Libyan jihadist turned official among 11 killed in plane crash in Tunisia

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 1:26am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 1:26am


A medical plane carrying a former jihadist turned member of Libya's first transitional government crashed south of Tunis early yesterday, killing all 11 on board, Tunisian and Libyan officials said.

The aircraft came down in a field on the edge of Nianou village, 40 kilometres from the capital, without hitting any houses, and burst into flames.

The Libyan flag was still visible on the tail plane amid the charred wreckage, which belonged to the Libyan air force.

The plane was carrying three doctors, two patients and six crew members, emergency services spokesman Mongi El Kadhi said.

One of the patients was Meftah al-Mabrouk Issa al-Dhawadi, who was being transported to Tunis from a military airfield near Tripoli for medical treatment, the Libyan government said.

Another unidentified patient was on the plane, according to the statement.

Dhawadi was a leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) - a now disbanded movement with alleged links to al-Qaeda that joined the 2011 Nato-backed uprising that overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Several members of the group served in the transitional government of Abdelrahim al-Kib, which held power for a year from November 2011. Dhawadi was undersecretary at the ministry of martyrs and missing persons.

Libya's deputy defence minister Khaled al-Cherif, also a former LIFG member, confirmed on Facebook that the group's former leader had been among those who died in the plane crash.

Tunis air traffic control official Sofiene Bejaoui said the aircraft was a Soviet-designed twin-engine turboprop. "According to the air traffic controller who spoke to him last, the pilot's final message was 'Engine on fire'," he said.

Teams were searching for the aircraft's black box flight recorders in a bid to confirm that engine failure was behind the accident.

Sheikh Dhawadi - nom de guerre Abu Abdel-Ghafar - was among the founding members of the Libyan jihadist group that launched an armed campaign against Gaddafi's regime in 1995. and which al-Qaeda announced had joined its network in 2007.

The group was formed clandestinely in Afghanistan in the early 1990s, where its members battled Soviet troops alongside other Arab mujahedeen. In 1992, Dhawadi was captured and returned to Libya where he spent 18 years in prison.

He was freed in February 2011, on the eve of the uprising against the Libyan strongman.