De Wet Potgieter
A team of South African mercenaries helped Muammar Gaddafi’s family out of the war zone of Tripoli, Libya’s capital, to hide out in Algeria, prior to the Libyan despot’s killing in Sirte last week.
The team returned to South Africa within a week of the successful clandestine operation. Not so lucky was a second team, which went to support Gaddafi’s escape to Niger, but got caught in the fire fight between the dictator’s henchmen and Nato.
The second team was allegedly cornered by Libyan freedom fighters, which led to one South African’s death and numerous casualties among the rest of the mercenaries.
The first team of 24 men launched the audacious covert operation at the beginning of September to spirit Gaddafi’s wife and three surviving children away to safety in Algeria. A week later the team arrived safely back in South Africa.
“The first team was a mixed bag of former South African policemen and soldiers,” sources told The New Age. But the second team of 19 former South African policemen were not so lucky.
They were part of the security for Gaddafi’s convoy to neighbouring Niger when they were attacked by Nato forces and got pinned down in fierce fighting outside Sirte last week. The team has since gone to ground after the death of Gaddafi – who called himself Brother Leader.
“The 19 missing in Libya are all ex-police officers,” said The New Age’s intelligence source on Monday.
Describing last week’s involvement of South African mercenaries in efforts to extract the former Libyan dictator as “ill-fated from the outset”, the source said the second team might have been under the impression that the extraction of Gaddafi had been sanctioned by the UN.
Two separate teams of South African mercenaries were recruited in August on behalf of Gaddafi as part of the elaborate plan to protect and extract the despot and his family to safety.
According to sources, the interviews for the two teams were conducted in Sandton and Cape Town by an international recruitment company, but without either’s knowledge of the other’s existence. The South Africans mercenaries were apparently paid $15000 (R125000) each.
Interviews for the extraction operations were conducted on August 17 at the Balalaika Hotel in Sandton by Sarah Penfold, who operates from Kenya for a British mercenary outfit. The New Age has seen copies of an email sent to a former SA Special Forces operative, inviting him for an interview. The first mercenary group left South Africa two days after the interviews, flying from OR Tambo Airport to Dubai.
From there they flew to Tunisia, which shares borders with Algeria and Libya, where they were issued with firearms. They then travelled by road into Libya. Gaddafi’s wife, Safiya, his daughter, Aisha, and his sons, Hannibal and Mohammed, accompanied by their children, were escorted to Algeria.
Former police commissioner George Fivaz told The New Age yesterday that his security firm, Fivaz and Associates, was contacted from London at the weekend by people urgently looking for an air ambulance to evacuate about 50 wounded and badly burned war victims from Libya.
Fivaz said his firm did not provide this type of service and he believed there was, in any case, no such large air ambulance available in South Africa.
Mark Young, spokesperson of Criticare in London, said the company had been contracted for casavac operations in Libya but he had no knowledge of any South Africans needing evacuation.
He said Criticare was looking for a big air ambulance and had been told he might find one in South Africa. “We contacted Saafair in but we were told their plane had been contracted to the UN,” Young said.
There was an air ambulance with the capacity of 10 to 20 patients available in Austria, but there were problems with the insurance because it had to fly into war zones.
“We have to evacuate five to 10 wounded and badly burned victims a day for the next two months from Libya as part of our contract,” Young said. The victims included Libyans, Nato forces and other casualties from around the world, he said.