Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

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April 11, 2003

Libyan Aircraft Collects “VIP Group” From Syria; Flies Back to Libya

Exclusive. From GIS Station Tripoli. A Libyan Air Force — Al Quwwat al Jawwiya al Jamahiriyah al Arabiya al Libya (Libyan Arab Republic Air Force) — Ilyushin Il-76 Candid transport aircraft departed the former US Air Force base at Wheelus Field, now known as Okba bin Nafa, just outside of Tripoli, on April 10, 2003, and flew to Syria, where, under conditions of extreme secrecy, it embarked a group of seven “VIP” cars, along with considerable baggage and security. The aircraft then returned to Okba bin Nafa where the passengers were disembarked and taken to an undisclosed destination.

The aircraft departed Okba bin Nafa at 18.00hrs local on April 9, 2003, for Syria, and returned at 16.30hrs local on April 10, 2003. This data was verified by four separate GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily sources.

It is known that Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein had built a “family compound” in Libya, just outside of Benghazi, the capital of the Cyrenaica province. There was no evidence that the visitors included Pres. Saddam Hussein, but speculation centered around the possibility that members of his family might have been moved to Libya. Libyan sources said that Libyan leader Col. Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi lacked the nerve to accept Saddam into Libya, for fear of US retribution.

Meanwhile, key Libyan officials have discreetly been reaching out for support from foreign sources, particularly initiating contacts with senior Russian officials, among others. Sources in Tripoli indicated that there is now growing concern in circles close to Qadhafi that — with the leader’s failing health — the transition of power to Saif al-Islam, Qadhafi’s son and designated heir, may be jeopardized.

Reuters news agency reported on April 10, 2003, that Syrian Government and official media had maintained silence in the face of US accusations that the country was helping supporters of Pres. Saddam Hussein flee Iraq. There was no response to remarks by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on April 9, 2003, that the Pentagon had “scraps of intelligence saying that Syria has been cooperative in facilitating the move of the people out of Iraq and into Syria”. Imad Shuaibi, a Syrian analyst close to Damascus leaders, was quoted as saying: “Syria is not worried. There is no chance that these allegations will turn into threats ... I see no threat in this statement, it is even milder than previous ones.” The Syria Government dismissed earlier accusations by Secretary Rumsfeld that military equipment was being transported through its territory to Iraq. Secretary Rumsfeld then described Syrian support for Saddam’s rule as a “hostile act”.