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Luxembourg says it had no dealings with Egypt killings
Secret operation

Luxembourg says it had no dealings with Egypt killings

by Yannick HANSEN 2 min. 24.11.2021
Company identified as CAE Aviation provided planes and pilots to French-Egyptian secret mission
Disclose published this photo saying it shows the Merlin III plane supplied by CAE Aviation at Marsa Matruh In Egypt. Disclose said it had been photographed by one of the agents who took part in the operation Sirli.
Disclose published this photo saying it shows the Merlin III plane supplied by CAE Aviation at Marsa Matruh In Egypt. Disclose said it had been photographed by one of the agents who took part in the operation Sirli.
Photo credit: Disclose ONG

A Luxembourg-based aerial surveillance company provided manpower and equipment to a joint French-Egyptian secret mission in Egypt that meant to target terrorists but was used to kill civilians, a Luxembourg lawmaker said, referring to the revelations of investigative platform Disclose.

The operation, named Sirli, was launched in 2016 by the intelligence service of the French army (DRM) and the Egyptian armed forces, deputy Nathalie Oberweis of the left-wing déi Lenk party said in a parliamentary question, citing Disclose. The story was also covered by the Reuters news agency.

The Luxembourg-based company supplied a surveillance aircraft and two pilots to the French state to gather intelligence that Egypt then misused for “air strikes against civilians vehicles” in order to fight “trafficking and irregular immigration”, Oberweis said in her question.

Disclose identified the company as CAE Aviation, registered in Findel near the airport, saying it received €18.8 million from the French state for supplying the surveillance aircraft, two pilots and a further four analysts to the mission. 

CAE Aviation did not respond to a phone call and an email requesting a comment from The Luxembourg Times.

Luxembourg had no knowledge of the secret forces operation and did not know of such a contract between the company and the French state, Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said in response to Oberweis's question. The government will also not raise the issue with French or Egyptian authorities, Asselborn said. 

It is the second time this year that Luxembourg business connections to surveillance operations made the news. This summer, a media investigation found that spyware developed by Luxembourg-linked NSO Group - which is capable of intercepting messages and tap phones - was widely used to spy on dissidents, journalists, human rights activists and even heads of state.

CAE, founded in 1971, originally conducted aircraft maintenance, but later started out in aerial surveillance, carrying out over 12,000 hours of flight time per year for institutions such as NATO, Luxembourg's defense ministry as well as private companies, according to the company's website.

The goal of the French operation was to provide intelligence to Egypt to prevent fighters from crossing the 1,200 kilometre-long border between the country and Libya, which has been in a state of civil war since a French-led coalition removed Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Disclose said.

However, Egypt used the intelligence gathered in the mission to arbitrarily target suspected traffickers operating in the border region, Disclose said, citing classified documents leaked from the French presidential office, the armed forces ministry, and the military intelligence services.

The intelligence led to "at least" 19 bombings between 2016 and 2018, killing "as many as several hundred" people, Oberweis said, citing Disclose. Warnings by French officers that intelligence was misused fell on deaf ears in Paris, according to the website of the investigative platform.

CAE Aviation reported profits of roughly €10 million between 2016 and 2019, on which it paid €1 million in taxes, filings to the business registry show.

(Additional reporting by John Monaghan)


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