During its forty-years, the Gaddafi regime was responsible for countless terrorist attacks and deaths worldwide.
Black September; the Vienna and Rome airport attacks; Berlin LaBelle discotheque; Pan Am Flight 103 and UTA Flight 772 to name but a few. The list is long and horrifying.
Yet, by any metric, Gaddafi’s most terrible act was supplying Semtex to the IRA. The sole purpose was to injure and kill UK citizens. Approximately 3,500 were murdered and maimed as a direct result. A fact, outside of Northern Ireland, too few are aware of.
In 2006, 152 of these brave victims, alongside a handful of US nationals tragically caught up in the Troubles, launched a civil prosecution against Gaddafi in the US courts for just compensation. At that time, the US had jurisdiction over several cases against the Gaddafi regime for its acts of global terror.
The UK victims would have succeeded if President Bush, in the face of threats to pull $9 billion of Libyan investment out of New York, had not agreed to Gaddafi’s offer to settle all the cases against his regime for $1.2 billion.
Shamefully, this deal only applied to US citizens. The UK victims’ case was ended by executive order of the President and they didn’t receive a cent.
Their US co-claimants received up to $10 million each.
Since then, these UK victims have fought tirelessly. Not only for justice and recognition of the pain and suffering Gaddafi’s terrorism has caused them, but for equal treatment.
Notwithstanding the allegations that surfaced in 2013 – that Tony Blair, with the support of the FCO, might have brokered the US/Libyan deal for Gaddafi’s benefit and in the full knowledge it would deny the UK victims – why has the UK government neglected to do what the US, as well as France and Germany, did when they successfully secured reparations for their own victims of Gaddafi’s terrorism.
The US, and other countries, stand up for their victims of terrorism in a way the UK government never has. Since 1996, the US Congress has permitted victims of state-sponsored terrorism to seek redress against state sponsors and passed legislation allowing these victims to access the frozen assets of states like Iran and Libya.
Most recently, the US government has made the frozen assets of such entities as the Central Bank of Iran available to compensate over 1,000 US victims of Iranian terrorism. In April, legislation to this effect was upheld by the US Supreme Court permitting these US victims to recover $1.75 billion in Iranian assets held within the United States.
The UK Treasury has confirmed that there is around £9.5 billion of Gaddafi regime assets frozen in the UK. For years we have asked the government to use those assets to compensate Gaddafi’s UK victims. Its answer is it can’t, because this would be tantamount to ‘theft’. The assets aren’t ours to take, they say. The victims are outraged and bemused.
What message does this send to terrorists? That they will pay the price for killing US, German or French citizens but they should feel free to murder ours with impunity?
When it signed the 2008 US/Libya Claims Settlement Agreement, Gaddafi’s regime admitted liability for arming the IRA. The money is here, in the UK, to compensate its victims. How long must they wait for our government do what is right and take action?
• Matthew Jury is managing partner of McCue & Partners, an expert in counter-terror litigation and campaigner for victims of terrorism