CIA chief visits Libya after Lockerbie suspect handover

William Burns makes a rare trip to Libya, meeting the country’s interim Prime Minister Dbeibah and eastern-based military strongman Haftar.

CIA Director William Burns
CIA Director William Burns on the 75th anniversary of the agency's founding in Langley, Virginia, on July 8, 2022 [File: Samuel Corum/AFP]

The Central Intelligence Agency chief, William Burns, has made a rare trip to Libya, meeting the country’s interim premier weeks after authorities handed the United States a suspect in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, the Tripoli-based government said.

The meeting in Tripoli on Thursday, also reported by Libyan media, was part of the first visit by a CIA director to the North African country since the 2012 attack against a US mission in Benghazi that killed the US ambassador and three others.

The visit and the meeting with Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah were announced by his Government of National Unity on its Facebook page, where a picture of Burns and Dbeibah together was posted.

“Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibeh hosted the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William Burns” at the cabinet office in Tripoli, along with Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush and Libyan intelligence chief Hussein al-Ayeb, Dbeibah’s government said in the post.

Burns “underlined the need to develop economic and security cooperation between the two countries”, it said.

Libyan media reported that Burns also met Khalifa Haftar, the eastern Libya-based military strongman who has attempted to march on Tripoli and overthrow the Government of National Unity in the past.

The meeting took place at Haftar’s headquarters in Benghazi.

The CIA, which does not regularly announce such visits, declined to comment.

Libya has been in a tumultuous state since a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 that saw the demise of ruler Muammar Gaddafi and plunged Libya into division and violence.

The country has been de facto divided since 2014 between warring factions based in the west and east of the country.

Dbeibah’s government was installed through a United Nations-backed process in 2021 as part of a peace plan, but his administration is no longer recognised by the main political factions in the east.

Burns, CIA chief since March 2021, visited Libya in 2014 as undersecretary of state for the Middle East.

He was the first US official to visit the country when Washington was mending ties with the Gaddafi regime.

Last month, a Libyan man accused of making the bomb that took down a Pan Am flight over Scotland in 1988, appeared in a US court after being extradited by Dbeibah’s government.

Alleged former intelligence officer Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir al-Marimi could face life in prison if convicted of “destruction of an aircraft resulting in death” and two other related charges over the attack, which killed 270 people and was the deadliest-ever terror attack in Britain.

The move sparked a public backlash against the Tripoli-based government, with Dbeibah facing bitter criticism from political rivals, rights groups and relatives of Libyan detainees who fear being handed over themselves. Libya has no extradition treaty with Washington.

Source: News Agencies