On December 14th 2019, a pro Lybian National Army (LNA) Twitter account publishes a video showing strikes led by General Haftar army the day before. According to this pro-LNA account these strikes were targeting a shipment transported from Turkey to the airport of Misrata by a 747 Boeing some time before.
OpenFacto has been able to analyse the circumstances surrounding the strikes with open sources. Several elements are suggesting that the claim from the LNA these strikes were aiming at destroying arms delivered from Turkey are plausible:
- the strikes were targeting warehouses located within the airport,
- A 747 Boeing 747 from Turkey did land at Misrata airport a few days before the attack.
A deeper open-source analysis reveals the existence of recurring aviation liasons between Turkey and Libya, operated by civil aviation companies involved in arms trafficking in the past :
- a Libyan company, GASG/Global Air Transport, chartered the plane 747 Boeing and is known to have transported arms in Libya but also in Somalia,
- The plane’s owner is a Moldavian company, Aerotranscargo, accused of having dellivered weapons in Libya and Syria in the past.
OpenFacto believes these air liaisons could be used by Turkey to provide military equipment to the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Fayez el-Sarraj based on these circumstantial evidence which is in violation of the arms embargo on Libya.
Reconstituting events on December 13th 2019
Strikes responsibility claim
We find online the claim of the strikes on Misrata airport in a letter published by the General Command of the LNA armed forces. He warns against deliveries of weapons from Turkey by air and sea under the support agreement Turkey signed with Tripoli in November 2019, and explains that the bombing targeted the warehouses where the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones were stored.
There are other videos and photos posted by pro-LNA accounts that repoort this incident. A photo posted online on December 13th announces the imminent attack on the airport :
A photo and video of the strikes were then published, including a tweet about the destruction of containers transported by a 747 Boeing from Turkey:
A reverse image search shows that the first image is from November 2019 and was already published on Facebook :
The publication of an old photo to illustrate the imminent attack as if it was taken on the spot invites us to be careful about the information disseminated online by pro-LNA accounts around this event.
The other videos of the strikes seem to have been put online for the first time in December 2019.
The description of a video posted online on December 19th details the targets that would have been striked by the LNA: a Turkish air defence system, 3 ammunition caches, military vehicles by the Turkish industrial BMC and a container full of 12.5mm machine guns.
OpenFacto sought to verify in open sources whether the LNA strikes were indeed aimed at destroying weapons delivered by Turkey.
Observing the strikes on satellite images the day after
Thanks to Google Earth satellite imagery history, we can see damage caused by the strikes by comparing images from December 13 during the day, a few hours before the strikes, with those from December 20.
More strikes at the end of December destroyed the remaining hangars:
This verification confirms that it was indeed warehouses that were targeted by the December 13th strikes on Misrata airport complex.
A 747 boeing 747 from Turkey to Misrata on December 13th
From September 1st to December 12th, Mitiga Airport in Tripoli was closed after suffering severe damage following General Haftar’s air strikes. During this period, Misrata Airport took the role as a strategic airport for the GNA. As a window to the outside world, Misrata Airport was for several months the only civilian airport in the region, from which Libyan airliners, Libyan airlines Afriquiah Airlines, Libyan Wings and Libyan Airlines, as well as cargo lines, Global Aviation and Services Group (GASG), Buraq Air and Afriquiah Airlines, operated.
On December 13, 2019, Google Earth shows a plane resembling a Boeing 747 loading or unloading cargo at Misrata Airport:
It is most likely ER-BAJ, a Boeing 747 that was at Misrata Airport on that date according to Flightradar.24 The yellow and red colours of the aircraft, visible on the satellite image, match those of ER-BAJ.
Are there two pilots in the plane?
Flightradar24 database, above, gives us information about ER-BAJ :
- plane type : un Boeing 747-412
- serial number (MSN), unique plane identification : 27071
- airline : here Aerotranscargo
- call sign: a registered code for the aviation authority and identification of the company operating the flight.
