Bel Trew, Cairo | Abdullah Oshah, Sabratha | Tom Kington, Rome
A powerful Libyan militia commander and suspected trafficking kingpin has struck a deal with Tripoli to stem the flow of migrants to Europe in exchange for cars, boats and the recognition of his force as a legitimate security body.
Ahmed Dabbashi, who commands the Anas Dabbashi brigade, said that he met officials from Libya’s UN-backed government in July to discuss how to shut down people trafficking along the coast. In the meeting the officials agreed to clear the accusations of criminality hanging over his brigade.
The deal coincides with a sharp fall in the number of migrants crossing from Libya to Italy in the past few weeks, down by 86 per cent last month. However, the militia warned that migrant numbers would climb again if the brigade stopped receiving financial help.
Mr Dabbashi, known by his nickname al-Ammu (The Uncle), has long been accused of running a trafficking network from the smuggling hub of Sabratha. Security officials in Sabratha and Tripoli said this week that his militia was paid millions of euros by Italy in a deal with the Libyan government to stop his trade.
It would not be the first time that Europe has paid unsavoury figures in Libya to halt the flow of migrants to its shores. The EU pledged €50 million to Libya in 2010 under Colonel Gaddafi to fight illegal migration.
Mr Dabbashi denied the smuggling charges and the Italian deal. He said that his brigade, which has 500 men and is part of the unity government’s defence ministry, was just policing the coastal city.