The UN-backed government in Libya has arrested a coastguard commander alleged to be one of the world’s most ruthless human traffickers.
On Wednesday, authorities in Tripoli said Abd al-Rahman Milad, known as Bija, and suspected of being behind the drowning of dozens of people, has been arrested in the Hay-al-Andalus district of the city and is now being detained by Rada special forces.
It is the first time that a senior figure of the Libyan coastguard has been arrested for human trafficking.
A UN security report published in June 2017 described Bija as a facilitator of human trafficking and part of a criminal network operating in Zawiyah, in north-west Libya, about 28 miles west of Tripoli.
Last year, an investigation by the Italian newspaper, Avvenire, documented the presence of Bija in Italy at a series of official meetings in Sicily and Rome in May 2017, prompting criticism of the then interior minister, Marco Minniti.
Three months earlier, Minniti had signed a memorandum with the leader of Libya’s UN-backed government, Fayez al-Sarraj, for cooperation with the Libyan coastguard, which included the provision of four patrol vessels.
The deal empowered the Libyan coastguard to intercept migrant boats at sea and redirect them to Libya, where aid agencies say refugees are abused and tortured.