Before it fell out with him and helped topple his government last year, Britain enjoyed such a cosy relationship with the slain Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi that at his request it tracked down and “rendered’’ a prominent dissident to Libyan security agencies exposing him to the risk of being ill-treated, it emerged on Monday after the BBC claimed that the British Government “approved’’ the rendition of Abdel Hakim Belhaj's rendition to Tripoli in 2004.
Mr Belhaj, now head of the Tripoli Military Council, is suing MI6 and the British Government accusing them of complicity in his illegal rendition and alleged torture.
His allegations are being investigated by Scotland Yard.
Labour Party, which was in power at the time, has consistently denied any role in “unlawful’’ rendition.
Jack Straw, the then Foreign Secretary, said: "We were opposed to unlawful rendition. We were opposed to any use of torture or similar methods. Not only did we not agree with it, we were not complicit in it and nor did we turn a blind eye to it."
The BBC said that Mr Belhaj’s rendition was given “ministerial approval’’ but it was not clear at what level the decision was authorised.
Its report, the broadcaster said, was based on a letter from a senior MI6 officer, Sir Mark Allen, to Col Qadhafi’s intelligence chief, Musa Kusa, found last year in the rubble of his headquarters. The letter reportedly referred to Mr Belhaj as “air cargo’’ and “congratulated’’ the Libyans on its "safe arrival".
“As well as congratulating the Libyans on the arrival of the ‘cargo’, it points out that ‘the intelligence was British’. The letter was sent in 2004 when Mr Belhaj was the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. MI5 believed the group was close to al-Qaeda and involved in recruiting young Muslims in Britain to fight in Iraq. Our correspondent says it appears MI6 had discovered that Mr Belhaj was in Malaysia and about to head for London in the hope of obtaining political asylum. MI6 informed its foreign intelligence partners, and as a result Mr Belhaj was intercepted in Bangkok, presumably by the CIA, and rendered to Libya,’’ the BBC said.
It claimed that the letter suggested that MI6 was “complicit in Mr Belhaj's illegal rendition and alleged torture in Libya - but that MI6 was not acting unilaterally’’.