Some of the Western powers that were fighting Colonel Qaddafi’s military from the air and sea had, over the years, helped arm the very military they were criticizing for its attacks on civilians.
These Western weapons — including American 81-millimeter high-explosive ordnance; Italian air-to-ground rockets; and Belgian rifles, ammunition and land mines — all ended up, in time, in 'rebel' hands.
Belgian rifles were perhaps the most widely seen of the Western weapons. When Colonel Qaddafi’s Soviet-inspired armor columns moved on Libya’s cities, the gunmen riding along did not all carry Kalashnikovs. Many of them clutched Belgian exports, sometimes under circumstances that seemed almost to mock the spirit behind the limited rules that regulate the transfer of conventional weapons between states.
Roughly one month before Belgian F-16s would roam the Libyan skies, the tiny European country discovered on YouTube that its weapons were in the hands of those who chose to fight Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
A man in Benghazi, was holding a weapon with odd, easily recognizable features: the F.N. 303, a launcher designed by the Belgian company Fabrique Nationale de Herstal and shipped in 2009. The launcher was part of a deal between F.N. Herstal and the Libyan government in May 2008. The Belgian arms factory agreed to sell, along with the 2,000 F.N. 303’s, 367 F2000 automatic rifles, 367 P90 submachine guns, 367 Five Seven pistols, 30 Minimi machine guns, 22,032 40-millimeter grenades for the F2000s, 50 Renaissance pistols and 1.1 million rounds of ammunition. All in all, a deal worth more than 12 million euros, or almost $16 million at current exchange rates.
In Belgium’s decentralized political system, the regions have been responsible for approving licenses for arm exports since 2003. F.N. Herstal has a peculiar status: Although it is a private company, its one and only shareholder is the Walloon regional government. In order to ship the weapons to Libya, a longtime customer, F.N. needed authorization. The licenses were granted in quite an unusual way. The special commission in charge of investigating the deal was not able to make a clear decision at first. But under political and labor union pressure, the Walloon government agreed to the deal the day after regional elections in June 2009, when the Parliament could not gather and oppose the move.
Moreover, according to Belgian documents found in Libya by a Human Rights Watch team, part of the weapons shipment was ready roughly three weeks before the licenses were granted. It was a way to put more pressure on the government.
Officially, the weapons were to go to the Khamis Brigade, a special army unit under the direct command of Khamis Gaddafi, the youngest son of Colonel Qaddafi. The unit wanted to “replace its old and dysfunctional weapons” with new ones in order to “escort humanitarian convoys to Darfur.” In August 2009, two Belgian groups went to court to cancel the licenses, arguing that the weapons might be used in human rights abuses. Two months later, the Supreme Administrative Court of Belgium ruled in the case. But it was too late: F.N. Herstal had already shipped most of the weapons. A few weeks later, the Walloon government granted new licenses for the rest of the order.
By the end of November 2009, all the Belgian weapons had arrived in Libya. They would reappear, one by one, in photos and videos of the revolution until Colonel Qaddafi was captured in Surt. His golden gun, a Browning, was seized and displayed for the cameras as symbol of the government’s fall. The golden Browning bears an obvious “Made in Belgium” marking. It was part of the 2008 deal, among the 50 Renaissance pistols bought from F.N. Herstal. Before its shipment, it had been engraved with the seal of the Khamis Brigade.
Rebels captured other F.N. Herstal weapons from the same lot and bearing the same seal, first in Misurata, which had been besieged by the Khamis Brigade; then in Bani Walid; and finally in Tripoli. They are now in the hands of some members of the Transitional National Council, including its chairman, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil. He appeared on the Zuwarah city television channel aiming an F2000. Whether owned by Libya’s old or new rulers, the Belgian weapons bearing the Khamis Brigade seal have clearly served other purposes than the humanitarian ones for which they were sold.
Older Belgian weapons like the F.N. FAL or F.N. MAG, have been found in significant quantities in Libya. And they could prove to be more of a threat to the region’s stability than the shipment from 2009.
Robert Sauvage, a spokesman for the weapons company, said that “F.N. Herstal never makes any comments on its orders, their destinations, their nature and the quantities of weapons it sells.”
“For obvious reasons, related to industrial and commercial strategies,” he added, “we never give any information to the public concerning the nature, the quantity, the price and the destinations of our defense contracts.”
Large numbers of Belgian land mines, the P.R.B. M3A1 and P.R.B. NR-442, were also found in Libya. These mines were probably manufactured and sold to Libya in the 1970s and 1980s by the Poudrières Réunies de Belgique before the company went bankrupt in 1990. They were laid or stockpiled in crates in unguarded warehouses. The antitank landmine P.R.B. M3A1 has even been found in an improvised explosive device. The Belgian mines have also been used by anti-Qaddafi fighters. A BBC videoshowed some of them planting the land mines in April. Shortly after, the Transitional National Council promised to stop using the mines and to destroy any that had been stockpiled.
What will happen to those mines and rifles, old and new, remains an open question. Changes in the licensing process are being prepared, and statements made in 2009 and 2011 by the Supreme Administrative Court of Belgium might have an effect. Meanwhile, F.N. Herstal and other Belgian weapons manufacturers continue to make deals with countries like Saudi Arabia, and the details remain opaque.
