Avvenire.it – When the minibus with the tinted windows enters the Cara* of Mineo, only few people know the composition of the mysterious delegation from Tripoli. It’s the 11th of May 2017. Italy is negotiating with the Libyan authorities to block the departure of refugees and migrants. Today we know that that day Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, the notorious Bija, also participated in the meeting, without leaving a trace in the entry registers.
The numerous images obtained by Avvenire through an official source capture the secretive happenings of that morning. Accused by the UN of being one of the most brutal human traffickers in Libya, master of life and death in prison camps, perpetrator of shootings at sea, suspected of having drowned dozens of people, considered the head of a real mafia syndicate branching out into every political
and economic sector of the Zawyah area, he had obtained a pass to enter Italy and be accompanied by the Italian authorities to study “the Mineo model”, from where in recent years more than 30 thousand migrants have passed. Unspeakable agreements that continue even now, despite the repeated denunciations of the United Nations.
The meeting was also attended by North African delegates from various international humanitarian agencies, probably unaware that they were sitting next to a warlord involved in the worst violations of human rights. It is no coincidence that a few days later, the United Nations, in a very harsh report by the Security Council, denounced: “Abd al-Rahman Milad (alias Bija) and other members of the Coast Guard are directly involved in the sinking of migrant boats using firearms.“ In the report, it is asked for the freezing of assets and a ban on Bija travelling outside Libya.His name is mentioned six times: “He is the head of the Zawiyah branch of the Coast Guard. He obtained this position thanks to the support of Mohammad Koshlaf and Walid Koshlaf”. These men were at the head of the “Petroleum Facilities Guard” and controlled the local refinery with a militia of at least two thousand men.
It seems impossible that the Italian authorities did not know who the man sitting at the table of the strange conference was.
Several months before his arrival in Italy, Bija had ended up in the crosshairs of numerous journalistic inquiries and international investigations. On February 14th 2017, The Times released a video of a man in camouflage savagely beating a group of migrants on a rubber dinghy. Filmed from behind, the militiaman appears in the scene with a disability in his right hand, just like Bija, who lost a few fingers during the 2011 anti-Gaddafi fighting. On February the 20th, the Italian journalist Nancy Porsia published an in-depth report in English for Trt World, continuing an investigation that already appeared on January the 6th in Italian in The Post International, in which she explains that “Bija works under the protection of Al Qasseb, the war-time pseudonym of Mohamed Khushlaf, who is head of the security department of the refinery in Zawiyah. Supported by his cousin and lawyer Walid Khushlaf, Al Qasseb exercises total control over the refinery and the port of Zawiyah. The Khushlaf cousins are part of the powerful Abu Hamyra tribe along with Al Bija”. Then came articles published by Il Messaggero, Il Mattino, la Repubblica and l’Espresso. The year before, in 2016, Panorama and Il Giornale had also indicated Abdou Rahman as a key figure in human trafficking. The investigations of Francesca Mannocchi for Espresso and various other media, and of Sergio Scandura for Radio Radicale, as well as some of the leading newspapers in the world have been numerous and ongoing.
Despite the large amount of damning information, Bija is accompanied to Italy and presented as “one of the commanders of the Coast Guard of Libya”, according to an official source present at the meeting in Mineo. That day, however, an unexpected event occurs. A Libyan migrant hosted in the Cara* mistakenly ends up near the building where Bija, some delegates of the Prime Minister Serraj and of the Ministry of the Interior of Tripoli were expected. When the Libyans (at least six) disembark from the minibus of a tourist services company from the province of Catania, the immigrant leaves frightened: “Libyan Mafia, Libyan Mafia”, he says in Italian.
The images that we are publishing today (only in part, in order to protect the identities of several Italian officials present in various capacities) show Abdou Rahman sitting next to two of his countrymen, a man and a woman. He listens without saying a word. He takes note and occasionally signals to the emissary of the Minister of the Interior to intervene. The Libyans ask specific questions: “How much does the Italian government pay you to host every migrant here? How much does the Cara* in Mineo cost annually?”. Then, according to the source of Avvenire, in an undiplomatic way “they make it clear that after all the ‘Mineo model’ can be exported to Libya and that Italy could finance the creation of structures for migrants throughout the country, saving itself money and problems”. Shortly after, the siege of the NGOs began and interventions by Italy and Europe were announced to open migrant camps in the North African country.
In reality, the correspondent of Tg1 Amedeo Ricucci explained during a special broadcast after going to Zawyah in person to interview Bija just after the trip to Sicily, “it is as if they played guards and thieves, but in Libyan fashion: the roles of both are constantly reversed depending on convenience”.
The negotiation must have been to the advantage of the traffickers, if Bija is still in service. Also the successive governments have continued to indirectly but consciously support the activities of the Libyan bosses. Several witnesses in criminal investigations “declared,” say UN reports, “that they were taken at sea by armed men on a ship of the Coast Guard called Tallil [used by Bija] and taken to the detention center of al-Nasr, where they were reportedly detained in brutal conditions and subjected to torture”.
This information has been unexpectedly confirmed in recent days. While investigators from Agrigento and Palermo were investigating the three alleged camouflaged torturers among the migrants of the Messina hotspot for arrest, some of the victims said that it was “a Libyan man, perhaps named “Bingi” (phonetic), who decided who would board the rubber dinghies, “who lacked two phalanxes in his right hand”. According to another migrant, the man was nicknamed “Bengi”, and “he was in charge of moving the migrants to the beach; it was he, who in the end, decided who should embark; he was a violent man and was armed; we were all afraid of him”. When asked if he had ever heard his real name, the migrant answered with certainty: “They called him Abdou Rahman”.
*CARA – extraordinary reception centre
Translation by Francesca Cavallo