Saturday, February 02, 2013

Post-Gaddafi Libya Faces Widening Drug Problems

Libya’s drug menace could threaten Europe

By Mathieu Galtier
Tripoli, 2 February 2013:

Khaled Karrah, a relative of Abdul Rauf Karrah, the leader of the SSC, is the former head of the local council in Suq Al-Juma. He is now deeply involved in a campaign to prevent minors from becoming mixed up with drugs and violence. He is appealing to European countries to help Libya in the fight against the drugs trade which, if not contained, could have serious repercussions in the EU.

Libya is facing a lot of issues with the economy, politics and security. Why are you sure that drug trafficking is such a major issue?

The instability of the state is due to the drug dealers and young drug addicts. They are responsible for about 80 percent of the cases of night-time abductions. The false check-points are also organised by young Libyans under the influence of drugs and alcohol. They steal the nicest cars and abduct people to get money to buy more drugs. When they are arrested, most of them are drunk or in a trance-like state.

What do you think would be a solution to this problem?

The government created special units, “wahada khassa,” in November to fight the war against drug dealers. The Ministry of the Interior chose five to ten of the best from each unit (brigades which signed an agreement with the government). There are 120 personnel in these units, although right now, they are not very well-trained for this specific job. The Ministry of Interior trains them in small groups to ensure they always have agents in the field. It is a trial programme being run in and around Tripoli but it could be extended to the whole country.

So far, what have these special units achieved?

Since the end of November they have seized eight tons of drugs, 6,500 litres of alcohol, 3,000 pills (ecstasy and LSD) and 1.5 kg of cocaine. These are huge quantities for a country with such a small population. And this is just in the area of Tripoli.

What is the profile of these drug dealers in Libya?

During the revolution, Gaddafi released 16,000 prisoners, many of whom used to deal drugs. Others have also entered the business since the revolution.

These dealers have heavy weapons like RPGs, and gelignite to make bombs. There are some 25 million weapons in Libya. I was a rebel and, at that time, nobody asked you for your CV. You were given weapons to eradicate the former regime and that was it.

When drug dealers go on the streets, they wear hoods and military fatigues. They are fearless. Policemen are sometimes afraid to arrest them. They think: “If I arrest him, he will probably seek revenge against my family.” During a drugs operation, policemen have a 50 percent chance of being killed and they are fully aware of it.

Do even special unit members share this concern?

Yes, they don’t have the same equipment as the drug dealers. As members of the official police, they have only been issued with a pistol and a rifle. They don’t even have bulletproof vests or armoured cars.

This is why we need help and assistance from Europe. If big drug dealers move into Libya it will have serious consequences not just for this country but for Europe as well. The Italian coasts are only one hour from here by boat. The war against drugs is an international war.

Can you explain what you mean?

Today, drugs are coming in from outside Libya and are aimed at the local market. Drugs are cheaper here than in Morocco or Latin American countries (it costs LD 1 for an ecstasy pill, for example), so European drug dealers could decide to make Libya a hub for their traffic and set up sweatshops here to make the drugs.

They have already taken advantage of the weakness of our security. In early January, for example, a boat full of cars from the Netherlands was checked in the port of Khoms. We found 11,000 LSD pills inside the cars. This is why we need close collaboration with European police. We need special training and equipment to detect drugs. If nothing is done, Europe could soon be overrun by drugs from Libya.

In connection with this Khoms operation, a suspect from the Fashlum area in Tripoli was arrested and later died at hospital. The family has claimed the police tortured him to death. What is your reaction?

A forensic doctor has been appointed to investigate this case and we have to wait for his conclusion. If torture was involved, the perpetrators will be arrested, judged and sentenced. It is not the way to act in a state governed by the rule of law. A suspect has to be interrogated to get more information about drugs trafficking. But, even if such a behaviour did happen, the government should not stop fighting drug dealers. It is easy to provoke a crowd saying, “look what the police did,” and some people from Fashlum went to the Mitiga area to confront the special units. At the head of the demonstration were drug dealers. They killed two policemen and, by accident, two people from their own group. I am sure that no shots were fired from the police side.

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