Gaddafi's son joins fight to free detained aid workers

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The Independent Online

Libya, a former state sponsor of terrorism, is backing the US-led war on terror and trying to free eight Western aid workers on trial for their lives in Afghanistan.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's second son has been in Berlin since the weekend discussing the plight of the detainees with senior figures in the German government. Seif el-Islam Gaddafi, who played a key role last year in obtaining the release of Western hostages held by Muslim guerrillas in the Philippines, said he was negotiating a similar deal with the Taliban.

Eight Western employees of the aid agency Shelter Now were arrested in Afghanistan in August for allegedly attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity. If convicted, the four Germans, two Americans and two Australians could face the death sentence. Sixteen Afghan staff of the organisation are also on trial.

According to Western diplomats who visited their citizens before the air raids began, the prisoners were being treated well. But hopes that they would be released as swiftly as Western journalists captured in Afghanistan have been dashed. By offering to free them in exchange for a halt in the bombing, the Taliban in effect admitted that the aid workers were, at best, bargaining chips, and at worst, a human shield.

Enter Mr Gaddafi Junior, chairman of the Gaddafi Foundation, a charity which gives generously to Muslim causes. The Taliban are among its clients. "Our humanitarian help for the Afghan people has improved our relations with the Taliban," Mr Gaddafi told Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper.

The authorities in Kabul, he added, had asked his organisation to "clear up" the question of the detainees. He had been talking to the Taliban ever since and last contacted them a week ago.

Mr Gaddafi voiced understanding of the US bombing campaign and pledged that Libya was "ready to work with all sides in the fight against terrorism".

Libya, a victim of US air strikes after the bombing of a Berlin discotheque in 1986, has sought rehabilitation in recent years, repeatedly assuring the West that it has mended its ways. But Mr Gaddafi's visit to Berlin takes place at an auspicious moment. The trial of four people accused of perpetrating the bombing of the La Belle disco – which triggered the raids on Libya – comes to an end next week.

Although the German government went out of its way to be unhelpful, the Berlin court did manage to establish some connections to the masterminds of the bombing. The Chief Prosecutor, Detlev Mehlis, said in his summation: "We have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt during this trial that this attack was an act of state-sponsored terrorism. The nightclub was bombed by order of the Libyan authorities and carried out by third parties and diplomats."

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