Sightings of the black al-Qaeda flag flying atop the courthouse of Benghazi only days after the declared “liberation” of Libya on October 23 have raised concerns about the role being played by the Islamic terror organization in post-Qaddafi Libya. For pictorial evidence and eyewitness accounts, see Sherif Elhelwa’s report at Vice here and Raymond Pagnucco’s video on CNN’s user-generated iReport here. But according to a report in the Arab press, the so-called “Islamic Caliphate” flag — the basis of the al-Qaeda flag — was already being flown by anti-Qaddafi forces during the siege of Sirte that would lead to the deposed Libyan leader’s capture and death three days earlier.
According to a translation provided on the “Roads to Iraq” blog, a journalist from the Algerian newspaper Echorouk reported seeing a number of anti-Qaddafi fighters at Sirte “wearing Afghani cloaks and … holding the black banners and flags of ‘There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger,’ the Islamic Caliphate flag.” A photo accompanying the Echorouk article appears to show a vehicle of the anti-Qaddafi forces flying the black Caliphate flag.
What is commonly known nowadays as the al-Qaeda flag is similar to the Islamic Caliphate flag, but in addition to the Arabic script it also contains a white circle on the black background. It was reportedly first used by the late Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq.
As shown by the captured al-Qaeda personnel records known as the “Sinjar Records,” in per capita terms the eastern Libyan heartland of the anti-Qaddafi rebellion sent more foreign recruits to fight with al-Qaeda in Iraq than any other region in the Middle East or the world. (See here.) One of the military commanders of the rebellion, Abdul Hakim al-Hasadi, has admitted to personally recruiting many of the Libyan al-Qaeda members.
The appearance of the al-Qaeda flag over the Benghazi courthouse has been generally spun by commentators in the Western media as a sign that Islamic extremists are now rushing to fill the “vacuum” left by the fall of the ancien régime in Libya. But the Echorouk report and the accompanying photo indicate that anti-Qaddafi forces in fact fought under the “Islamic Caliphate” banner in the decisive battle of the rebellion.
— John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic security issues. You can follow his work at www.trans-int.com or on Facebook.