Ex-foreign minister could be key to Gadhafi ouster

Posted March 31, 2011, at 5:05 p.m.
Last modified April 01, 2011, at 10:58 a.m.

LONDON — Moussa Koussa is the ultimate Libyan insider, a one-time intelligence chief and the keeper of Moammar Gadhafi’s darkest secrets.

Now that the ex-foreign minister has fled Tripoli and landed in Britain, Western diplomats and intelligence officials were pressing him Thursday for the details that could help oust Gadhafi fro m power.

Koussa, 62, is the highest ranking member of the secretive regime to quit so far. He had been a longtime aide throughout Gadhafi’s 42-year rule and his apparent defection raised hopes among som e in the West that he could hold key details that could be used to bring down Libya’s leader.

In Washington, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said Koussa could likely “provide critical intelligence about Gadhafi’s current state of mind and military plans.”

A second senior Libyan official also announced he had quit Thursday in a statement posted on several opposition websites. Ali Abdel Salam al-Treki — Libya’s former envoy to the U.N. and also a  former foreign minister — confirmed his defection as rumors swirled that other key aides were also preparing to abandon Gadhafi.

British Prime Minister David Cameron urged those who he termed “Gadhafi’s henchmen” to follow the example of Koussa, who flew into Britain from Tunisia late Wednesday and announced he had qui t his post. Cameron declined to offer details of initial talks between British officials and Koussa, but said his decision to abandon Tripoli was telling.

“I think it does show a huge amount of decay, distrust and breakdown at the heart of the Gadhafi regime,” Cameron told reporters in London.

Abdel Moneim al-Houni, Libya’s former Arab League representative and among the first wave of Libyan diplomats who defected, said Koussa’s exit hinted that Gadhafi’s inner circle is close to col lapse.

“Koussa is one of the pillars of Gadhafi’s regime since the 1970s. His defection means that he knew that the end of Gadhafi is coming and he wanted to jump from the sinking boat,” al-Houni sa id.

Cameron insisted that whatever information Koussa does offer, he won’t be granted immunity from prosecution for past crimes. “There is no deal of that kind,” Cameron said.

Scottish prosecutors confirmed they hope Koussa can shed light on the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people — most of them Americans. Libya acknowl edged responsibility for the terrorist attack in 2003, and opposition leaders have long claimed Koussa was closely involved.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond said that Koussa “may well have important information to reveal which can assist what has always remained a live investigation.”

Libya’s government confirmed Koussa had resigned, but claimed he had been given permission to travel to Tunisia because he was suffering with diabetes and high blood pressure. Government spokes man Moussa Ibrahim also insisted Koussa’s decision was not a snub to Gadhafi.

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