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Libyan media: Key human trafficker killed

September 26, 2015

Libyan media say a key boat migrant smuggler has been killed by "professional" gunmen in Tripoli. Salah al-Maskhout operated from Libya's western coastal city of Zuwara, a hub for refugees trying to reach Europe.

Symbolbild Flüchtlingsboot Küste Libyen
Image: Reuters/D. Zammit Lupi

The online newspaper Libya Herald and Italian media reported Saturday that al-Maskhout and eight of his men, carrying Kalashnikov rifles, were shot dead by "professionals" using handguns.

Friday's shooting reportedly took place as Maskhout was leaving the home of relatives located near a medical center in Tripoli.

He led a militia in the coastal city of Zuwara, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Tripoli and near Libya's border with Tunisia.

The Libya Herald said the assailants blocked the road before opening fire and escaped, without themselves incurring casualties.

Britain's "Guardian" newspaper said the apparent hit had raised speculation that Maskhout might have been targeted by "foreign agents." Italy's Defense Ministry on Saturday denied any such involvement.

Luxemburg Treffen EU-Außenminister Federica Mogherini
Ready to "dismantle" networks, says MogheriniImage: Getty Images/AFP/J. Thys

Italian media said Maskhout was once an army officer under Libya's late leader Muammar Gadhafi.

Coordinated anti-trafficking efforts

The reported shooting followed a claim by Libyan coastguards that they had intercepted a Russian-flagged petrol tanker off Zuwara on Thursday and diverted it to Tripoli.

The waters off Zuwara claimed more than 200 lives when a migrant boat capsized as it headed for Italy last month. On board had been 430 migrants, including Syrians, Afghans and Filipinos. The Libya Red Crescent said many of the bodies recovered were children.

Later in August, the Malta-based non-profit group Migrant Report said three men had been arrested in a rare Libyan clampdown on alleged people smugglers.

Trafficking in migrants has soared since Gadhafi's ouster in 2011 because of civic disorder and rivalries between two governments and two parliaments.

For months, UN envoy Bernardino Leon has sought a compromise via talks in Morocco. Last Tuesday, he told delegates that he awaited a straight yes or no answer to a UN peace plan in the coming week.

In June, the EU began setting up a Rome-based military operation, using warships and aircraft, intended to hinder Mediterranean traffickers, dubbed EUNAVFOR MED.

Schweiz UN-Sonderbeauftragte für Liyben Bernardino Leon in Genf
Leon awaits yes or no from Libya's factionsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Di Nolfi

Visiting its new headquarters in Rome on Thursday, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said European warships would be ready to make arrests from October 7 but would remain outside Libya's 12 nautical mile coastal territory.

She said the mission team had completed its first phase, which had focused on reconnaissance and interviews with migrants rescued at sea.

"We have now a complete picture of how, when and where the smugglers' organizations and networks are operating so that we are ready to actively dismantle them," Mogherini said.

"We are continuing to work on the legal framework that could make it possible for us to operate also in Libyan territorial waters," she added.

The operation had identified 20 boats - 17 Libyan and three Egyptian - used by traffickers to escort the migrant vessels out to sea.

ipj/bk (dpa, Reuters, AFP)