The Qatari government has denied a Reuters report that six Qatari men were arrested over the weekend at a Libyan airport with fake passports and a large amount of cash.
The news report cited an unnamed security source at the Benina International Airport in Benghazi as saying the men were preparing to board a Turkish Airlines flight on Saturday to Istanbul, where they were scheduled to transfer to another flight on to Doha.
The men reportedly had no checked luggage but carried forged Libyan passports and 180,000 Libyan dinars (US$143,719). Libyans do not require a visa to enter Turkey.
However, Qatar’s ambassador to Libya, Sheikh Mohammed bin Nasser Al Thani, called that report “totally baseless” in a two-sentence statement issued by the Qatar News Agency.
A spokesperson for Libya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that six men had been arrested while in possession of fraudulent Libyan passports, but told Doha News that their nationality was unknown:
“We cannot confirm if all of them or (some) of them or any of them are Qatari,” Said Al-Aswad said. “We cannot confirm that we have anything to believe (that they are Qatari). We are waiting for a report from security (investigators).”
The Reuters report said security at the small Benina airport in Benghazi is often lax, and that western diplomats fear it is being used by Islamists to travel to Turkey and join up with Syrian rebels, which Qatar supports.
Qatar also supported the rebels in Libya, sending hundreds of troops as well as fighter jets to help them overthrow Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011.
However, the Gulf country’s relationship with Libya has since cooled. In 2012, Ali Tarhouni – the former National Transitional Council deputy prime minister in Libya – told Time Magazine that Qatar was favoring Islamist leaders:
“I think what they have done is basically support the Muslim Brotherhood … They have brought armaments and they have given them to people that we don’t know.”
More recently, a Libyan militia shut down Qatar Airways’ office in Tripoli in August 2013, a month after the airline launched a direct flight to the Libyan capital.
It was unclear which group was responsible, but they appeared to be motivated by the belief that Qatar is interfering in Libya’s internal affairs.
Officially, Qatar has said it respects the “will and choices of the Libyan people to achieve their legitimate aspirations for reform and decent life.”