Pair Emerge as Key Suspects in Libyan Terror


For 13 years, a manuscript has been gathering dust in the sociology department library at Michigan State University. The meticulously typed, 209-page master’s thesis may be the most comprehensive, revealing document in English about Libya’s enigmatic leader, Moammar Kadafi.

The thesis is based on interviews with Kadafi’s family, childhood teachers, friends, military cohorts and two sessions with the Libyan leader himself. The document unravels the key events, people, ideas and even the books that brought Kadafi out of the desert, where he had herded goats and camels alongside his father, to topple a dynasty and establish one of the Mideast’s most quixotic governments.

As interesting as the thesis, however, is its author. When he submitted the manuscript, Musa Mohammed Kousa was a 30-year-old Libyan student whose work so impressed his professors that they approved his application to continue in a doctoral program.

“He was a very bright guy,” said Christopher K. Vanderpool, Kousa’s thesis adviser and now chairman of the Michigan State sociology department. “If he had become a professor or a social planner, he would have done very well.”

Rather than pursue his studies, Kousa joined the Libyan government and has risen in the ranks ever since. Today, he is under investigation by U.S., British and French authorities for possible involvement in two spectacular and deadly incidents of terrorism: the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and the 1989 explosion of UTA Flight 772, which together killed 440 people.


Since the focus shifted to Libyan involvement last year, Kousa and Abdullah Sanoussi, Kadafi’s brother-in-law, have become key figures in two of the largest international criminal probes in history.

A French magistrate is reportedly preparing a case to indict Kousa this fall for the UTA bombing. European officials and U.S. counterterrorism specialists confirm that the United States is also homing in on the pair’s links with Pan Am 103. U.S. officials warn that because the two men are suspected of being strategists rather than field operatives, they may be difficult to prosecute.

Whether they are indicted or not, both men are rapidly coming under the same behind-the-scenes international police scrutiny that has been reserved for such notorious figures as the Venezuelan-born assassin Carlos in the 1970s and Palestinian extremist Abu Nidal in the 1980s.

Together, the two have created a global network of operatives to conduct sabotage and subversion--Kousa as head of the Center to Resist Imperialism, Racism, Backwardness and Fascism (known in Arabic as Mataba), and Sanoussi as chief of Libyan intelligence operations, according to U.S., European and Libyan sources.

Yet, with the exception of their singular devotion to Kadafi, the two men are an odd pair. Kousa, now 44, is described by former professors and Libyans as an intelligent idealist and a devout Muslim who neither smokes nor drinks. His transcript from Tripoli University was “excellent,” Vanderpool said.

By contrast, Sanoussi, 40, dropped out of a teachers’ training college and joined the Libyan military, Libyan sources said. “He is lazy and corrupt,” said a Libyan whose wife grew up with Sanoussi. He reportedly fancies nightclub life on his infrequent trips abroad.

But both have left a common, lengthening trail of misadventures. After Kousa graduated from Michigan State in 1978, he was immediately appointed head of the Libyan People’s Bureau in London--the equivalent of an ambassadorship.

Within two years, two Libyan dissidents were assassinated in London. Four Libyan envoys working under Kousa were ordered to leave.

“The revolutionary committees have decided last night to kill two more people,” Kousa told British reporters after the assassinations. “I approve of this.” He also said that British support for anti-Kadafi opposition justified Libyan backing of the Irish Republican Army. “We don’t like to break the law here, but we are fighting these people because they are against our revolution,” he charged.

Kousa was promptly expelled. “The values Kadafi has sought are independence for his society and the Arab nation, achieved by any means,” Kousa had written candidly in his master’s thesis. “Those values have brought him into tension and conflict with some other countries and even with other social classes in Libyan society.”

By 1983, Kousa had such a reputation in the Arab world that Morocco refused to accept his appointment as chief of the Libyan People’s Bureau in Rabat. Instead, Kousa took over Mataba.

Mataba has since become widely known among American, European, Mideast, Asian and African security agencies as a sponsor of training, funding and support for revolutionary groups from Peru to the Philippines, from Trinidad to Togo--and including American Muslim and Indian groups, according to counterterrorism experts.

Mataba is also the chief link between Kousa and the explosion of UTA Flight 772 over Niger after the plane took off from Chad en route to Paris.

French officials now believe the bomb was placed on board in the Congolese capital of Brazzaville, where the flight originated. Congolese dissidents were reportedly recruited by Mataba and Libyan intelligence agents who had been dispatched to Brazzaville.

The crucial evidence comes largely from Congolese dissidents. Libyans reportedly duped a leading dissident to fly to Paris--unaware that the suitcase a Libyan gave him contained a bomb that would blow up while he was on board, French officials said. French investigators believe that Libya plotted to blow up the UTA flight in retaliation for France’s support of the anti-Libyan opposition faction in Chad.

The French publication Le Point recently ran a copy of a letter, reportedly written by one of the dissidents to Mataba after the 1989 UTA bombing, complaining about the duplicity. Key dissidents have provided French authorities with specifics about Libya’s involvement, French officials confirmed.

U.S. evidence on the two men’s links to Pan Am Flight 103 is more circumstantial. “The French have a much stronger case than we do,” a U.S. official said. “Ours is largely intelligence at this stage.”

What accounts for the conversion of a bright Michigan State graduate student into a supporter and perhaps planner of international terrorism?

“Once I told him he was drifting from his studies,” Vanderpool said. “He replied: ‘But I have this disease.’

“I asked Musa what his disease was.

“He said: ‘Politics.’ ”

And Kousa’s politics mirror Kadafi’s. While three sections of his thesis are academic studies of leadership, drawing on the work of a host of scholars such as Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson, a fourth interpretive section on Kadafi’s life contains heavy doses of romanticized rhetoric.

