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Arms Smuggling and Civil War: A roadmap for what’s going on in Libya

PortandTerminal.com, February 8, 2020

A Lebanese car carrier the BANA is in detention in Genoa, Italy, since February 2, suspected of arms trafficking from Turkey to Libya

GENOA, ITALY – Remember that old Nicolas Cage movie “Lord of War” where he plays a high-powered arms smuggler? This article is going to be a bit like that.

The Italian anti-organised crime and special operations police units seized a Lebanese-registered car carrier the BANA and are investigating whether it was used for arms smuggling. Spoiler alert. It almost certainly was.

Car Carrier Abou Merhi Lines
The Lebanese-flagged car carrier Bana was seized by Italian authorities after a tip-off that it was smuggling arms to take to Libya

They were tipped off after a sailor offered information on the role he said the ship played in the illegal arms trade between Turkey and Libya, the Italian newspaper Il Secolo XIX reported.

When the BANA stopped at the port of Messina in Genoa, northwest Italy, for technical checks the 25-year-old sailor showed the police photos that he had taken of the weapons in the ship’s cargo hold.

A road-map for this story

This story has a handful of players so we’ve put together the roadmap above to keep it simple.

At the top of the road-map is a photo of Muammar Gadhafi. In 2011 the Libyan dictator Gadhafi was toppled and executed by being sodomized with a bayonet. He was deeply unpopular, to say the least.

With Gadhafi dead, Libya fell into chaos as warring factions vied for control. The ongoing crisis in Libya has resulted in tens of thousands of casualties since the onset of violence following Gadhafi’s death.

At the moment Libya is torn between two factions. Factions #1 & #2 in our chart up above.

On the bottom left-hand side in the chart up above you have #1 the Libyan National Army (LNA).

Strongman Khalifa Haftar leads the LNA

The #1 LNA is led by warlord Khalifa Haftar seen pictured above. He is a very powerful player in Libya, is based out of Benghazi and recently forced the closure of Libya’s ports and key oil fields to strengthen his hand while haggling over a truce with #2, The Government of National Accord.

READ: Oil Tankers Dawdle Off Libya’s Coast as Warlord Halts Exports

The LNA has accused the Lebanese-flagged ship the Bana of illegally smuggling in arms, including tanks and armored cars, from Turkey to Libya.

Turkey’s role in all of this

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan supports Libya’s Government of National Accord

Turkey, player #3 in our chart up above, is the main backer of Libya’s somewhat ironically named Government of National Accord.

Turkish shipments of armoured vehicles and drones have helped the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord withstand an offensive launched last April by the Libyan National Army (LNA).

Late in January, the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle spotted the Lebanese-flagged BANA headed toward Tripoli under escort by a Turkish frigate. These frigates are under the control of player #2, The Government of National Accord.

The cargo ship Bana was photographed being escorted by a Turkish frigate

Selling arms to Libya is against the rules. The United Nations imposed an arms embargo on Libya to try to keep a lid on things (it hasn’t worked).

Our shady Lebanese businessman

Lebanese businessman Ali Abu Merhi is the owner of the vessel charged with arms smuggling

Ali Abou Merhi is the owner of the car carrier BANA seized by the Italian authorities under suspicion of arms smuggling. Merhi is player #4 in our chart above and is the go-between for the Libyan Government of Reconciliation and Turkey.

Merhi has ties to Hezbollah through a chain of companies (money laundering, according to the American Treasury). Merhi also commanded the criminal organization Joumaa experts have concluded. Joumaa is a very large network of traffickers, which reaches the Middle East, Europe and South America.

The Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has opened its own investigation on the cargo ship Bana owned by the Lebanese businessman Ali Abu Merhi.

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