The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was behind a drone strike that killed 26 unarmed cadets at a military academy in Libya in January, even though it denied responsibility for the attack, a report by the BBC said Friday.
According to the report, the military academy was hit by a Chinese Blue Arrow 7 missile that was fired by the Wing Loong II drone from al-Khadim air base, operated by the UAE at the time.
The missile is only in use in China, Kazakhstan and the UAE and is paired with the Chinese-made Wing Loong drone.
The Abu Dhabi administration claimed that the attack that killed 26 cadets – most of them teenagers – was carried out by local forces.
“We were witnessing our colleagues dying, breathing their last breath, and we couldn’t do anything … There were guys whose torsos were separated from their bodies. It was an awful crime, a crime that has nothing to do with humanity,” 20-year-old Abdul Moeen, who survived the attack, told the BBC.
Putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s forces also denied responsibility for the strike, claiming that it might have been caused by a locally fired mortar shell or an attack from within the military academy.
The investigation has found that the pieces of shrapnel found on the ground after the attack matched the Chinese-made missile and that the drone, the only aircraft capable of firing the missile, operated over the Libyan capital Tripoli in January.
The BBC also noted that the United Nations had concluded that the missile “is ballistically paired to be delivered by the Wing Loong II … and by no other aviation asset identified in Libya to date.”
In 2019, the U.N. said Abu Dhabi violated the arms embargo on Libya by sending the aforementioned drones and missiles into the country.
“The BBC also found an arms registry showing that, in 2017, the UAE bought 15 Wing Loong drones and 350 Blue Arrow 7 missiles,” the report said.
On a different note, the investigation revealed that Egypt has been letting the UAE use its bases near the Libyan border. For instance, in February, the UAE moved the drones into Libya through an air base near the western Egyptian desert, the report said.
Another Egyptian military base, Sidi Barrani, has also been used to transfer fighter jets “painted in colours that are not used by the Egyptian air force, but which exactly match the jets flown by the UAE,” the report said, citing satellite imagery.
The report noted that the plane matched the model implicated by the U.N. for carrying out an airstrike on a migrant center in Tripoli in July 2019, which killed 53 people.
The Libyan government has repeatedly accused the UAE and other regional states of supporting Haftar’s military campaigns against the internationally recognized government in Tripoli.
The UAE is one of several countries, along with Egypt and Russia, that have supported Haftar’s militias against Libya’s official government.
The UAE has invested heavily in support of Haftar, despite his failures. Although there has been an international arms embargo on Libya in place since 2011, the Persian Gulf nation has been continually looking for ways to get heavy and strategic weapons to Haftar and his forces in the east of the country in an effort to overthrow the Government of National Accord (GNA).
The UAE has been harshly criticized by human rights groups and the U.N. for escalating violence in the war-torn country. Human Rights Watch (HRW) in late April stated that an airstrike by the UAE on a biscuit factory south of Tripoli on Nov. 18, 2019, killed eight civilians and injured 27 others.
Accordingly, a confidential U.N. report in March revealed that two Dubai-based companies have been sending Western mercenaries to support Haftar in his offensive.
Furthermore, it has been documented that the UAE illegally benefits from the conflict-ravaged country’s oil reserves in order to provide financial resources to Haftar’s forces.
A report by a U.N. panel of experts also said that the foreign mercenaries were affiliated with Lancaster 6 DMCC and Opus Capital Asset Ltd. FZE, both registered at free zones in the UAE.
The report was shared with the U.N. Security Council’s (UNSC) sanctions committee in February, according to two diplomats who spoke to U.S. news outlet Bloomberg.
They told Bloomberg that the two companies supplied “Haftar’s forces with helicopters, drones and cyber capabilities through a complex web of shell companies.”