Alleged victims of torture seek to punish Libya’s Haftar in US lawsuit

Plaintiffs are targeting assets worth millions of dollars owned by Haftar and his family as compensation for his alleged involvement in war crimes, WSJ reports

Alleged victims of torture seek to punish Libya's Haftar in US lawsuit
Families of Libyan victims seek to punish warlord Khalifa Haftar in US courts

(The African Stand) — Haftar, a dual citizen of the US and Libya, has waged a brutal war against the UN-recognised Tripoli government, leading to thousands of deaths in the civil war.

Several Libyan families, whose kin were killed in the bloody war waged by warlord Khalifa Haftar in Libya, have sued the strongman in US courts.

Haftar became a US citizen in his later career after developing serious differences with the former president Muammar al-Gaddafi.

In the 1990s, Haftar moved to the US, where he amassed considerable wealth, making him capable of buying luxury properties, particularly, in Virginia, worth millions of dollars.

Since early 2020, several Libyan families have filed petitions against Haftar in US courts in the hopes of getting him punished for ordering or allowing his militias to go on a killing spree in the conflict-torn country.

“We believe that we’re going to win, and there’s going to be a fairly large judgment,” said Faisal Gill, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs of litigations against Haftar in respective US courts.

Since 2011, with the fall of Gaddafi, a civil war has raged across Libya as the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) forces has fought with Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) to claim the country.

During the war, according to different accounts, Haftar has allegedly committed war crimes against civilians. In separate incidents, Haftar’s illegal militias have targeted Libyan civilians, some of whom happened to have close relatives living in the US.

Salimah Jibreel, one of the plaintiffs, lost her three children aged from three to eight during the relentless shelling by Haftar’s forces back in January 2017, according to an NBC report. Her 10-year-old daughter and husband were also injured during the attack.

But Jibreel’s agony did not end there as her husband, Alaa, was kidnapped by Haftar’s LNA three months after the attack. She has not heard anything from him since then.

Muna al Suyid, another female plaintiff, lost her father and brother, who were kidnapped by Haftar’s forces in 2014 when they were trying to rescue their family residing in Benghazi, a stronghold of the warlord in eastern Libya, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

Alleged victims of torture seek to punish Libya's Haftar in US lawsuit
Most of the 17 Haftar-linked properties are owned by limited liability companies controlled by his son Okba Haftar (AFP/File photo)

The father and son were taken into a school where they were tortured and their dead bodies were found later as “victims of extrajudicial killings while in LNA custody,” according to the lawsuit.

There have been other forceful disappearances and extrajudicial killings across Libya at the hands of Haftar’s forces.

In Ganfouda, a town in Benghazi, many families have been trapped in their houses under constant attacks of Haftar’s forces for months. The family of Ali Abdalla Hamza, one of the plaintiffs against Haftar, was one of those trapped families there back in 2017.

After having starved for months with no medical assistance, Hamza’s mother, two brothers, and two sisters were all killed by the LNA.

Haftar’s finances and financiers

While civilians have continued to die by the thousands, suffering enormously due to Haftar’s attacks, the warlord has gotten richer, apparently profiteering from warlike many strongmen and their allies across the world.

Haftar owns 17 different properties worth $8 million in Virginia alone. He reportedly owns several others across the US. Some of those properties were reportedly bought after the war began in 2011 in Libya.

In July, one of Haftar’s sons, Okba Haftar, bought a horse farm, which cost him $700,000, in Virginia.

Haftar and his sons also have a pedigreed Arabian show horse, which participated in international competitions held in France and the UAE in 2018 and 2019. Both countries support the warlord in the Libyan civil war.

The lawyers of the plaintiffs seek to target Haftar’s rich US portfolio, including his show horse and other properties to compensate losses of families, whose relatives fell victim to the forces of the warlord.

Mark Zaid, one of the attorneys, demanded from the US Attorney General William Barr to act against the warlord saying that Haftar “came to our shores and accepted the privilege and obligations, moral and legal, that come with being a US citizen. The United States has clear jurisdiction over him for his criminal misdeeds.”

Haftar has long been a CIA asset, working for the US intelligence for decades.

“Whether we have the courage to pursue him is a matter still to be decided,” he added in his letter to Barr.

In a crucial September hearing, a federal judge dismissed the immunity argument of Haftar’s attorneys, who claimed that Haftar is the head of state in Libya. Haftar with his ragtag militias has been in a war with the UN-recognised Tripoli government for years, having no legitimate leadership.

The same judge also found enough reasons to go ahead with the lawsuit, an apparent sign of a potential verdict against the warlord.

Haftar’s wealth has different sources ranging from illicit funds enabled by countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Russia, which support the warlord, to his son Saddam’s robbery of Libya’s central bank in 2017.

At the time, Saddam took over about $481 million, according to a UN overseeing committee. It’s not all clear what happened to that money.

Hassan Juma

Written by Hassan Juma

Hassan Juma is an international reporter who graduated with a degree from The United States International University where he majored in Journalism and International Relations and he is currently working for African Stand as a senior reporter covering the Middle East, US, Asia, and Europe.

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