The Libyan embassy in London’s Knightsbridge area has had an unsettling history.
Its predecessor, the Libyan People’s Bureau in nearby St James Square, made global headlines in 1984 when an unidentified staffer opened fire on protestors outside and killed policewoman Yvonne Fletcher.
When the mission relocated to its current premises, its high-ceilinged rooms continued to be staffed by intelligence officials often close to Muammar Gaddafi’s family and tribe, and tasked with protecting the dictator’s UK interests as he and his sons snapped up prime London real estate.
Then, as the regime crumbled in August 2011, diplomats tried unsuccessfully to channel money out of embassy bank accounts, and to sell off the four-storey yellow brick building along with its fleet of cars before Britain expelled them.
A newly-arrived deputy head of mission, Ahmed Gebreel, has now taken their place. Along with the ambassador, he is waiting to be joined by a five-member diplomatic team from Tripoli.
Gebreel, a softly-spoken foreign policy expert experienced in talking to the media, does not represent a complete break with the past. A career diplomat, he was previously posted at the United Nations in New York, where he represented the Gaddafi government as second secretary before defecting from the regime. (…)
Britain, meanwhile, has been pushing the embassy and the NTC to take action on PC Fletcher’s killing and on the Lockerbie bombing, which killed 270 people shortly before Christmas 1988.
Gebreel said the NTC was currently going through a difficult phase, as it prepared for an election for an assembly to draft a new constitution, and reorganised government ministries that used to be largely run according to Gaddafi’s personal whim.
“We will be open to discuss these issues [PC Fletcher and Lockerbie] in the future after we pass this difficult period,” Gebreel said, adding that the NTC takes both cases very seriously.
“They are not minor issues,” he added. “My personal feeling, [with] the Yvonne Fletcher issue, it’s time to find out who committed that crime,” and to hold them accountable.
On Lockerbie, he said the Libyan people had been secondary victims to the atrocity because they lived under sanctions for a crime for which they were not responsible.
“If Gaddafi was the one who committed that crime, then he did not suffer. The Libyan people were the ones who paid,” he said. “I personally wish Gaddafi was caught alive and was questioned about all the crimes and all the secrets he had.”