YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Britain Will Expel 21 Libyan Activists : Group Includes Pilot Seeking Suicide Mission; German, Danish Curbs Told

April 23, 1986|TYLER MARSHALL and WILLIAM TUOHY | Times Staff Writers

LONDON — The British government announced Tuesday that it has detained and intends to expel 21 Libyan students, including a pilot who allegedly telephoned Tripoli and offered to launch a suicide mission against U.S. bases.

One day after the 12-nation European Communities agreed to measures reducing and restricting Libyan diplomatic representation in member countries, two other U.S. allies in Europe announced plans to act on those measures.

The British action and the European announcements marked the first concrete action against Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi's regime by West European countries since the U.S. air attack on Tripoli and Benghazi last week.

Curbs on Butter

West German government sources and Denmark's foreign minister announced plans to sharply reduce the number of Libyan diplomats in their countries. The European Commission in Brussels called an end to the shipment of surplus butter to Libya. However, the Greek government indicated that it will not be hurrying to apply the measures it agreed to Monday in Luxembourg.

British Home Secretary Douglas Hurd referred to the 21 detained students as leaders of pro-Kadafi student activities in the country.

"I came to the conclusion after looking at all the evidence that their presence here could harm our security," Hurd explained.

He said the students had been under surveillance for an extended period, adding that they are expected to leave for Libya within the next few days.

"I will not hesitate to use powers to deport other Libyan nationals if evidence is received of their involvement in activities which might endanger national security," Hurd said.

There are about 7,500 Libyans living in Britain and about 1,800 of those are students, a small fraction of the more than 28,500 Libyan students who lived here as late as 1983.

Those numbers dropped dramatically after an incident in 1984, when shots fired from the Libyan Embassy in central London killed a policewoman controlling anti-Kadafi demonstrators outside. That led Britain to close the embassy and break off diplomatic relations with the Tripoli government.

Speaking in the House of Commons late Tuesday, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher indicated that further action will be taken against an estimated 250 Libyan nationals undergoing training either as pilots or as mechanics and engineering apprentices with British airlines at London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

New Steps Considered

"We are considering further matters about Libyan pilots and any further action we can take," she said.

On Tuesday evening, British Caledonian Airways issued a statement that the Libyan trainees are not permitted near the company's aircraft. British Airways said its Libyan trainees are restricted to classrooms.

The best known of those detained is 23-year-old Adil Masoud, who recently completed training as a pilot at a flight training school near Kidlington, about four miles north of Oxford. In a telephone call to a Tripoli radio station after U.S. and Libyan forces clashed over the Gulf of Sidra in March, Masoud allegedly offered to lead suicide missions against U.S. targets.

In Tripoli, Libyan officials called the expulsion order an act of racism and called Thatcher a "mere instrument" of the Reagan Administration.

"The 21 Libyans are only students. This is racism," Information Minister Mohammed Sharif Faturi told a news conference.

In Washington, official spokesmen welcomed the British action.

"We are pleased that the United Kingdom has taken this action," State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said. The expulsion order "underscores the concern that non-official Libyans can be used for terrorist purposes."

White House spokesman Larry Speakes said, "These are the kinds of steps, this is the kind of cooperation that is essential if we are going to combat terrorism on an international basis."

British opposition lawmakers also tended to approve the expulsion order--some even asked why it had not been carried out sooner. But Thatcher came under renewed pressure in Parliament on Tuesday evening after television reports from Benghazi showed cluster bomb casings, which Libyan officials cited as evidence that U.S. aircraft had used anti-personnel devices in their attack.

Anger Rekindled

The charge rekindled anger among opposition members of Parliament, who said Thatcher had relinquished too much control to President Reagan in allowing some of the attacking U.S. planes to take off from British bases.

If true, the allegations of cluster bomb use would appear to contradict Thatcher's insistence that the raid be tightly focused on military targets.

Government sources later noted that F-111s that took off from Britain were used only against Tripoli and not Benghazi, where the cluster bombs were found.

The planes attacking Benghazi came from aircraft carriers based in the Mediterranean.

Thatcher Mum on Details

Despite intense questioning, Thatcher refused to detail the conditions of her approval for the attack.

Los Angeles Times Articles