A closer look at the ER-BAJ’s flight history shows the use of call signs beginning with ATG, but sometimes with GAK, followed by a sequence of numbers. Over the past year, the ER-BAJ used this call sign only on December 12 and 13 to fly to Libya.
Searching a database of call signs, we come across the Libyan company Global Aviation and Services Group (GASG).
Thus, during these flights, the ER-BAJ aircraft, usually operated by Aerotranscargo, was operated by GASG.
The website Aerotransport.org, a database containing aircraft registration information from more than 60 countries, confirms that ER-BAJ is operated by Aerotranscargo, a Moldovan company with a fleet of several aircraft.
Searching for other Aerotranscargo aircrafts flying to Libya with GAK call sign (thus operated by the Libyan airline GASG), we find 24 flights between May 2019 and the end of December 2019 between Turkey and Libya registered on FlightRadar.24. Most of them follow a similar pattern: a departure from Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates to Turkey (Istanbul and Trabzon) under ATG call sign (Aerotranscargo), then to Libya under GAK call sign.
In addition, from November 2019 to April 2020, ER-BBJ has accumulated more than 20 flights to and from Libya under ATG call sign (Aetrostranscargo) via Ostend (Belgium) and Algiers (Algeria). Articles in Africa Intelligence Online of 2016 mention that Aerotranscargo would have operated in one year more than 50 flights to Misrata and Mitiga from the airports of Ostend (Belgium), Cologne (Germany), or Trabzon and Istanbul (Turkey), thanks to a Boeing 747 air freighter.
Without customs documents or photos showing the opening of containers or pallets, it is impossible to identify the cargo on the ER-BAJ plane, or even to be certain that it was its cargo that the LNA strikes were aimed at.
Nevertheless, it is clear that Aerotranscargo has established recurrent air liaison between Turkey and Libyan GNA-controlled territories.
On the Emirati tarmac
A commun link between Global Aviation and Services Group and Aerotranscargo ? Tarmacs in the middle of the Emirati desert.
Aerotranscargo, on the Moldavian trail
With a quick look on the company’s website we can find the planes fleet identified in the different routes to Libya.
The aviation transport company was founded in 2011 by Mihail Şcemeliov. He has been managing two other companies in the aviation sector : Air Stork and Technoaer.
An operational base in the UAE
This is the only Moldavian aviation cargo company authorized to fly in the European air space since 2019. Aerotranscargo is specialized in cargo transport all over the world. While its headquarters are located in Moldova its website indiquates a subsidiary dedicated to operations based in Sharjah in the UAE. We discover that Aerotranscargo seems to be locally known under two entities with one having a different name: Aerotranscargo FZE and Aviation Transport Services FZE.
A profile on the regional job market social network BAYT shows the two companies mentioned together. Looking a bit more we discover they share the same address and phone number in Sharjah.
This could confirm the route scheme observed earlier with planes stationed in Sharjah, the company’s operations base as from its website, ready to be booked by several clients. As an operator approved by the EU and other foreign aviation authorities Aerotranscargo can rent its certificates and planes to other companies. Looking at other call signs on route historiques, we can see other clients apart from GASG in Libya likei Bismillah airlines in Bangladesh.
Global Aviation and Services Group, a Libyan transporter
The Libyan company Global Aviation and Services Group was created in 2003 by a Libyan businessman, Captain Abdusallam Ibrahim Aradi. It put in place a weekly liaison with Turkey and Ostend in Belgium thanks to Aerotranscargo chartering services. We can use the company’s social networks to identify Abdusallam Ibrahim Aradi on a photo taken on the occasion of the signature of a new prtnership.
In 2015 or 2016, the company is renamed Global Air Transport, but keeps for a while the two brands on its promotional material.
The company is presented on its website as an aviation company catering for cargo and passengers. We can have an idea of goods volume options thanks to some delivery photos: cars, big pallets.
