Libyan commander responds to federal lawsuits in Virginia

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A Libyan military commander who spent decades living in Virginia is now responding to two federal lawsuits accusing him of atrocities in his military campaigns.

Khalifa Hifter leads the self-styled Libyan National Army. Once a lieutenant to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Hifter defected to the U.S. 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 returned to Libya in 2011 after Gadhafi’s fall, and Hifter’s army gained control of the eastern part of that north African country. Last year he launched a campaign to take Tripoli, its capital. But his army suffered significant setbacks in recent months after the United-Nations-backed government opposing Hifter received military support from Turkey. Hifter has received Russian and Egyptian backing.

Hifter initially failed to respond to the two lawsuits in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, accusing his army of indiscriminate killing of civilians and targeting political enemies. But in a July 31 letter, New York-based attorney Duncan Levin told the judge overseeing the lawsuits that Hifter wants to fight the suits.

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“Gen. Hifter is now aware of these two cases,” Levin wrote. “If permitted by this Court, Gen. Hifter therefore intends to answer to the complaints.”

Levin did not immediately respond tho a phone call seeking comment Monday.

Esam Omeish, president of the Libyan American Alliance, which has been supportive of the lawsuits against Hifter, said in a statement that “(a)fter the recent defeats of Hifter in his war in Libya, Hifter realized that he needs an exit strategy and possibly a place to escape to, and that explains why he retained a law firm now after months of not answering the charges leveled against him.”

In each of the lawsuits filed against Hifter, the plaintiffs sought default judgment after Hifter initially failed to respond. In one of the cases, a federal magistrate has recommended dismissing the lawsuit. In the other one, though, the magistrate has recommended entering default judgment.

The lawsuits allege that Hifter and his family purchased 17 properties in Virginia between 2014 and 2017, paying $8 million in cash.

Faisal Gill, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in one of the cases, said “Hifter finally got the message that we are serious about pursuing justice for the victims of his egregious and violent actions. Killing innocent civilians will not go unpunished.”

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