A son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi toured U.S. ports and military facilities just weeks before he helped lead deadly attacks on rebels protesting his father's authoritarian regime.
Khamis Gadhafi, 27, spent four weeks in the U.S. as part of an internship with AECOM, a global infrastructure company with deep business interests in Libya, according to Paul Gennaro, AECOM's Senior Vice President for Global Communications. The trip was to include visits to the Port of Houston, Air Force Academy, National War College and West Point, Gennaro said.
The West Point visit was canceled on Feb. 17, when the trip was cut short and Gadhafi returned to Libya, Gennaro said. The uprising there began with a series of protests on Feb. 15.
By late February, forces controlled by Khamis Gadhafi were leading the brutal assault to retake Zawiya, a city near Tripoli that rebels captured soon after the uprising began.
Gennaro said the U.S. State Department approved of the trip, and considered Gadhafi a reformer. He said the government signed off on the itinerary, at times offering advice that affected the company's plans for Gadhafi.
State department officials denied any role in planning, advising or paying for the trip.
"We did greet him at the airport. That is standard courtesy for the son of the leader of a country," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. Toner said the government was aware of Gadhafi's itinerary, but "did not sign off on it."
AECOM was not paid to arrange the trip, and did not pay for related expenses, Gennaro said. He said the trip was arranged at the request of a Libyan, whom he declined to name.
Gennaro was one of the AECOM executives who met with Gadhafi during the trip, to educate him on U.S. corporate practices. He said Gadhafi was "very, very interested in the planning, design, how do you advance large infrastructure projects."
"That was the nature and the tenor of this internship," he said.
Khamis Gadhafi was killed earlier this week after a disaffected Libyan air force pilot who crash-landed his jet in the ruling family's headquarters, according to unconfirmed reports cited by ABC News and Al-Arabiya television. He died from burn injuries after the crash, the reports said.
Gadhafi, Moammar Gadhafi's youngest son, was pursuing an MBA at the IE Business School, in Madrid, Spain, until earlier this month. The school expelled him because of his role in attacks on Libyan protestors.
Khamis Gadhafi led the Khamis Brigade, one of several professional military units that are loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi. U.S. diplomats in leaked memos have called it "the most well-trained and well-equipped force in the Libyan military."
In one brutal attack, his forces surrounded Zawiya while rebels in the city celebrated their victory and cared for the injured. The Khamis Brigade then unleashed an all-out assault from three sides, unloading their weapons and artillery as they stormed the city.
The city sank into darkness at night due to power outages and the main hospital became too dangerous for patients because it was under the control of government forces.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.