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British mercenaries 'involved in botched operation' backing rebel leader in Libya, according to secret UN report

09:50 28 May 2020 Author :  

Six British citizens including two former Royal Marine commandos have been accused of taking part in a botched mercenary mission to Libya to fight on behalf of renegade general Khalifa Haftar.

The five men and one woman are named in a confidential report by the United Nations panel of experts on Libya into a botched mission that ended with the mercenaries making a remarkable sea-borne escape after falling out with their hosts. 

The men, including former Royal Marines Sean Callaghan Louw and Andrew Scott Ritchie, were among around 20 mercenaries who travelled to Benghazi in eastern Libya in June 2019 in a contract organised by a UAE based company called Opus, according to the report seen by the Daily Telegraph. 

Amanda Perry, a United Arab Emirate based businesswoman, is identified and is alleged to have been a "facilitator" of the project.

She is the managing director of Opus Capital Asset FZE, the company that hired two boats used by the group.  She is also company secretary of Lancaster 6, a business owned by Christiaan Durrant, a former Australian fighter pilot and Malta resident who is also named - and accused of being  a facilitator in the report. 

The cover story for their mission, called 'Project Opus', was a geophysical and hyperspectral survey of Jordan. 

As the report says, UN investigators believe that that they had been hired by General Haftar's Libyan National Army to fly assault helicopters and use fast speedboats to intercept and search merchant vessels ferrying Turkish weapons to Tripoli. 

The project cost at least nearly $18 million (£14.7 million) and involved 25 individuals from six countries, tasked with providing "armed assault rotary wing aviation (including 6 ex-military helicopters and at least 1 Cobra attack helicopter), maritime interdiction... a Fusion and Targeting Cell with a cyber capability at Benina airport and UAV capabilities," said a summary of the report seen by the Telegraph.

The group deployed on June 27, 2019. But something seems to have gone wrong: on July 2 the entire group made an extraordinary 350-mile escape by sea in two rigid inflatable boats.   

They were questioned by police and released without charge on their arrival in Malta.  It does not say who bankrolled the mission, but says arrangements involved at least 10 companies based in the British Virgin Islands, Malta and the UAE.

While no charges have been brought, the panel said they are considering "statements of case" to consider sanctioning individuals/entities involved in the operation.

Ms Perry said when asked for comment: "I have nothing to say and the allegations are false and damaging."  Mr Louw, who now runs an military fitness company in Crawley, and Mr Ritchie,  a former Royal Marine corporal of ten years from Oban, did not respond to requests for comment.

Gen Haftar, who controls large swathes of eastern and southern Libya, launched and assault on Tripoli in bid to overthrow the UN-recognised Government of National Unity in April 2019, two months before the alleged operation took place. 

He has been backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, but the tide of the war turned since Turkey deployed drones, air defences, and thousands of Syrian fighters in support of the GNA. 

Large numbers of Russian mercenaries have been seen leaving frontline areas near Tripoli in recent days. The United States said on Tuesday that Russia had deployed several jet fighters to the country. 

Wolfram Lacher, a researcher on Libya at the German institute of international and security affairs, said the withdrawal of mercenaries and simultaneous deployment of jets suggested Turkey and Russia may have reached an agreement to impose a ceasefire and defacto partition of the country between their clients. 

"It is a different game now. It is no longer a conflict where everyone meddles by proxy," he said. / The Telegraph

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