Super Pumas Reach Malta
February 21 - after six days of protests bleeding into open conflict, Benghazi had fallen to the rebels, anchoring all of eastern Libya under their control. 400 miles to the northwest, on the tiny island nation of Malta, two Libyan Air Force Mirage fighter jets famously landed with a tale of being ordered to bomb the protester/jihadists. This crucial claim started the talk of a no-fly zone, which eventually led to the current international bombardment, mostly by the US, UK, and France.
The same day, just hours earlier, two helicopters had also fled Libya to make an emergency landing on Malta. The Tripoli Post reported:
On the same day police also questioned seven passengers who landed in Malta from Libya on board two French-registered helicopters, with Malta government sources saying the helicopters had left Libya without authorisation by the Libyan aviation authorities and that only one of the seven passengers - who say they are French citizens - had a passport.Pakistani paper Dawn reported similarly:
Two French-registered Super Puma civilian helicopters also landed on the Mediterranean island around the same time, carrying seven passengers who said they were French working on oil rigs near Benghazi.Agence France Press describes the helicopter passengers as:
The helicopters were given permission to land in Malta but had not been given clearance to leave Libya, indicating they had escaped, the sources said.
... seven people who said they were French nationals working on oil rigs near Benghazi, although only one had a passport, the sources said.One presumes they've long since been released, but it seems that happened more quietly than how they first came into Malta's protection. One can only wonder what they found out, if anything, about these seven mysterious Frenchmen in that interim?
All those who have landed are being held at the airport in Malta until their identities are confirmed.
this video of the defecting aircraft filmed in the still of the night. The other is the same, as seen in a few photos, like the one here. The markings say Heli-Union, and despite the ambiguity of its name, it is apparently a French company (website in French, and English secondarily). They do specialize, among a few other things, in "air transport by helicopter on behalf of oil and gas companies." That's consistent with airlifting out offshore oil workers, as one presumes they would be (Libya's oil is mostly off-shore or well inland, under the desert, so "near Benghazi" on the coast suggests they weren't down in the desert, like these oil workers who fled a Canadian-run station attacked by rebels on the 21st, and ran deeper into the desert.)
What French Can Mean
It's entirely possible for off-shore oil workers to lose or leave behind their passports. However, their lack of proper ID might also, possibly, suggest a more clandestine type of work back in just-conquered Benghazi. And they were from, of all nations, France.
It was in Paris where the European end of arranging the protests and takeover was allegedly based. As Italian blogger Franco Bechis reported in March, based on leaked documents, an Air Force defector in Benghazi named Gehani was contacted by the French secret service DGSE. This happened on November 18 2010, Bechis reports, on the tip of Nouri al-Mesmari, Libya's former protocol chief.
Mr. Al-Mesmari had, in his turn, fled into the arms of the French imperialists in October. He apparently made contacts with the DGSE during his brief house arrest following on embezzlement charges from Tripoli. He was of course released, and allowed to meet people in Paris - like three of the top leaders from the February 17 protest movement.
Collectively, this suggests a pre-planned design to fuse a military defection (indirect coup) with a gauze of peaceful protest, a project somehow favored or facilitated by Paris. And France sure was gung-ho to support the rebellion for full takeover, weren't they?
Despite their intense support afterwards, no outside powers were officially aware of or involved in the initial uprising itself. Any planning was limited in nature and purely Libyan, we're to presume. And it seems as if their turn to violence was just a spontaneous reaction to unexpectedly fierce government repression and - obviously - an unwillingness to just say "ow! Okay, okay, sorry, I didn't know you'd get so mad!"
That last, to me, is a clue that somehow the "protesters" suspected that someone powerful (aside from God) had their back. And of all the nations now backing the rebels with what's been called "like God's own Air Force," France has the covert people best-placed to be involved - hypothetically - in the war's initial phase.
In this context, it's worth asking who were these seven guys on the Super Pumas, and what were they doing in Libya in those days right before the no-fly discussion started.
They could be oil workers as they say. Even down to the Heli-Unon choppers, that cover - if it's cover - makes perfect sense. A well-designed cover will, of course.
Alternately ... maybe it's just a cover. They're too small and a bit too foreign to be any public fighting force. But they might have advised, or ran some narrow tactical missions at night. They might have been on stand-by only for such things, or nothing more than observers for Paris, to get their own clearer view of how the natives were handling things.
An Escort Mission?
The civilian helicopters trying to escape from a government they were helping overthrow might help explain the fighter jets that landed just after they landed safely on Malta.
These French-built Mirages would seem, by the orders they claimed to have defied, to have taken off under Libyan government command. But considering the alleged Gehani-DGSE link, it seems possible the colonels flying those birds were rebel-aligned well before "receiving" the order to bomb protesters. They might have been commissioned by the French-Rebel conduit, as escort duty on the first leg of the choppers' illegal (and slower) flight. I would suspect they all set out together from rebel-held Benghazi, despite the implication the defectors scrambled from Tripoli, or within an area of government control.
Any such protection might help explain the armaments, in case anyone tried to enforce the law that says, I would guess, that mysterious Frenchmen cannot leave a war zone without letting the government find out who they are and what they just did. And it would be a nicely efficient double-mission - cover the whole unauthorized escape of rebel helpers with their stolen defector jets, then land with with the mental seeds of the rebels' NATO air support - a false claim of a planned massacre, with the missiles in place to prove they'd been armed for it.
It also works towards giving the game up. What are the odds the colonels would happen to fly off with this order and snap to the north on winds of conscience, just as these unauthorized clandestine Frenchmen were leaving?
Why February 21?
It seems reasonable here to presume that foreigners like the oil workers they claim to be would usually work in an area during peace and stability time, leave as soon as things get crazy, and then come back when it's stable again. Now, it's true the Libyan civil war did move swiftly, but still, it's noteworthy how these guys did about the opposite of the usual.
The first protests were on Feb 15th, in Benghazi and a few other towns, with violence increasing each day and in other cities through the 17th - the pre-announced "day of rage," which doesn't bode well for any hopes for less of the same. In these first few days, order still prevailed, and it would be a good time to get out. 18th, ugly ... 19th, worse ....
Only on the 20th did things really get topsy-turvy. It seems al-Baidah at least had already come under rebel control, and in Benghazi, The Katiba barracks, a major army base, was blown open by a suicide bomber, and the spoils were quickly sent out to other cities right away. Labraq airport 100 miles east was finally taken with this boost, on the 21st. By then all of the eastern region of Cyrenaica, and even a nice buffer into the Sirte basin, was rebel-held, and armed with solely Libya stocks, untraceable to Paris.
The protest could now safely become a civil war and Gaddafi could be forced out for acting like he's fighting a civil war against "civilans" who now can do whatever they want - because they started it, briefly, as a "peaceful, homegrown protest." Their unseen work to this end complete, any French plotters might flee as described above, if possible with the disinfo defectors in their Mirages providing armed escort.