LONDON (AP) — Britain acknowledged Thursday that its intelligence agents played a role in the kidnapping and torture of an opponent of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi — a rare admission of wrongdoing by British spies.
Attorney General Jeremy Wright told lawmakers that Prime Minister Theresa May had apologized “unreservedly” to Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar, acknowledging that Britain’s actions “contributed to your detention, rendition and suffering.”
Belhaj, a former fighter in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group that had opposed Gadhafi, and his wife were kidnapped in Thailand in 2004 and sent to Libya. Boudchar, who was pregnant at the time, says she was tortured and then released before her son was born prematurely but Belhaj spent six years in custody.
Belhaj and Boudchar say British intelligence provided information that helped the CIA abduct them and have spent years pursuing British officials through U.K. courts seeking compensation and an apology.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Wright said the pair had withdrawn their claims against the British government, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Mark Allen, a former senior officer in the MI6 intelligence agency.
He said as part of an out-of-court settlement, Boudchar would receive 500,000 pounds ($677,000). Belhaj did not seek financial compensation, saying he only wanted an apology.
Wright read from May’s letter to the couple, which said Britain was “profoundly sorry for the ordeal that you both suffered and our role in it.”
“The U.K. government’s actions contributed to your detention, rendition and suffering,” the letter said.
“The U.K. government shared information about you with its international partners. We should have done more to reduce the risk that you would be mistreated. We accept this was a failing on our part.”
Boudchar on Thursday was in the public gallery of the House of Commons with her son, now 14, to hear Wright’s apology. Belhaj was due to speak later in Istanbul.
In a statement issued by his lawyers, Belhaj said: “I welcome and accept the prime minister’s apology, and I extend to her and the attorney general my thanks and sincere goodwill.”