On January 19th, the German government hosted the two main warring parties in Libya, the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by General Khalifa Haftar, and the Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez Sarraj, along with their foreign supporters, at a conference in Berlin to discuss the implementation of a ceasefire. The night before the Berlin talks, Major General Ahmed al-Mismari, the spokesman of the LNA, held a press conference.
Al-Mismari addressed Erdogan directly, referring to the estimated 3,000 Syrian mercenaries who have been flown to Libya from Turkey to fight in support of Sarraj and the GNA in the last month. “Do you know that in the last 48 hours, over 41 Syrian terrorists went to Italy through ports in Libya?” al-Mismari said. “And do you know that there are many other Syrians that you have illegally transported to Libya who are preparing to illegally emigrate to Europe? You have never in the past, and will never in the future, fight for the security of this region.”
By January 20th, the number of Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries the LNA believes have successfully traveled to Italy from Libya jumped to at least 47. (It has been recently reported that 17 Syrian mercenaries traveled to Italy from Tripoli by boat today. A source within the LNA says that in fact, 17 bodies of Syrian mercenaries killed in battle were flown to Italy from GNA-held territory.)
The LNA source told The Investigative Journal that the cost of the trip from az-Zawiyah, Libya to Italy rose from $700 to $1300 over the course of a week. “The mercenaries don’t believe that they will be returning to Turkey or Syria, so trying to get to Europe is the most logical option for them,” the source said. “We believe at least 147 mercenaries have made a down payment and are planning to go soon.”
Today, near az-Zawiyah, LNA forces captured five men who were attempting to make the trip to Italy. “Four out of five of them knew each other previously in Syria, but they said they all met the fifth man for the first time when they were boarding the flight to Libya in Istanbul,” the LNA source said. “And when our men questioned the fifth man, he refused to tell us his name, but he told us that until three months ago, he had been held in an SDF-run prison in northern Syria.”
On October 12, 2019, three days after the start of Operation “Peace Spring,” a military offensive on Northeastern Syria employing Turkish aerial bombardment and Turkish-backed “Syrian National Army” ground attacks, Turkey attacked the area around Jirkin prison in Qamişlo, Syria with artillery fire. The prison holds male ISIS combatants. In the chaos that followed the attack, five ISIS prisoners managed to escape. The next day, Turkish artillery struck the Ain Issa camp, which held at least 950 ISIS member affiliates. At least 800 escaped, and few were recaptured.
And now, according to the LNA source, it appears that one escaped ISIS member managed to join a Turkish-backed militant faction bound for Libya and attempt to make his way to Europe.
Later in the LNA press conference, spokesman al-Mismari showed a shaky cell phone video of militants on an airplane with bright green seats. “This is a well-known Libyan Afriqiyah Airlines airplane, transporting terrorists from Turkey to Tripoli. Do you know what the most dangerous part about this video is? There are elements who are refusing to show their face in this video. We believe these are members of ISIS who were arrested. Does this align with the UN Security Council mandates? Is this a part of the international efforts to spread peace and security in Libya?”