Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi shelled out 5 million euros to the abductors of 14 European tourists kidnapped in the Sahara Desert to broker their release earlier this week.
Citing unnamed diplomats who requested anonymity, Agence France-Presse reports Libya paid the ransom “on its own initiative.” The money was transferred through an intermediary chosen by Tripoli.
Germany’s ZDF television had earlier reported a Malian negotiator had given ransom money paid by the German government to the hostage-takers, who had demanded $5 million for each of the 14 being held in Mali.
According to Agence France-Presse, the diplomats said the money passed “neither through Malian nor German hands.”
The nine Germans, four Swiss and one Dutchman freed Monday were among 32 tourists abducted by Algerian militants while trekking across the desert by an al-Qaida-linked Islamic terrorist group.
Algerian army commandos rescued the other 17 tourists in May following a four-hour gun battle in which nine of the kidnappers, who fired on the soldiers with Kalashnikovs, were killed.
As first reported by WorldNetDaily’s premium online intelligence newsletter, Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, six separate groups of adventure tourists – 16 Germans, 10 Austrians, four Swiss, a Dutchman and a Swede – vanished along with their all-terrain vehicles and motorbikes between mid-February and March. They were believed taken captive by a bandit chieftain, Mokhtar Belmokhtar – described as part Robin Hood and part Osama bin Laden.
Belmokhtar – also known as Belaouer (“the one-eyed”) – operates from a vast desert in the southeast corner of Algeria. He is involved in drug-smuggling, gun-running and highway robbery. As the declared regional leader of an extreme Islamist organization, the “Salafist Group for Combat and Prayer” which seeks to install an Islamic state in Algeria, Belmokhtar is believed to have ties with al-Qaida.
Libyan President Col. Moammar Gadhafi (Courtesy: Sky News)
The diplomats theorized the ransom gesture was part of Gadhafi’s campaign to gain “international respectability” amid ongoing talks in the United Nations Security Council over when to lift sanctions imposed on Libya after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.
In January 2001, an international court found a Libyan intelligence officer responsible for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people.
A week ago Libya agreed to pay up to $10 million to each of the victims’ families as compensation. State Department officials report Libya has begun transferring the $2.7 billion into a Swiss escrow account per the settlement agreement.
In February, the dictator assailed by human rights groups as having “compiled one of the world’s worst human rights records” offered to mediate between President George W. Bush and then-President Saddam Hussein to avoid what he called an irrational war in Iraq.
“I would like to save international peace,” he told reporters attending a summit of the African Union in Addis Ababa.
In the months leading up to the coalition invasion, the Libyan leader tried to persuade Hussein to choose exile. His efforts, according to AFP, involved meeting with Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak in Tripoli.
In November, British newspapers reported Hussein had reached a secret deal with Libya to provide asylum for his family and senior members of the Iraqi regime in exchange for several billion dollars. Libyan officials denied the reports.
WorldNetDaily reported in January 2001 that an Iraqi-Kurdish doctor, Hassan Abdul Salaam, who served in the Iraqi army, claims Hussein smuggled weapons of mass destruction into Libya, as well as Algeria and Sudan.