“The desert taught Kadafi patience, endurance, generosity and a strong faith in God,” Kousa wrote. “He also learned self-sufficiency, facing up to such difficulties as the desert’s violent and dangerous storms, its vast distances and the privations it inflicts.”

He added without qualification: “Whatever Kadafi proposes will find general acceptance and legitimacy, since these make possible the implementation of his ideology, which the Libyan people have come to endorse.”

Explains a Michigan State sociologist who taught Kousa: “What you have is a person who really believes. He really believes in Kadafi and what he is doing to reform Libyan society.”

Kousa’s family, from a poor section of Tripoli, did well by the revolution. Kousa’s father became a shopkeeper, according to Vanderpool, who visited Libya with his then-student in 1977.

Kousa’s devotion to his country was evident during the time he spent in the United States. He arranged for a Libyan cultural group, mainly singers and dancers, to visit East Lansing, Mich. He also put on a Libyan cultural night at an East Lansing middle school.

Dissidents with the National Front for the Salvation of Libya contend that Kousa and a handful of other bright young Libyans were sent deliberately to the United States to set up cells of pro-Kadafi activists.

Vanderpool said he had no knowledge of Kousa’s political activities. “Everyone on the faculty thought Musa was a friendly person, a nice person,” he said. “There was nothing in his behavior to indicate he was radical or leftist.”

But one of his professors saw a darker side: “If you put Musa next to the stereotypical image out of ‘The Godfather,’ you’d look into how Al Pacino played the godfather and you’d see Musa’s eyes. . . . My ex-wife was scared of him.”

Kousa, who now also holds a post equivalent to deputy foreign minister, appears to have long opposed U.S. foreign policy in the Mideast. “The United States is supporting Israel and some conservative Arab states like Saudi Arabia,” he wrote in his thesis. “So there is likely to be some conflict between (Kadafi’s) policy and that of the United States.”

U.S. and British investigators now believe Libya’s involvement in the Pan Am bombing was motivated by longstanding tension capped by the U.S. air strike on Libya in 1986.

In stark contrast to Kousa is Sanoussi, who fits the role of henchman, according to U.S., European and Libyan sources. Born in Fezzan, the least-developed province during the rule of former Libyan King Idris, Sanoussi has peasant roots. He joined the military, the new center of power, shortly after the bloodless 1969 revolution, according to Libyan dissidents and U.S. records.

His rise is attributed in part to ties with Kadafi’s family. Of medium height with a trademark Afro haircut, Sanoussi did his military training with Kadafi’s cousin, Ahmed Qadafadam, who later became a power within the regime. Then he married the sister of Kadafi’s second wife, making him an insider.

He also is an efficient, ruthless enforcer of Libya’s idiosyncratic revolution. After a failed 1975 military coup attempt--the first serious threat to Kadafi--the Libyan leader created, and gave special powers to, a new intelligence unit that included Sanoussi, then a 24-year-old captain.

The next year, during student demonstrations in Tripoli and Benghazi, Sanoussi helped put them down--brutally.

“He beat the hell out of me . . . from head to toe with sticks and hoses until I was almost unconscious,” said a former professor at the University of Benghazi now living in secret exile in the United States. “They wanted to know who led the opposition at the university, who was against Kadafi. I kept telling them I didn’t know, that I wasn’t a member of any group.”

The torture continued for two weeks. “Sanoussi particularly seemed to enjoy it,” the professor added bitterly. Fifteen years later, he still bears a souvenir scar on his head where hair will not grow.

Sanoussi personally participated in the torture of dozens of suspected dissidents and subsequent executions, according to the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, an opposition movement based in Europe and the United States. The professor recalled the screams of other torture victims during his imprisonment: “Sanoussi became known as the butcher of Benghazi,” he said.

In the 1980s, Sanoussi emerged as a leading figure in Libyan campaigns against dissidents abroad and opponents in the region, according to U.S. and Libyan sources. He was implicated in a plot to attack an Arab foreign ministers meeting in Tunisia in 1982. In 1986, he was sentenced in absentia to 10 years imprisonment for conducting a campaign to assassinate Libyan dissidents in Egypt. U.S. officials also suspect him of having links with Yu Kikumura, a Japanese terrorist convicted in 1988 of transporting three powerful bombs in New Jersey. Kikumura is believed to have been hired by Libya.

“He is real scum,” said a U.S. counterterrorism expert. “Sanoussi has been a constant headache for us,” said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official.

Sanoussi also has an American connection. In 1976, ex-CIA agent Edwin P. Wilson was engaged in what U.S. prosecutors later called “terrorism for hire.” Wilson recruited former Green Berets, Marines and pilots to train Libyan hit squads, bomb makers and terrorists.

Wilson was convicted of shipping weapons and 20 tons of C-4 plastic explosives, a favorite of terrorist groups worldwide, to Libya. He was convicted separately of attempted murder for trying to arrange the assassinations of two U.S. federal prosecutors and six witnesses.

Sanoussi worked closely with Wilson, according to U.S. counterterrorism and Libyan sources. By then, he was a senior player in Tripoli’s covert activities and a strategist at the training centers Libya ran for extremist groups and guerrilla movements in the Mideast, Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America.

In the 1980s, he rose to the position of operations chief for Libya’s external security organization, the agency that is being investigated by U.S., British and French authorities for its role in the UTA and Pan Am bombings.

Sanoussi’s record and his connections have brought him closer and closer to Kadafi’s side. According to U.S. and Libyan sources, he is now one of four members of the most powerful directorate that serves the Libyan leader.