By George Grant.
London, 22 August:
A Benghazi man and associate of National Congress Speaker Mohammed Magarief was abducted by armed brigadesmen on . . .[restrict]Sunday and has not been heard from since.
Omar Iwanish, a Libyan with dual UK and US citizenship, had gone to a coffee shop in Benghazi to meet with the renowned musician Adel Al-Mshaiti, when five men from the February 17 Brigade stormed into the café and dragged him outside in front of shocked customers.
Rumours have begun circulating that he is to be accused with complicity in Sunday’s fatal car-bombings in Tripoli and that his captors may torture him to extract a confession.
“I am so worried for him, and I do have concerns he may be tortured”, Iwanish’s clearly distraught wife Eman told the Libya Herald by telephone.
“None of us have seen him or can talk to him, and everyone we speak to – the militias, the government – just tell us he is not under their control”.
Mrs Iwanish categorically refutes any suggestion that her husband is a supporter of Qaddafi, still less that he was involved in the car bombings.
She has accused Al-Mshaiti of being behind the abduction, claims he has vigorously denied.
Al-Mshaiti is well known throughout Libya, in particular for his ballad We Will Stay Here, which urged Libyans to stay in the country and resist Qaddafi, and which dominated the airwaves during last year’s revolution.
It is understood that the two men fell into a major dispute when Iwanish accused Al-Mshaiti of not being the true composer of the song. Since then, the two have been engaged in a long-running feud that is said to have frequently turned ugly.
Mrs Iwanish has said that Al-Mshaiti orchestrated her husband’s seizure having invited him down to the the café to discuss their dispute, including by forging the warrant for his arrest.
“We have seen the paper authorising his arrest, but it had no official stamps on it”, she continues. “Adel knows people in the 17 February Brigade, and I believe he has persuaded them to do this… If you do something to him, he can’t let it go.”
There is no verified evidence to substantiate the claims made by Mrs Iwanish against Al-Mshaiti.
“I deny these accusations that I was behind the imprisonment of Omar Iwanish”, the singer said.
“I am also angry that the media has not bothered to contact me to verify the accusations.”
Bilal Bettamir, a law student with contacts inside the brigade, has also suggested that the truth may be more complicated.
“It’s possible the singer was involved, but the 17 February Brigade are very cautious. They are the only ones authorised to make arrests on behalf of the military, and they are an official part of the defence ministry – they aren’t just another militia. I also do not believe they will hurt him.
“What does concern me, however, is that his arrest was authorised by the military – but he is a civilian. That’s not right; I’m not sure if it’s even legal.”
Nevertheless, Bettamir says, he suspects Iwanish of wrongdoing. “I do believe there is a crime involved. I don’t know what it is, but there is another side to this”.
Further clouding the situation are a series of unconfirmed and colourful allegations surrounding Iwanish, which have only added to the intrigue of the case amongst local people.
These include a claim that last year he was offered $7 million by the Qaddafi regime to assassinate the former Libyan envoy to the UN, Abdel Rahman Shalgam, whose public defection to the opposition at the start of revolution was credited with helping secure UN authorisation for military intervention in Libya.
Iwanish is said to have refused the offer.
There are also claims that a separate arrest warrant had been issued for Iwanish back in April, although it is unclear why no action was taken against him sooner if true, especially considering he had returned to Benghazi from the United States back in June.
Either way, what is known is that Iwanish’s father-in-law was a judge under Qaddafi whose rulings, which included the death penalty for a number of anti-Qaddafi protestors, made the family more than a few enemies in Benghazi.
The case has already drawn in a number of prominent actors, including Magarief, who has been in contact with Iwanish’s wife to offer his support, along with both the British and American embassies.
There are also numerous Facebook pages covering the case, and a rally is being organised by Iwanish’s family and friends in Benghazi this afternoon.
To date, no information has been made public about the progress that has been made to secure Iwanish’s release, or at least formalise the conditions of his arrest. [/restrict]