Stealthy and bulletproof: A road-going Mercedes ML, the type which has been modified with armour plating and jamming technology, and allegedly given to Muammar Gaddafi by France.
Muammar Gaddafi has escaped in a state-of-the-art armoured vehicle provided by Nicolas Sarkozy, it emerged today.
In the latest extraordinary twist to the Libyan rebellion, it emerged that the French President gave the ‘green light’ to the Arab dictator receiving the £3.5 million converted Mercedes 4×4 in 2008.
Not only is it filled with communications systems capable of keeping Gaddafi in touch with his forces, but it can foil the kind of tracking systems used by the military as they try to hunt him down.
It was Mr Sarkozy who ordered French jets to start bombing Gaddafi’s forces back in March, and last week he and Prime Minister David Cameron enjoyed a triumphant trip to the newly liberated Tripoli.
But investigative news site Mediapart has found documents proving that French technology firm Amesys was allowed to provide Gaddafi with the command vehicle.
The revelation comes on the day that pro-Gaddafi fighters fired anti-aircraft guns at revolutionary forces holding the northern gate of Bani Walid for a second day, as frustration with weeks of halting advances grows among the former rebel ranks.
Forces – no longer rebels but the military of the National Transitional Council, Libya’s interim government – have been massed outside Bani Walid since shortly after Libya’s new rulers gained control of Tripoli and other parts of the country in August.
Block-by-block fighting continues in Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte, with revolutionary forces claiming to have opened a second front in the east of the city.
Of Sarkozy’s armoured 4×4, Mediapart says: ‘In 2007 the sale was approved by the then Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his chief of staff Claude Gueant.
‘The vehicle was eventually delivered in 2008 – this time with the green light from the President.’
The site goes on to give details of the armoured 4X4 Mercedes ML – equipped with a protection cage made by Faraday, which prevents all electronic fields from affecting the vehicle.
It also comes with an electronic device capable of knocking out all radio frequencies within some 300ft of the vehicle. This would make the kind of targeted bombing, which has seen hundreds of Libyan Army vehicles destroyed over the past six months, almost impossible.
A military source in Paris said: ‘Gaddafi has almost certainly used the vehicle to get away. It is a product of superb French engineering, and an obvious means of escape.
‘Gaddafi would be able to stay out sight of military targeters, and be extremely well protected if he met enemy forces on the ground.’
In a further disastrous revelation for Mr Sarkozy, it emerged that the 4X4 was part of a £25million-plus deal that also saw the French provide Libya with the means to conduct email surveillance over their own people.
The deal was put together by the French-Lebanese arms dealer Ziad Takieddine, which is at the centre of a party-funding scandal involving Mr Sarkozy.
The scandal, known in France as ‘Karachigate’, is linked to the selling of submarines to Pakistan.
The unidentified military source added: ‘All of this is disastrous for Mr Sarkozy. On one hand he is presenting himself as the saviour of Libya, while in reality he did more to keep Gaddafi in arms than almost anybody else.’
PR disaster: Revelations that Nicolas Sarkozy essentially gave Muammar Gaddafi the means of his escape from capture will be a major embarrassment for the French President. Both men are seen here in a 2007 photo.
Sherpa, a French Internet watchdog group, last week filed a complaint against Amesys for selling equipment to Gaddafi designed ‘to track rebel forces’.
An Elysee Palace spokesman said: ‘We have no comment to make on any of this.’
Today trained fighters pulled away from Bani Walid to regroup and reinforce for a new assault, after they were heavily beaten in the city Friday.
Gaddafi forces opened up on the bands of ragtag, undisciplined fighters left on on the front line.
These include fighters as young as 18 who spend hours smoking hash, shooting at plastic bottles, arguing with one another and sometimes just firing wildly into the streets out of apparent boredom.
Fighting is raging at Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown on the Mediterranean coast. The regime stronghold of Sabha lies hundreds of miles away in the southern deserts, and there are others deep in the central deserts like the cities of Houn and Zallah.
Revolutionaries involved in the battle at Sirte are more organised but have have made slow progress.
Today revolutionary forces shelled the city with Grad rockets and the sound of gunfights echoed through the streets.
White smoke wafted over the city, and civilians continued to flee. Gaddafi forces answered back with occasional Katyusha rockets.
Regular truckloads of fuel and food arrive from Misrata to keep the fighters supplied outside Sirte.
In the past three days, they have battled block-by-block into the western side of Sirte, along the beach and along a eucalyptus tree-lined main avenue parallel to the coast.