On GASG Facebook account we can find photos of Aerotranscargo’s planes, like this one of the ER-BBJ.
A Facebook post points out to headquarters located in the UAE, offering an integrated cargo solutions via a company called Quick Link.
We can find a link between GASG and Quick Link Aviation Services FZC on an employment website in the UAE. The entity’s role is clearly detailed: Quick Link Aviation is a commercial agent for aviation fret on behalf of GASG in Libya.
We understand the commercial and transactional relations between Aerotranscargo and GASG could have taken place in Sharjah.
Tarnished reputations in the past
Aerotranscargo : an alleged arms transporter to Syria and Libya
Aerotranscargo‘s reputation was quite damaged by some investigations published in the media but also conducted by the UN panel of experts.
On April 15th 2015 a Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws relied on Libyan sources and the UN panel of experts reports to confirm Aerotranscargo was transporting arms from Ostend to Libya destined to armed groups fighting against Tripoli government. A UN panel of experts’s report published on February 23rd 2015 was indeed referring to arms delivery from Belgium and the UAE to Libyan airports including those controlled by GNA loyalists.
On July 27th 2016 OCCRP released an investigation on arms transfers from the Balkans and Eastern Europe to Syria via the UAE, Turkey and Jordan. The consortium published exclusive flight documents listing what was inside Aerotranscargo ER-BAM plane in the summer of 2015. On june 30th and July 14th 2015 the plane would have carried dangerous goods packaged by several employees from the Belgian logistics company Aviapartner from Ostend to Misrata. The plane would have also transported arms from Saudi Arabia.
In 2017, le UN panel of experts reported that the company’s services were used to ship several times military equipment and some personalities to support Marichal Hafter’s side.
The Aradi’s clan alleged links to the GAN and a few services for the LNA
Global Aviation and Services Group has also suffered from being accused of arms traficking several times. In 2006 the company was hold responsible for having deliverd armored vehicles and transporting military personal in Baidoa, Somalia in a UN Counsel Panel of Experts report.
The UN panel of experts on Libya has also mentioned GASG dans in its latest report published in December 2016. On July 26th 2019 the company had chartered a plane from Deek Aviation, owned by a UAE based businessman called Jaideep Mirchandani. The plane was hit by the GNA on Jufra aviation base which controlled by the LNA for having transported military equipment destined to the LNA.
In addition the company could have some political ties with Tripoli. In March 2015 the company published a press release signed by its CEO Abdul Salam Al-Aradi denying the control of an individual named Abdul Razag Al-Aradi in the company’s shareholding.
This individual is a representative of the Justice and Constrution Party, close to the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya and an ex member of the National Transitional Council. He is allegedly close to Sarraj.
According to Africa Intelligence, these two persons would be counsins and the Aradi clan a very importat family in Libya. On Facebook we can only see Abdulrazag Aradi’s and GASG commercial director Nizar Aradi’s contacts. Both of them have in common Mohammed Aradi.
From one side or the other, the two companies seem to have supported one or the other army in Libya by concluding cargo shipping agreement. By shipping from Turkey to Misrata a GNA-controlled airport in december 2019, the two companies have allegedly positioned themselves for Turkey/GNA this time.
OSINT limits in analysing Viktor Bout’s logistics heritage?
On February 1st, 2020 Emirati aviation authorities implemented a ban on Moldavian cargo planes flights from/to the UAE officially on safety grounds. This new regulation must have had a direct impact on Aerotranscargo and Global Air/Global Aviation and Services Group cargo operations to Libya.
Nevertheless the ins and outs of arms traficking made famous by the Russian trafiker Viktor Bout are still catching on between Sharjah and Ostend. He had chosen in 1996 Ostend airport as a base for his Russian military planes to deliver arms around the globe from Angola to Colombia.
The analysis of open sources to observe Viktor Bout logistic heritage is faced wih some limits. It is impossible to notice and record banned equipment without the existence of leaks or whistle blowers giving access to some missing pieces like photos and custom documentations.