At least two Libyan businessmen living in Britain have gone into hiding under Scotland Yard surveillance for fear of assassination by liquidation squads loyal to Col. Muammar Qaddafi.
This follows the passing of the June 11 deadline set by the Libyan leader for the return home of his country's nationals to face possible investigation by revolutionary committees in Tripoli.
The British security authorities are keeping tabs on dozens of Libyans here, both as targets for possible assassination and as possible members of murder squads. Officials point out that the threat extends far beyond Britain into other European countries, including Italy, where another Libyan national was killed as the Qaddafi deadline passed.
Scotland Yard has noted Colonel Qaddafi's latest statement that liquidations should cease, except in the case of Libyans "guilty of collaborating with the United States, Egypt, or Israel," but police do not believe it has much meaning.
So far ten Libyans have been killed at the hands of Qaddafi assassins: four in Rome, two in London, one in Beirut, one in Bonn, one in Athens, and one (the latest) in Milan. In European capitals police security detachments are under orders to intensify surveillance of Libyans.
The difficulty facing police in London is typical: Some Libyans, fearing retribution, have gone to ground without telling Scotland Yard. Also nobody really knows how many potential Libyan death squads are operating in the British capital under the guise of students.
Scotland Yard hopes that last month's deportation of four officials of the Libyan "people's bureau" (formerly the Libyan Embassy) may have reduced the threat to dissident Libyans in Britain, but security specialists in London say there can be no guarantee of this.
The British authorities are also under a considerable disadvantage in trying to take a firm line against the people's bureau and its remaining personnel. There are about 2,000 Britons in Libya, and there have been hints from Qaddafi representatives that they could be placed at risk.
Police are keeping a close watch at immigration points for Libyans of dubious intentions seeking entry to Britain. There are fears that weapons may still be entering Britain illegally.
Similar worries are entertained in other European capitals. Italy's freedom of action in dealing with Libyan liquidation squads is hampered because a high proportion of its oil comes from Libyan wells. In the climate of terrorist violence that already exists in Italy it is easier for Libyan death squads to operate there than it is in some other parts of Europe.
The British authorities believe they have gone to the virtual limit in putting pressure on the Qaddafi government to halt its death campaign and in adopting security measures for the protection of Libyan citizens.
Part of the problem is that groups opposed to Colonel Qaddafi are active in London. One such group staged a demonstration outside the Libyan people's bureau to coincide with the passing of Colonel Qaddafi's June 11 deadline.
Scotland Yard officials are doing their best to damp down anti-Qaddafi activity in London.