France and its then President Sarkozy had much to lose if Gaddafi had been allowed to go public with their secret dealings.

Why would France be more vulnerable than other nations that also dealt with Libya under the unsavory Gaddafi? In large part because of Sarkozy’s once cozy relationship with the Libyan. Just three months into his presidency, Sarkozy persuaded Gaddafi to release five Bulgarian health workers who had been imprisoned for years in Libya on what were considered bogus charges that they’d intentionally infected children with HIV. That bargain took place amid murky financial and diplomatic transactions. Later, Sarkozy hosted Gaddafi during a high-profile state visit to Paris — a trip that was supposed to serve as the reformed Libyan’s return to polite global company, but which turned into an embarrassing fiasco for France. That was when the pair’s friendship began to sour; it ended entirely when Sarkozy spearheaded the NATO operation that resulted in Gaddafi’s ouster. It was during those hostilities that Gaddafi intimates repeatedly aired claims that the dictator had provided illegal funds to finance Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign. Sarkozy has steadfastly denied those charges, though they have continued to dog him.

But even if Paris may have had motives for taking Gaddafi out, did it also have the means and opportunity? Perhaps so, according to the British Daily Telegraph. On Sept. 30 it published a story quoting the former head of rebel intelligence services as stating Syria helped France locate Gaddafi in his final hiding place. According to the story, Syrian President Assad offered to give Sarkozy the secret satellite phone number of Assad’s friend and fellow tyrant Gaddafi in exchange for Paris’ letting up on Damascus’ attempts to violently smother its own domestic uprising.

Under this theory, rather than stumbling upon Gaddafi cowering in a concrete drainpipe in Sirte, Libyan rebels were directed to the area after French intelligence had tracked Gaddafi down via his satellite phone. In the chaos surrounding his capture, shots were fired that ended the dictator’s life — though even cell-phone video taken at the scene doesn’t reveal who actually killed the bloodied despot.

Doubts about who did may grow further still, with news preceding the reports crediting a French intelligence operative. On Sept. 25, the young Libyan rebel fighter whom many people considered responsible for Gaddafi’s capture and killing died in a Paris hospital from injuries suffered during his July abduction by Gaddafi loyalists. All these new developments concerning Gaddafi’s last days and minutes raise new questions about exactly who brought them to an end.