Libya provided detailed intelligence on hundreds of al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists as part of a deal to end its isolation as a pariah nation, The Observer can reveal.
The disclosure came as Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George Bush yesterday celebrated a diplomatic triumph following Friday night's dramatic announcement that Libya had renounced its weapons of mass destruction program.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw praised the Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gadaffi for his 'huge statesmanship' in striking the deal over WMD.
But the real prize for London and Washington for two years of intense negotiation was access to material from one of the world's most formidable and feared intelligence organizations, The Observer can reveal.
Libya has a sophisticated network of intelligence missions throughout Africa and the Middle East, many of them a legacy of the nationalist struggles of the post-colonial period and Cold War.
In a series of extraordinary meetings, orchestrated by MI6 and involving the CIA and Libyan intelligence, which were held in Britain over the past two years, Libya agreed to hand over intelligence as well as pledging to abandon its WMD program. in return for the lifting of crippling US sanctions.
In a further twist, it has emerged that the key Libyan negotiator was once an avowed enemy of Britain, accused of exporting international terror and masterminding Libya's support for the IRA.
Musa Kousa, the head of Libya's external security organization, was an enemy of Britain and America until the events of 11 September 2001 made Libya a useful ally in the war on terror.
The one-time Libyan envoy to London, he was expelled from Britain in 1980 for publicly threatening to murder dissidents. He was also named by the French as a suspect in the bombing of a civilian airliner over Niger in 1989 with the loss of 170 lives.
In 1995, a secret MI5 assessment accused Kousa of running agents in the UK and of presiding over an organization 'responsible for supporting terrorist organizations and for perpetrating state sponsored acts of terrorism'.
Last Tuesday, however, Kousa was negotiating the final details of the plan to bring Libya in from the cold in the Travelers' Club in Pall Mall with senior figures from the Foreign Office and MI6.
It is a remarkable turnaround for a man who was declared persona non grata in 1980 by then Deputy Foreign Secretary Ian Gilmour amid cheers in the Commons.
Kousa was Libya's de facto ambassador to Britain in June 1980 when he told the Times: 'The revolutionary committees have decided last night to kill two more people in the United Kingdom. I approve of this.' He went on to profess admiration for the IRA and threatened to throw Libya's support behind the terrorist organization if Britain refused to hand over Gadaffi opponents. This threat was later followed through with material support to the IRA.
The deal announced on Friday follows two years of intense negotiations centered on London in the immediate aftermath of al-Qaeda's devastating attack on the World Trade Center. The first part of the negotiation secured compensation for the Lockerbie bombing.
London-based dissidents last night feared for their future and expressed their horror that Musa Kousa was allowed to enter the country.
Ashur Shamis, founder of the opposition National Front for the Liberation of Libya, said: 'It is an absolutely appalling state of affairs. The British and Americans were prepared to go to war to dismantle a regime like Saddam's. But they are quite happy to accommodate Gadaffi, who is no less tyrannical and repressive.'
Shamis, who has a $1m bounty on his head from Libya, said Kousa had organized the systematic persecution of Libyan dissidents in Europe for two decades.
Huda Abuzeid, whose dissident father was murdered by Libyan assassins in west London, said: 'I am astonished that they have done this deal before dealing with the unsolved murders of my father and PC Yvonne Fletcher [shot and killed outside the Libyan People's Bureau in 1984]. This is deeply depressing.'
Families of those who died in the Lockerbie bombing also reacted with dismay. Susan Cohen of New Jersey, whose daughter was killed on the flight, described the move as a 'total betrayal'.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003