Arms sales — and the circumstances behind them — are much less transparent than governments might have you believe.
1) Former Belgian Prime Minister and leader of the European liberals, Guy Verhofstadt, and Gadaffi. Verhofstadt was pleading for a military intervention in Libya and is actually pleading for a military intervention in Syria. He has good relations with the representants of the oil and weapons industry.
2) Verhofstadt and general Idris of the so called Syrian opposition.
3) One of the F2000 rifles sold by F.N. Herstal to Colonel Qaddafi’s government under a Belgian license that allowed the transfer on the grounds that the weapons would protect Libyan aid convoys to Sudan. It was captured in May by a rebel from Qaddafi soldiers who were defeated at Misurata.
Profit and Proliferation, Part 2: Will Belgian Arms End Up in Syria?
April 6, 2012
In a post yesterday, At War looked at how legal arms sales by Belgium’s main weapons manufacturer, FN Herstal, became a troubling factor in the Libyan conflict over the past year. Now there are concerns about where those weapons may turn up next.
Does Belgium share any responsibility in trying to secure Libya’s arms? That depends on whom you ask, and what you mean by “arms.”
Belgium promised 225,000 euros (about $300,000) to an international program led by the United States that is intended to secure the loose stock of heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles in Libya. These weapons were provided to Libya not by Belgium but by former Eastern bloc states. In 2013, a future phase of this program could focus on securing small arms, which Belgium did supply to Libya. While Belgium doesn’t exclude participating in it, the Walloon government, which is FN Herstal’s sole shareholder, has categorically refused to get involved. Its president, Rudy Demotte, argued that the problem was exclusively Libya’s and that his government did not want to enter a “neocolonial logic.”
But Belgium could be confronted with another problem in terms of small arms. Many Libyans say that Qatar, France, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates provided Libyan rebels with weapons during the recent war. Some of these countries are FN Herstal customers, raising the question of whether Belgian small arms, exported to countries that agreed not to re-export them, were nonetheless re-exported.
On Feb. 26, 2011, the United Nations voted the Resolution 1970, imposing an arms embargo in Libya. Nevertheless, in the spring and summer of 2011, Qatar started shipping military material to the rebels in Benghazi. Some of the weapons shipped by Qatar could well have been FN FAL assault rifles produced in Belgium, according to anti-Qaddafi fighters who received them.
Several fighters said in interviews that their FN FALs were supplied by Qatar. Also, a Libyan operator who worked at the Benina airport in Benghazi in April 2011 said he remembered crates from Qatar full of Belgian FALs. Those particular FALs match the weapons sold by Belgium to the Qatar armed forces. It was impossible to trace serial numbers, however, as this procedure requires a special Interpol request. The Walloon authorities as well as FN Herstal declined to comment.
Belgium’s federal authorities insisted they did not receive any re-export request from Qatar, but also said they have no intention to investigate further.
“The Belgian interpretation of the arms embargo is strict: no weapons were to be supplied,” said Michel Malherbe, a spokesman for the Belgian Foreign Affairs. In this interpretation, if the anti-Qaddafi fighers’ accounts are accurate, then Qatar potentially breached the terms of the U.N. resolution, and Belgium’s refusal to investigate is at odds with the position of one of its neighbors.
Switzerland, upon seeing military material it sold to Qatar in 2009 reappear in Libya in 2011, suspended its arms-export licenses to Qatar from July to December 2011.
The European Common Position on Arms Sales, adopted in 2008, stipulates that the selling country has to assess “the existence of a risk that the equipment will be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions.” Qatar, according to the Libyan fighters’ accounts, presents such a risk, as it re-exported military goods to third parties without authorization.
As the fighting continues in Syria, this issue could become more pressing. Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, the Qatari prime minister, declared on Feb. 27 that he was favorable to supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels in their fight against Bashar al-Assad. “We have to do what it takes to help them,” he said during an official visit to Norway, “including giving them weapons so that they could defend themselves.”
The same position was adopted by Saudi Arabia. Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, declared that humanitarian help was “not enough” and that arming Syrian rebels was “an excellent idea.” (On the other hand, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton voiced concerns that arming the Syrian opposition could also end up helping Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups get weapons more easily.)
Saudi Arabia is the second-most-important Belgian small-arms customer, behind the United States. This puts Belgian authorities into a difficult position: “The European code and the new Belgian law we tried to install are clear: we cannot export weapons to a country that doesn’t respect non re-export clauses,” said Sophie Paczkowski, spokesperson for the Walloon Region.
On March 9, the Walloon government invited Belgian federal authorities to ask the European Union partners about the Syrian situation. This request was made ahead of the meeting of an European Union Council Working Group on Conventional Arms Exports on April 26. The Walloon region first decided to suspend issuing new arms export licenses for Qatar and Saudi Arabia. On March 20, however, the region reversed its decision. Until the working group’s gathering, Wallonia will adapt its license policy to the decisions of other European Union countries.
