Judge seeks more info before ruling against Libyan commander

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A federal magistrate in Virginia wants more information before issuing a judgment against a Libyan-American who once lived in northern Virginia and now commands an army in his home country.

Khalifa Hifter, who leads the self-styled Libyan National Army, was sued last year by families who say their loved ones were killed in his military campaigns.

If the lawsuit succeeds, the families may be able to claim property Hifter owned from his decades living in Virginia. The suit seeks $125 million in damages.

Lawyers for the families asked a magistrate for default judgment at a hearing Friday in Alexandria. But the judge requested additional briefing on whether Hifter can be sued. Some of the questions were technical as to whether Hifter had legally been served with the lawsuit.

Others were more substantive. U.S. Magistrate Michael Nachmanoff asked whether the indiscriminate killing attributed to Hifter in the lawsuit qualifies for damages under U.S. law, or whether the victims must prove they were specifically targeted or singled out.

Faisal Gill, a lawyer for the Libyan families, said he’s confident he will be able to prove to the judge that he has jurisdiction and can enter a judgment against Hifter. He noted that similar cases have been successfully pursued in U.S. courts against other foreign warlords. In this case he said the argument is even stronger because Hifter is an American citizen.

Once a lieutenant to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Hifter defected during the 1980s and spent many years living in northern Virginia. He is widely believed to have worked with the CIA during his time in exile.

Hifter’s army controls the eastern part of that north African country. He launched an effort to capture Tripoli, its capital, last year.

Gill said the fact that Hifter and his family owned so much property in Virginia makes it a real possibility that the victims will be able to collect on any judgment that is entered.

“This is definitely not some theoretical exercise,” he said.

Earlier this week, a similar lawsuit was filed in Alexandria against Hifter and his sons, Khalid and Saddam. That lawsuit alleges the Hifter sons purchased 17 properties in Virginia between 2014 and 2017, paying $8 million in cash.

Esam Omeish, a northern Virginia physician and president of the Libyan American Alliance, attended Friday’s hearings and said the lawsuits all have similar goals.

He said Hifter has thwarted any political settlement in the Libyan war and is trying to impose military rule.

“He thinks he’s the new Gadhafi,” Omeish said.

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