Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi, in a move designed to gain his country acceptance among the community of nations, agreed last week to pay $2.7 billion to the families of the 270 victims in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The move was seen as a dramatic step forward for a man known to have sponsored a wave of bloody international terror through the 1970s and 1980s. It even prompted discussions about whether Libya should be removed from Washington's list of state sponsors of terror and whether U.N.- imposed sanctions - in place for 11 years - should be lifted.
But though Kadafi's moves are a positive sign, a closer look reveals that he has merely switched to back-door channels to fund and lend his support to terrorists.
Kadafi's campaign to free Libya of its pariah status includes the payment of ransoms to release terrorist-held hostages in the name of "human rights." Indeed, he may have paid to secure the release last week of European hostages held first in Algeria and then in Mali by the Salafist Group for Call and Combat - an affiliate of the Al Qaeda network. Since 2000, he has helped win the release of other terrorist-held hostages by paying ransoms with money funneled through his Tripoli-based foundation.
Such moves have earned him the gratitude of other nations. But through these ransom payments, Kadafi is still funding terror.
There are many examples. In August 2000, the Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf group, another Al Qaeda affiliate, held 21 people hostage for several months on the island of Jolo. After a negotiating stalemate between Manila and the terrorists, Kadafi intervened, offering as much as $1 million per hostage and citing his role as a "humanitarian."
Abu Sayyaf leaders spent the money Kadafi gave them on M-16 rifles, grenade launchers and other weaponry, according to the daily newspaper the Australian. The money also aided a recruitment drive that landed the group an estimated 2,000 new fighters. Each was paid $2,000 to join.
In autumn 2001, Seif Islam Kadafi, son of the Libyan leader and chairman of the Kadafi foundation, mediated a hostage crisis between the Taliban of Afghanistan and several European nations when the Taliban kidnapped eight aid workers in Kabul who were charged with "spreading Christianity." Further investigation revealed that the Taliban, which from 1996 to 2001 hosted Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda core, were "clients" and received "humanitarian help" from the Kadafi foundation, the Australian newspaper reported.
Kadafi's foundation also offered aid to the families of Al Qaeda militants arrested in Pakistan. In May 2002, Kadafi paid for the transport of six wives and 14 children of militants from Pakistan to Libya. According to the Pakistan Observer newspaper, the foundation in 2001 also "offered its services to arrange the repatriation of the foreign-origin persons who had been fighting alongside the Taliban."
Given this track record of supporting terrorism under the guise of providing aid and counsel, there is cause for concern over Libya's involvement in last week's release of 14 European tourists held hostage. A ransom of millions was paid for their freedom, but it was not announced by whom. The deal has been shrouded in mystery.
The president of Mali, whose government helped negotiate the releases, thanked Kadafi for helping but did not say what the Libyan leader's role was. Meanwhile, Kadafi's foundation claimed partial credit for securing the hostages' release.
Did the foundation pay the Al Qaeda affiliate for the hostages' release? Whoever paid was putting money in the coffers of an Al Qaeda terrorist group. This could encourage a cottage industry for kidnapping.
There are other areas of concern regarding Kadafi.
The CIA believes that Libya is working hard to develop biological and chemical weapons. In 1999, Indian officials stopped a North Korean ship full of missile parts bound for Libya. There are also worries over Libya's poor ratings in the State Department's human rights reports, as well as Kadafi's tendency to support regimes in Africa that the U.S. government is working to reform. In fact, Liberia's former rogue leader, Charles Taylor, recently received cash and weapons from Kadafi while in office.
For these reasons, recent State Department reports indicate that Libya will remain on Washington's sanctions list and that it will also stay, at least for the foreseeable future, on the list of the state sponsors of terrorism. Until the Kadafi foundation has been thoroughly investigated by the U.S. government, this is the right decision.
Kadafi's overtures to the families of Flight 103 are a step in the right direction. But his association with terror appears to continue through other means.
Jonathan Schanzer is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.