Among the questions that hung over our investigation of the killing of Aliou Candé, few were as urgent as this: had European authorities assisted in Aliou Candé’s initial capture on the Mediterranean? The Libyan Coast Guard had intercepted the raft Candé was on with more than 100 others. But how did they know to look for it? We were determined to find out.
First, some basics: Europe had funded the Libyan Coast Guard with millions to catch migrants before they make it across the Mediterranean—given them new boats, rebuilt others, provided everything including satellite phones and inflatable rafts. But none of it would be of any good without something else: real-time information on the locations of migrants trying to make it to Europe. Turns out, Europe has been supplying that too. Our questions: had Europe helped the Coast Guard identify Aliou Candé’s raft? It would take some work.
Frontex, the E.U.’s border protection agency, keeps near constant surveillance over the Mediterranean. Europe denies directly giving Libya information on migrant boats, but that’s not true. This data is transferred to Libya in various ways; often, through Italy’s rescue coordination center in Rome, but sometimes directly via WhatsApp.
In our pursuit, we saw documents released following an open-records request by Frag Den Staat showing that Frontex sends the locations of rafts directly to the Libyan Coast Guard. Our own request revealed that, from Feb. 1 to Feb. 5, around the time that Candé was at sea, they exchanged 37 emails.
In the end, we had the chance to interview someone who was on the raft with Aliou Candé. He told us he had witnessed a plane circling above the raft around 5 p.m. local time on February 4. That was a start.
We then provided a number of images of planes to our witness, and from that he identified the Frontex Eagle1, a plane leased from the British firm DEA. From there, using ADS-B Exchange, we were able to track Eagle1’s flight path and show that it had circled an area of the Mediterranean Sea from 4.50 p.m. to 5.05 p.m. on that date. Did that put it close to Aliou Candé?
Next step was making some rough calculations: based on the strength of the raft’s motor and how many people the raft was carrying, it seemed Aliou Candé would have been well within the area patrolled during those hours by the Frontex plane. We were now confident that Frontex had surveilled Aliou Candé’s vessel, which was intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard three hours later.
Without Frontex, the Coast Guard would be searching with its eyes closed. “They want to separate themselves from the dirtiest aspects of migrant containment,” says Hussein Baoumi, Amnesty International’s Libya researcher. “It doesn’t matter. They are cooperating. They are complicit.”