The bizarre case of the so-called Portuguese pilot shot down over Tripoli earlier this week seems to be careering towards a cliff-edge.
Initially reports coming out of Libya suggested Jimmy Reis, 29, would be handed back to UN forces, having been shot down “by accident”.
Then it started to become clear that he wasn’t a regular air force pilot at all.
He appears to be a civilian contracted by a private company – ie a mercenary.
Reis (the name he has given in accented English) was shot down by the self-styled Libyan National Army which is currently battling armed groups and militias affiliated with the UN-recognised government in Tripoli.
This is not the first report of the use of mercenaries in Libya. Both sides have traded accusations of foreign support, which may contravene a UN arms embargo on the country since 2011.
But for Jimmy Reis, the situation appears to be dire.
Portuguese authorities have said they have no knowledge of him – thus far from being handed back to UN forces, or even sent ‘home’ to Portugal, he now apparently faces criminal charges and could be condemned to death.
This new dive in the young man’s fortunes comes because, as a civilian he has no legal protection, explain reports.
He cannot claim to be a prisoner of war and thus he faces crimes, under the Libyan penal code, of “transgression against territory of the State” and for “facilitating war”.
This has been a shambolic story since it began on Tuesday. Portuguese authorities are not even sure Reis IS Portuguese.
There appears to be no record of a ‘Jimmy Reis’ in the Portuguese Air Force, head of diplomacy Augusto Santos Silva has said.
At the point of being captured after his Mirage F1 was downed, Reis is understood to have claimed to be in the service of GAN (the government of national accord) recognised by the International community.
He told the people questioning him that his mission was to “destroy bridges and roads”.
Diário de Notícias explains this is the second ‘Portuguese’ who appears to have been caught up in Libya’s ongoing struggles.
Back in 2016, a former ‘agricultural crop sprayer’ named as Joe Horta was shot down, again by the Libyan National Army and died of his injuries.
Horta was described as a ‘mercenary pilot’ with absolutely no jet airplane experience. He was apparently working for the Libyan Dawn Air Force, which by the time he was shot down had run out of airworthy fighter planes.
Image: Mirage F1