Italy helped "save" Gaddafi by warning of US air raid (Extra)
Oct 30, 2008, 13:20 GMT
Rome - Italy 'probably helped save' Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi's life when it warned Libya of a 1986 US air strike, Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel-Rahman Shalgam said Thursday.
Shalgam's claim, made at a conference in Rome, referred to an April 15, 1986 operation in which the then US president, Ronald Reagan, ordered several attacks against Libya, the ANSA news agency reported.
Shalgam, who was Libya's ambassador to Rome at the time, said he was personally warned of the US intentions a day before the raids took place by 'mutual friend' sent by Italy's then prime minister, Bettino Craxi.
'I don't think I am revealing a secret if I announce that Italy informed us...that there would have been an aggression against Libya,' Shalgam was quoted as saying by ANSA.
Speaking at the same Rome conference, veteran Italian politician Giulio Andreotti appeared to confirm the Libyan foreign minister's claim.
Describing the US raids as 'totally inappropriate' Andreotti, at the time Italy's foreign minister, said he believed Rome had informed Tripoli.
The warning probably helped save Gaddafi's life, even if it did not contain the precise date and targets of the attacks, Shalgam said.
Libyan officials have said that at least 40 people were killed in the raids, including Gaddafi's 15-month-old adopted daughter, Hanna.
Reagan ordered the operation in the aftermath of a April 5, 1986 bombing at a West Berlin disco in which two American soldiers and a Turkish woman were killed and some 200 others injured.
Washington claimed it had obtained cable transcripts from Libyan agents in East Germany involved in the attack.
Despite being a US NATO ally, Italy during the 1970s and 1980s often pursued a diplomatic policy towards the Arab world which was at odds with Washington's.
The sharpest dispute occurred in 1985 when a tense stand-off took place between Italian and US forces over several Palestinian militants involved in the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro.
The militants were being held by US forces at a NATO base in Sicily, but Craxi, claiming Italian territorial rights over the area, demanded they be handed over to Italian authorities.
Italy refused US extradition requests for the militants and subsequently allowed their leader, Abu Abbas, to flee to Yugoslavia.