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.
On the Battle of Misrata:
Little by little, the city is starting to appear like a Libyan version of Sarajevo in the eyes of the “free” world. The rebels from Benghazi hope that a humanitarian crisis in Misrata will convince the Western coalition to deploy ground troops in order to save the population.
. . . During the course of April, the NGO Human Rights Watch published casualty figures concerning Misrata that reveal that, contrary to the claims made in the international media, Qaddafi loyalist forces have not massacred the residents of the town. During two months of hostilities, only 257 persons — including combatants — were killed. Among the 949 wounded, only 22 — or fewer than 3 percent — were women. If regime forces had deliberately targeted civilians, women would have represented around half of the victims.
It is thus now obvious that Western leaders — first and foremost, President Obama — have grossly exaggerated the humanitarian risk in order to justify their military action in Libya.
The real interest of Misrata lies elsewhere. . . . The control of this port, at only 220 kilometers from Tripoli, would make it an ideal base for launching a land offensive against Qaddafi.
On Benghazi and the Cyrenaica Region:
Benghazi is well-known as a hot-bed of religious extremism. The Cyrenaica region has a long Islamist tradition going back to the Senussi brotherhood. Religious fundamentalism is much more evident here than in the western part of the country. Women are completely veiled from head to foot. They cannot drive and their social life is reduced to a minimum. Bearded men predominate. They often have the black mark of piety on their foreheads [the “zebibah,” which is formed by repeated prostration during Muslim prayers].
It is a little-known fact that Benghazi has become over the last 15 years the epicenter of African migration to Europe. This traffic in human beings has been transformed into a veritable industry, generating billions of dollars. Parallel mafia structures have developed in the city, where the traffic is firmly implanted and employs thousands of people, while corrupting police and civil servants. It was only a year ago that the Libyan government, with the help of Italy, managed to bring this cancer under control.
Following the disappearance of its main source of revenue and the arrest of a number of its bosses, the local mafia took the lead in financing and supporting the Libyan rebellion. Numerous gangs and members of the city’s criminal underworld are known to have conducted punitive expeditions against African migrant workers in Benghazi and the surrounding area. Since the start of the rebellion, several hundred migrant workers — Sudanese, Somalis, Ethiopians, and Eritreans — have been robbed and murdered by rebel militias. This fact is carefully hidden by the international media.
On African “Mercenaries” and Tuaregs:
One of the greatest successes [of Qaddafi’s African policy] is his “alliance” with the Tuaregs [a traditionally nomadic population spread over the region of the Sahara], whom he actively financed and supported when their movement was repressed in Mali in the 1990s.
. . . In 2005, Qaddafi accorded an unlimited residency permit to all Nigerian and Malian Tuaregs on Libyan territory. Then, in 2006, he called on all the tribes of the Sahara region, including Tuareg tribes, to form a common entity to oppose terrorism and drug trafficking . . .
This is why hundreds of combatants came from Niger and Mali to help Qaddafi [after the outbreak of the rebellion]. In their view, they were indebted to Gaddafi and had an obligation to do so. . . .
Many things have been written about the “mercenaries” serving in the Libyan security forces, but few of them are accurate. . . .
In recent years, foreigners have . . . been recruited [into the Libyan army]. The phenomenon is entirely comparable to the phenomenon that one observes on all levels of Libyan economic life. There is a very large population of foreign workers in search of employment in the country. The majority of the recruits originally come from Mali, Chad, Niger, Congo, and Sudan. . . .
The information from rebel sources on supposed foreign intrusions [i.e. mercenaries] is vague and should be treated with caution. . . .
On the other hand, it is a proven fact — and the mission was able to confirm this itself — that Tuaregs from Niger came to Tripoli to offer their support to Qaddafi. They did so spontaneously and out of a sense of debt.
. . . It seems that Libyans of foreign origin and genuine volunteers coming from foreign countries are being deliberately confused [in the reports on “mercenaries”]. Whatever the actual number [of foreign fighters], they form only a small part of the Libyan forces.
On the role of the international media:
Up until the end of February, the situation in western Libyan cities was extremely tense and there were clashes — more so than in the east. But the situation was the subject of exaggeration and outright disinformation in the media. For example, a report that Libyan aircraft bombed Tripoli is completely inaccurate: No Libyan bomb fell on the capital, even though bloody clashes seem to have taken place in certain neighborhoods. . . .
The consequences of this disinformation are clear. The U.N. resolution [mandating intervention] was approved on the basis of such media reports. No investigative commission was sent to the country. It is no exaggeration to say that sensationalist reporting by al-Jazeera influenced the U.N.
On the insurrection in Benghazi:
As soon as the protests started, Islamists and criminals immediately took advantage of the situation in order to attack high-security prisons outside Benghazi where their comrades were being held. Following the liberation of their leaders, the rebellion attacked police stations and public buildings. The residents of the city woke up to see the corpses of policemen hanging from bridges.
Numerous atrocities were likewise committed against African workers, who have all been treated as “mercenaries.” African workers were expelled, murdered, imprisoned, and tortured.
On the insurrection in Zawiya (a town in western Libya):
During the three weeks [that the town was controlled by the rebels], all public buildings were pillaged and set on fire. . . . Everywhere, there was destruction and pillaging (of arms, money, archives). There was no trace of combat, which confirms the testimony of the police [who claim to have received orders not to intervene]. . . .
There were also atrocities committed (women who were raped, and some police officers who were killed), as well as civilian victims during these three weeks. . . . The victims were killed in the manner of the Algerian GIA [Armed Islamic Group]: throats cut, eyes gauged out, arms and legs cut off, sometimes the bodies were burned . . .