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Libya's Haftar responds to war crimes lawsuits in US

Haftar lived in the US for around two decades [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 August, 2020

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Rogue Libyan general Khalifa Haftar is accused of committing war crimes during his bid to topple the country's UN-backed government.
A former Libyan military commander who spent decades living in US state of Virginia is now responding to two federal lawsuits accusing him of atrocities in his military campaigns.

Khalifa Haftar leads the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), an armed force affiliated with the Tobruk government in the country's east.

Haftar has led a campaign to seize the capital Tripoli from Libya's United Nations-supported Government of National Accord (GNA) since last year.

Once a lieutenant to Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Haftar defected to the United States during the 1980s and spent many years living in northern Virginia. He is widely believed to have worked with the CIA during his time in exile.

Haftar returned to Libya in 2011 after Gaddafi's fall, and Haftar's army gained control of the eastern part of that north African country. Last year he launched a campaign to take Tripoli, its capital.

But his army suffered significant setbacks in recent months after the UN-backed government opposing Haftar received military support from Turkey. Haftar has received Russian and Egyptian backing.

[Click to enlarge]

Haftar initially failed to respond to the two lawsuits in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, accusing his army of indiscriminate killing of civilians and targeting political enemies. 

But in a July 31 letter, New York-based attorney Duncan Levin told the judge overseeing the lawsuits that Haftar wants to fight the suits.

"General Haftar is now aware of these two cases," Levin wrote. "If permitted by this Court, Gen. Haftar therefore intends to answer to the complaints."

Levin did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment on Monday.

Esam Omeish, president of the Libyan American Alliance, which has been supportive of the lawsuits against Haftar, said in a statement that "(a)fter the recent defeats of Haftar in his war in Libya, Haftar realised that he needs an exit strategy and possibly a place to escape to, and that explains why he retained a law firm now after months of not answering the charges leveled against him".

In each of the lawsuits filed against Haftar, the plaintiffs sought default judgment after Haftar initially failed to respond. In one of the cases, a federal magistrate has recommended dismissing the lawsuit. In the other one, though, the magistrate has recommended entering default judgment.

The lawsuits allege that Haftar and his family purchased 17 properties in Virginia between 2014 and 2017, paying $8 million in cash.

Faisal Gill, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in one of the cases, said "Haftar finally got the message that we are serious about pursuing justice for the victims of his egregious and violent actions. Killing innocent civilians will not go unpunished".

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