When a bomb was planted in the headquarters of The Department of Military Intelligence in Benghazi in 2012, not many could have known that the contents of the secretive archive would end up in the hands of the European media. But courtesy of a thief, it has. The price?  Apparently not more than €200,00.

When a bomb was planted in the headquarters of The Department of Military Intelligence in Benghazi in 2012, not many could have known that the contents of the secretive archive would end up in the hands of the European media. But courtesy of a thief, it has. The price?  Apparently not more than €200,00.


Colonel Muhammad al-Shih

Colonel Muhammad al-Shih, commander of the Department of Military Intelligence in the eastern region, has appealed to the Libyan government to get back the stolen archives, but to little avail. The archive was stolen after the bombing of the al-Shih’s headquarters and was sold, allegedly to a “foreign media station.”

Thieves make a killing from torture history

The military intelligence HQ, located near the Turkish consulate premises, were targeted by an improvised explosive device planted by unknown assailants, after which the archive disappeared.  According to al-Shih, there is news that the archive was sold to foreign organizations.

Al-Shih’s appeals came after he watched a documentary aired on a European broadcaster discussing Gaddafi’s crimes. The documentary was supported by films and photos which al-Shih had sorted and documented himself in the stolen archive.

Correspondents met with al-Shih to discuss the theft of the archive, which took place 2 days after the bombing of the military intelligence headquarters in the al-Fuwaihat area in Benghazi on August 1, 2012.

Q. Is it possible that an archive of such a size and importance is stolen in such an easy way?

A. In light of the current lawlessness and lack of readiness within the army and the police to do their work in the country, such a thing becomes possible. Theft is an easy profession for making money. Let me stress that it is very important that the state actively pursues and prosecutes those who are selling their country’s confidential information. Let them be brought to justice.

Q. How did the archive look before the fire in the headquarters? What did it contain?

A.The archive was a mountain of paper mixed with dirt. I organized and numbered it, sorted out the ministers’ files from the ordinary reports.  Everything in the archive related to the state was documented, such as Libya’s international relations and the reports of the general security during the outbreak of the revolution.

The folders also contain the files of former ministers and of all those who have lived under the former monarchy, Italian and British colonialism, in addition to intelligence reports and reports concerning public security under Gaddafi. It is a store full of documents.

Documents contained in the archive are reports, files, maps, pictures, tapes and videotapes.  I burnt some material, which was not needed, and I kept the important documents: pictures, evidence of assassinations and taped executions from 1989 until 2011.

Q. When did the archive disappear?

A. When the intelligence headquarters were burnt, I felt that there was a danger threatening the archive which was in a room far from the fire place.  On the second day, I decided to take the archive to a safe place. When the fire was extinguished, the archive was still in good shape and it was not badly affected by the fire.  On the third day, I came to take it to another place but I found the room empty.  There was not even one paper on the floor! 

Q. How did you discover that the archive was sold to a foreign station?

A. After a while, and during my search for information on the web, I found a site discussing the crimes of Gaddafi’s era and displaying a video clip, which is still on YouTube, produced by a foreign organization based in Tripoli. This video contained information which is not available anywhere else other than the archive stolen from the Department of Military Intelligence.

I relayed this information and the Intelligence Department filed a lawsuit on the theft of the archive and the selling of security information to third parties. However, the competent authorities did not take any action on this issue.

Q. How did you know about the details of the transaction?

A. After watching the film. Because I know the premises of the organization’s branch in Tripoli, I went there and tried to get from the organization some details on the subject and on the identity of the person who sold them the archive, but they did not give me any useful information.

When the organization refused to give the details, we started surveillance on the place to see who was coming in and out of it.  After continuous monitoring of the organization’s premises, we received information that there is a person from Benghazi who used to frequently visit the organization. When we investigated this matter, we discovered that he was the one who sold the archive to that organization. We also knew that he has the original copy of the archive and he is making copies of it to sell them to foreign organizations.

When we were able to identify his place of residency, I went to his house and met with him.  And because I was compelled to speak to him without having the support of the competent authorities, he promised to give me a copy of the archive and we agreed on the delivery date. But did not abide by it.

He said that he does not trust the intelligence service and that he will not deliver the archive to any person other than to the Office of the Attorney General. We sent letters to the Attorney General to give us a letter signed by him authorizing us to receive the archive and we formed a committee of three officers to complete the task.  But he again skulked and he asked for 1 million Libyan dinars as a price for returning back the archive.

Q. Are you coordinating with other parties to arrest the culprit?

A. We do not have the authority to arrest anybody.  That is the responsibility of the security agencies. He is accused of theft and the law applies to all citizens. We have taken all the legal procedures and we wrote letters to the military agencies, the Ministry of Defence, the Chiefs of Staff and to all competent authorities. As a last resort, we spoke to the media. We are not a judicial authority. We are a security authority and our duty is only to report such incidents.

Q. Do you have information about his whereabouts? Is there any chance of the thief being prosecuted?

A. Yes, as an agency, we have full information on the perpetrator. We know that he has a photocopying machine, and that he is copying the archive and selling it to foreigners. This act in itself is an act of betrayal, but because we are a security and administrative unit, we are not authorized to arrest anybody. 

This is a very serious matter and all official and law enforcement agencies should join hands to preserve the possessions of the Libyan state, in particular the security of information. Serious efforts should be made to bring back the archive and punish the person who is selling it to foreign parties.