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Egypt, Libya Linked to Abduction

Libyan dissident Mansour Kikhia
Family photo
Libyan dissident Mansour Kikhia was abducted in Cairo in 1993.

By Jim Hoagland
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, Sept. 28, 1997; Page A01

The Central Intelligence Agency has developed convincing evidence that Egyptian agents staged the 1993 abduction in Cairo of a prominent Libyan dissident and U.S. resident, who was then turned over to the Libyan regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi, according to U.S. officials.

Following a four-year investigation, the CIA told the Clinton administration this summer that it had confirmed for the first time that the dissident, Mansour Kikhia, was taken to Libya and executed there by the government of Gadhafi, a bitter American adversary whom Washington has long accused of sponsoring international terrorism.

Kikhia's wife is a U.S. citizen. The former Libyan diplomat, who had lived in the United States for 13 years, was four months away from receiving U.S. citizenship when he was kidnapped.

The reported participation in the abduction by Egypt, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East and the recipient of $2 billion annually in American aid, has roiled relations between Washington and the government of President Hosni Mubarak, although the Clinton administration has resisted speaking publicly about the case until asked for comment on this article.

Senior U.S. officials, including Vice President Gore, this month demanded privately that Mubarak order an investigation into the Egyptian role in Kikhia's abduction. A U.S. official said that previous White House requests to Mubarak for information, beginning in 1993, produced only "some cooperation."

Kikhia, who defected to the United States in 1980, served as Gadhafi's foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations before turning into a sharp critic of the regime. He disappeared from a Cairo hotel on Dec. 10, 1993, while attending a meeting of an Arab human rights organization he had helped to found.

The U.S. investigation concluded that Kikhia was taken to Libya immediately and killed in early 1994. One source said that there are indications in the CIA report that Kikhia's body was buried in the Libyan desert.

Though it has played a key role in the Middle East peace process, Egypt has been under growing attack in Congress for its support of Gadhafi and violation of United Nations sanctions against Libya. Mubarak's government has worked for several years to end a United Nations ban on air travel to and from Libya, imposed in 1992 because of Libyan involvement in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Cairo was instrumental in a vote last week by the Arab League in Cairo to defy the ban.

Egypt is regarded as the primary target of an amendment recently offered by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) that would withhold 5 percent of U.S. aid from any country that violated sanctions against Libya. The amendment is now in a House-Senate conference committee.

U.S. officials interviewed over the past 10 days have attributed their reluctance to discuss Kikhia's fate to the extremely sensitive intelligence the case involves. But some acknowledged that sensitivity over criticizing Egypt publicly now is also a factor in the government-wide reticence.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright favored taking a fresh, no-holds-barred look at the Kikhia case, and blaming Egypt publicly for failing to cooperate fully if that was justified, when she was first told of the new CIA data in early August.

But as she moved closer to making her first trip to the Middle East on Sept. 9, which included a stopover in Egypt, discussions of making a public statement were dropped, according to several officials.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin confirmed that the State Department received "credible information this summer that Mr. Kikhia was murdered by the Libyan government. We informed the family of what we knew." But he denied that there had been any "policy reasons for not discussing the case publicly. The problem was the nature of the information that was developed."

Rubin declined to comment on other aspects of this article, as did White House national security advisor Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger and CIA Director George J. Tenet. The Egyptian Embassy also would not comment.

But an authorized statement by a U.S. official confirmed that "information that raised the possibility of the involvement of some individuals within the Egyptian government in the Kikhia disappearance" led the State Department to instruct the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to raise the matter directly with Mubarak within the past month.

The embassy urged that "any Egyptian officials involved in the crime be held accountable." Gore reinforced the request in a conversation with Mubarak last week, according to a U.S. official.

President Clinton personally raised the Kikhia kidnapping with Mubarak in a secret telegram several days after the 1993 abduction occurred. That "Dear Hosni" message, which has now been partially declassified, told Mubarak: "I am sure we would both want to prevent any harm from coming to Mr. Kikhia."

The Egyptian response then and over the past four years is characterized by some U.S. officials as reluctant and evasive. "It is hard to fix exactly where Egyptian responsibility lies, whether it is with Mubarak, his secret police or only the two guys who took Kikhia from his hotel," said one U.S. official, who insisted he not be identified. "But the intelligence removes any doubt that there was Egyptian involvement in his abduction."

Egyptian officials have explained their links to Tripoli by arguing that Gadhafi has abandoned terrorism and is an important ally in their fight against Islamic fundamentalists. In addition, there are important financial ties between the two countries. Libya's oil industry provides money for Egyptian workers that is repatriated, and reports in the Egyptian and international press have linked the families of Mubarak and other senior figures in his establishment to lucrative business deals with the Libyans.

Kikhia had traveled to Cairo to attend an annual meeting of the Arab Organization for Human Rights. Aware that Libyan dissidents had disappeared in Cairo in 1990 and been turned over to Libya, he asked Egypt's omnipresent security services for guarantees of safe passage and put himself in their hands, according to Arab sources.

He was seen having coffee with two identified Egyptian security agents in the Safir Hotel on the night of Dec. 10, and leaving shortly afterward in a car bearing license plates belonging to Egypt's secret police. Kikhia, then 62 and a diabetic, left his insulin syringe and pajamas by his bedside, indicating he expected to return to the hotel shortly.

Information given to U.S. authorities three years ago pointed to Kikhia's having been taken against his will to the Cairo home of Ibrahim Bishari, Libya's ambassador to the Arab League, where he was interrogated by Abdullah Senoussi, Gadhafi's brother-in-law and head of the Libya's most notorious intelligence unit.

Kikhia was reportedly seen alive in Libya shortly afterward, and then disappeared from view.

Kikhia's wife, Baha Omary Kikhia, who lives in Vienna, Va., has conducted her own inquiry, and is unwilling to believe the State Department notification of her husband's execution, which was given to her on Aug. 26. She flew on Monday to Libya, where she is demanding to see Gadhafi, apparently to confront him with the U.S. report.

"She considers this as one more rumor," her daughter, Maya Omary, said Friday. "All we got from the State Department was one miserable piece of paper with nothing real on it. That was just not right, even if they meant well."

The paper, headed "Secret, Releasable to the US Citizen Family Members of Mansur Kikhiya," reads: "We have recently received credible information indicating that Mansur was executed in early 1994 in Libya. It is our understanding from this information that Mansur's remains were destroyed."

U.S. intelligence "would not have authorized the disclosure without being 95 percent sure it was accurate," one involved official said.

Gadhafi has denied to Baha Kikhia and in public statements that Libya was involved in Kikhia's kidnapping or detention.

The CIA and Libyan exile groups were responsible, Gadhafi has claimed.

Kikhia's associates are critical of the U.S. decision not to speak publicly until now about the results of the CIA investigation.

"It is unconscionable not to use this information about the kidnapping and murder for the purpose of further isolating Libya," said Henry Schuler, a former Foreign Service office and oil executive in Libya who helped Baha Kikhia investigate her husband's case. "I don't understand the reluctance."

The reason, according to one senior administration official, is concern about keeping the pressure on Libya. "The villain in the story is not Egypt. It is Libya. We should not get diverted from that" as the fight to keep international sanctions on Libya seems to be growing more difficult.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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