Al-Qaeda and the Libyan Rebellion
A new report explains the connection.


A new report from two French think tanks concludes that jihadists have played a predominant role in the eastern-Libyan rebellion against the rule of Moammar Qaddafi, and that “true democrats” represent only a minority in the rebellion. The report, furthermore, calls into question the justifications given for Western military intervention in Libya, arguing that they are largely based on media exaggerations and “outright disinformation.”

The sponsors of the report are the Paris-based International Center for Research and Study on Terrorism and Aide to Victims of Terrorism (CIRET-AVT) and the French Center for Research on Intelligence (CF2R). The organizations sent a six-member expert mission to Libya to evaluate the situation and consult with representatives on both sides of the conflict. From March 31 to April 6, the mission visited the Libyan capital of Tripoli and the region of Tripolitania; from April 19 to April 25, it visited the rebel capital of Benghazi and the surrounding Cyrenaica region in eastern Libya.

The report identifies four factions among the members of the eastern Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC). Apart from a minority of “true democrats,” the other three factions comprise partisans of a restoration of the monarchy that was overthrown by Qaddafi in 1969, Islamic extremists seeking the establishment of an Islamic state, and former fixtures of the Qaddafi regime who defected to the rebels for opportunistic or other reasons.

There is a clear overlap between the Islamists and the monarchists, inasmuch as the deposed King Idris I was himself the head of the Senussi brotherhood, which the authors describe as “an anti-Western Muslim sect that practices an austere and conservative form of Islam.” The monarchists are thus, more precisely, “monarchists-fundamentalists.”

The most prominent of the defectors, the president of the NTC, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, is likewise described by the authors as a “traditionalist” who is “supported by the Islamists.” The authors point out that Jalil played an important role in the “Bulgarian nurses affair,” so called for five Bulgarian nurses who, along with a Palestinian doctor, were charged with deliberately infecting hundreds of children with AIDS in a hospital in Benghazi. As chair of the Appeals Court in Tripoli, Jalil twice upheld the death penalty for the nurses. In 2007, the nurses and the Palestinian doctor were released by the Libyan government following negotiations in which French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s then wife, Cecilia, played a highly publicized role.

The report describes members of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group as the “main pillar of the armed insurrection.” “Thus the military coalition under NATO leadership is supporting a rebellion that includes Islamic terrorists,” the authors write. Alluding to the major role played by the Cyrenaica region in supplying recruits for al-Qaeda in Iraq, they add, “No one can deny that the Libyan rebels who are today supported by Washington were only yesterday jihadists killing American GIs in Iraq.”

The full composition of the NTC has not been made public. But, according to the authors, one avowed al-Qaeda recruiter, Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi, is himself a member of the NTC. (On al-Hasadi, see my March 25 report here.) Al-Hasadi is described by the authors as the “leader of the Libyan rebels.” Although Western media reports commonly say that he is in charge of the defense of his home town of Darnah in eastern Libya, the CIRET-CF2R report suggests that in mid-April, al-Hasadi left Cyrenaica by boat in order to participate in the battle of Misrata. He is supposed to have taken arms and 25 “well-trained fighters” with him. Misrata is in western Libya, a mere 135 miles from Tripoli.

Regarding the effects of western military intervention in support of the rebels, the authors conclude:

Western intervention is in the process of creating more problems than it resolves. It is one thing to force Qaddafi to leave. It is another thing to spread chaos and destruction in Libya to this end and to prepare the ground for fundamentalist Islam. The current moves risk destabilizing all of North Africa, the Sahel, and the Middle East and favoring the emergence of a new regional base for radical Islam and terrorism.

What follows are some further translated highlights from the CIRET-CF2R report. The full report is available in French here.