The 2 January decision by the Prosecutor General’s Office in Tripoli to issue arrest warrants for Abdelhakim Belhadj, Ibrahim Jedhran, and nearly three dozen others has continued to have political fallout. They are pursued for their alleged roles in disrupting oil production in the Oil Crescent and attacking Tamanhint airbase near Sebha in 2017.
There are suspicions about bias in the Prosecutor General’s Office in Tripoli and particularly by Sadiq al-Sour who is one of its most important leaders. He has habitually attacked Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s opponents more vigorously than other criminal actors in his jurisdiction.
During the beginning of the Gulf crisis in mid-2018, for example, al-Sour was vocal about his opposition to Qatari influence in Libya. During the initial implementation of the security arrangements following last summer’s Tripoli militia crisis, however, he very quietly pressed Abdelraouf Kara and his Special Deterrence Force to open up its illegal detention centre at Mitiga Airport for state inspection.
There were also efforts to lift the immunity of the High State Council (HSC) head, Khaled Mishri, to investigate him for corruption and administrative violations that he allegedly committed when he was head of the financial committee of the General National Congress (GNC) before 2014. Apparently there has been an ongoing corruption investigation into Mishri’s activity since 2017. It is possible the current move against Mishri is associated with a push against Haftar’s opponents.
It is reasonably likely that the arrest warrants are timed to take place during a broader cleansing of Tripoli’s militia landscape before an anticipated push by the Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) for more influence. These arrest warrants — along with the new UN sanctions against militia leader Salah Badi and a systematic assassination campaign against leaders of Tripoli’s largest militia, Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade — may embolden the LNA to make its move against Tripoli sooner rather than later. However, it will not make such a move uncontroversial or bloodless.
The implications are that Libya’s weak judicial system has likely been discredited by being politicised. After what can only loosely be described as an internal investigation into alleged war crimes committed by its senior commander, Mahmoud Werfalli—including extrajudicial killings that were filmed and posted on YouTube — the LNA decided to drop its arrest warrant on 6 January. This proves that the LNA leadership was never serious about investigating these attacks and only launched the investigation in order to reduce international pressure. Once international attention shifted away from the crimes, it dropped the issue.
The LNA had been reluctant to do anything about Werfalli’s alleged crimes, which he most likely committed, and refused to keep him in custody. In part this was due to the commander’s popularity among influential segments of eastern Libya. The LNA still relies on support in these areas for its survival.
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