Libya’s United Nations-recognised government has announced the arrest of a former coastguard head wanted by Interpol and under UN sanctions for alleged human trafficking.
Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, also known as al-Bidja, was arrested by senior security operatives in Tripoli on the back of an Interpol notice and an arrest warrant issued by the prosecutor general, a statement by the Government of National Accord’s interior ministry said on Wednesday.
He is suspected, among other offences, of involvement in “human trafficking” and is under UN sanctions that include a travel ban and the blocking of his bank accounts.
The statement did not give details of the arrest of al-Milad, 30, but Libyan media said he was intercepted at a police roadblock near the capital.
Libya has been plagued by corruption and turmoil since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. It is split into two administrations. The one in the west, including Tripoli, is ruled by the UN-supported government, while the east-based government is supported by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
Oil-rich Libya has emerged as a major conduit for people from Africa and the Middle East fleeing wars and poverty and hoping to reach Europe.
The UN Security Council approved the sanctions against al-Milad and five other alleged kingpins of human trafficking networks involved in Libya in June 2018.
At the time, al-Milad was described as the head of the coastguard “that is consistently linked with violence against migrants and other human smugglers”.
Al-Milad had until then headed a coastguard unit at Zawiya, 45km (28 miles) west of Tripoli, but was immediately suspended and later dismissed.
The timing of his arrest raises questions, given that he moved freely in western Libya over the past two years and fought alongside Tripoli-allied militias to repel a year-long attack on the capital by Haftar’s forces. Al-Milad appeared in video footage in June threatening to uncover alleged corruption of ruling bodies in Tripoli.
Jalel Harchaoui, a research fellow specialising in Libyan affairs at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael, said Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha has an interest in showing strength to his multiple audiences, including the international one.
“Bija [al-Milad] had become somewhat a celebrity outside Libya over recent years,” he said, adding there is a tendency to focus on individuals, blaming them for the migrant and refugee situation in Libya, rather than a structurally dysfunctional system involving many foreign governments and international players.