Odds are that little will change after the meeting: no formal decisions will be made at this level. “For questions of this nature, it works more like a consultative body,” said Roy Isbister, from the violence watch group Saferworld. “Countries have an opportunity to ask their E.U. partners what they think about a particular issue, but they don’t have to, and anyway any decision is still then taken at the national level. The problem is that the European Common Position allows for multiple interpretations. It is the selling country that has to assess by itself, following its own interpretation of the criteria, including the risk of arms diversion, when it comes to selling military goods.”
The question remaining is: What will the European countries decide on their own national levels? If the arms licenses to Qatar and Saudi Arabia are not suspended, the sector’s regulations will prove to be no more than empty shells. If they are suspended, FN Herstal loses one of its bigger customers, and the whole Belgian weapons industry is endangered. Regarding Belgian and European arms interests, the Arab uprisings look more and more like a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. The Walloon region will not be able to indefinitely shift its responsibilities onto its European neighbors, and will ultimately face a critically tough decision.
Photo: Verhofstadt, leader of the European liberals, pleaded for a military intervention in Libya. He is actually pleading for a military intervention in Syria.
As a reminder
Police to be investigated over links between paedophile case and politician's murder, reports Sarah Helm
10 September 1996
Brussels - The authorities were facing new demands yesterday to explain possible links between a child sex ring and high-level political corruption, following the arrest of a former Belgian government minister.
In an atmosphere of mounting crisis, the Belgian press yesterday cried out for answers, declaring a virtual state of emergency.
"What country are we living in?" asked a front-page editorial in La Derniere Heure. "The most corrupt banana republics would pass for islands of tranquillity in comparison with deviant Belgium, which we no longer recognise."
Le Soir newspaper called for suspicion to be lifted if public faith were to be restored in Belgian institutions.
Responding to the furore yesterday, Jean Luc Dehaene, the Belgian Prime Minister said: "We have to investigate the investigation."
Alain Van der Biest was being held in a Belgian jail yesterday charged in connection with the 1991 murder of Andre Cools, who is widely believed to have been gunned down by gangsters on the orders of political rivals fearing he wanted to expose corruption.
The murder weapon used in the Cools killing was also reported to have been found late on Sunday near Liege. The sudden arrest of Mr Van der Biest, along with four other suspects arrested in the Cools case on Friday, is thought to have followed the production of new evidence during the Dutroux paedophile investigation.
Although no firm connection has been proven, certain names, associated with Belgium's Italian Mafia gangs to be found in the Charleroi region, have come to light in both inquiries. Suspicion has brought accusations that political figures may have had reason to hush up the Dutroux child sex scandal.
During the fast-moving developments at the weekend it was also announced that Raymond Brose, chief investigator in the Cools case, had suddenly resigned from his post without explanation.
Meanwhile, further names were added to the list of people now thought to have become victims of Dutroux. Four bodies, including those of two eight-year-olds and two teenagers, have so far been found, but it is now thought Dutroux may have murdered as many as 11. Government authorities are being pressed to declare whether the sudden spate of arrests in the Cools case, coming at the height of inquiries into the Dutroux case, is simply coincidence.
For five years Cools' murder has gone unsolved and the inquiry was thought to have run into the ground. Suspicion has fallen on gangster figures and politicians connected to the Socialist party in the French- speaking region of Wallonia, where Cools was a powerful figure.
But the Dutroux atrocities were also uncovered in this area, and inquiries have extended to webs of corruption including car thefts and property fraud in Wallonia.
The arrest of Mr Van der Biest followed the arrest of his former personal secretary, Richard Taxquet, who apparently denounced his boss to shift the blame, naming him as the man who ordered the Cools assassination.
However, the police are now being pressed to explain whether Mr Van der Biest could himself be a fall guy, protecting other, bigger names. No explanation has been given for the resignation of the chief investigator, which has further served to undermine confidence.
Inquiries into the Cools case have been constantly hampered by "the war of the judges" as rival investigators and police forces have fought for territory. Now there fears that such infighting could also have been part of an attempted cover-up.
A Belgian Involved in Fighting with Terrorist Groups Killed in Syria
Jun 10, 2013
Italian news agency AKI said a twenty-year-old Belgian youth has been killed in Syria after entering Syrian and joining the armed terrorist groups in it.
The agency quoted local sources as saying that the youth, named Tariq, is a brother of a young man who has just been arrested on his return to Belgium from Syria last week.
There is uncertain information proving that the two brothers are belonging to a newly dismantled extremist cell called "a Sharia for Belgium." According to the agency.
Earlier, Belgian officials exchanged accusations over the phenomena of young Belgians going to fight alongside the armed terrorist groups in Syria.
A number of ministers of the current Belgian government have faced sharp criticism for doing nothing in this regard. Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders criticized the refusal of Belgian Interior and Justice Ministries to provide him with information about the youth who went to or preparing themselves to go to Syria.
The issue of the Europeans who went to fight in Syria under the name of Jihad and finding more effective means for tackling this issue was repeatedly reviewed by the European Ministers but in vain.
It is supposed that 80 to 100 Belgians, mostly extremists and underage, have joined the armed terrorist groups in Syria.