Politics & Policy

The Islamist Plot: The Untold Story of the Libyan Rebellion

A British terror trial sheds new light on the origins of the February 17 anti-Qaddafi uprising.

Today is the official anniversary of the “February 17th Revolution,” the Libyan rebellion against the rule of Moammar Qaddafi that — with a massive helping hand from NATO — eventually led to the fall of the regime and the death of Qaddafi. Although the rebellion was initially presented in the Western news media as a “protest movement,” it is clear from both video evidence and firsthand accounts that the “protests” were extremely violent from the start. Before long, columns of armed “protesters” — as some media continued incongruously to call them — were marching toward Tripoli.

In virtually every city or town where unrest broke out, police stations and other government buildings and installations were attacked and set on fire. Such attacks were recorded in Benghazi, Derna, Tobruk, al-Bayda, and al-Zawiya, among other places. In Derna, according to the testimony of pro-rebellion “activist” Amer Saad, Qaddafi loyalist forces were locked in the holding cells of a local police station, and the building was set ablaze.

The violence of the “protests” is hardly surprising, given what we now know about the involvement of the al-Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) in the rebellion. At least three al-Qaeda-linked militants who had at one time or another been in U.S. custody played leading roles in the anti-Qaddafi uprising. Following the fall of Tripoli, one of them, the historical leader of the LIFG Abdul-Hakim Belhadj, would emerge as the military governor of the Libyan capital. (In Western media, Belhadj is frequently confused with Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi. Al-Hasadi is a different al-Qaeda-linked militant who played a leading role in the early stages of the rebellion in eastern Libya.)

Moreover, little-known evidence cited in a British court case indicates that there was nothing spontaneous about the violence. By the middle of the last decade, the LIFG had in fact elaborated a plan for destabilizing the Qaddafi regime by using many of the same tactics that would be employed at the outset of the rebellion in February 2011. The plan was discovered on a CD seized by British police during an October 2005 raid of the home of a Libyan political refugee in Birmingham. In a 2009 British court ruling, the man is merely identified by the initials “AV.” (See Secretary of State for the Home Department v. AV, April 30, 2009.)

The ruling notes that AV was a member of the LIFG’s governing Shura Council and that his name was added to the United Nations list of al-Qaeda-linked individuals and entities on February 7, 2006. These and other biographical details make clear that “AV” is Abd Al-Rahman al-Faqih. According to both the British ruling and information collected by the U.N. Security Council, al-Faqih/“AV” was convicted in absentia by a Moroccan court for complicity in the May 2003 suicide bombings in Casablanca that took the lives of more than 30 civilians and injured many more.

The U.N.’s summary of reasons for al-Faqih’s inclusion on the al-Qaeda sanctions list notes, furthermore, that he is “assessed to have had connections to the terrorist network in Iraq which was led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.” In British court proceedings, al-Faqih tacitly admitted his links to al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq, claiming that he had sent a message to the captors of Kenneth Bigley in an effort to persuade the latter to spare Bigley’s life. (See §17 of the above-linked ruling.) Bigley, a British civil engineer, was beheaded by al-Zarqawi’s group in October 2004.

The author of the plan discovered on al-Faqih’s CD was LIFG chief ideologue Abu al-Munthir, a.k.a. Sami al-Saadi. Like LIFG leader Belhadj, al-Munthir/al-Saadi was transferred to Libyan custody in 2004 after having been reportedly detained by American intelligence in Southeast Asia. A certain Abu Munthir has, incidentally, been cited in British court proceedings as an al-Qaeda operative who encouraged young Muslims in Great Britain to conduct terror attacks at home following the invasion of Afghanistan. Libyan government communications with Western intelligence services, which were discovered following the fall of Tripoli, suggest that the Abu Munthir in question was none other than al-Saadi. (For reproductions of the documents, see here.)

Other files found on al-Faqih’s CD included a bomb-making manual and what British judge Colin Mackay, in sentencing remarks, has described as “lurid anti-western material.”

According to the 2009 ruling, the LIFG plan:

includes a call for mujahedin to train in the handling of weapons and the preparation of explosives and for them to inflict destruction and damage on “the headquarters of the revolutionary committees, the centres of the intelligence and the places of the revolutionaries and corrupters.”

The references here to “revolutionaries” and the “revolutionary committees” concern Moammar Qaddafi’s so-called al-Fateh Revolution. The “revolutionary committees” were a permanent feature of Libyan society under Qaddafi: a form of institutionalization of the al-Fateh Revolution.

The LIFG plan called, furthermore, for a “martyrdom operation” against “a big and important target such as the tyrant Qaddaffi, other prominent tyrants or centres of intelligence service.” As it happens, a suicide bombing against military barracks in Benghazi on February 20 is reported to have played a key role in the success of the rebellion – the bomber is said to have loaded a car with explosives and blown open the gates to the barracks.

The very fact that the rebels would employ the signature method of al-Qaeda is itself evidence of the jihadist nature of the rebellion. Highly similar “martyrdom operations,” involving vehicles packed with explosives, have been used against American military installations in Afghanistan. The fact that the alleged Benghazi bomber has been hailed as a hero in Western news reports (see here and here, for instance) represents just one of the ways in which the Libya conflict has resulted in what might be described as the “mainstreaming” of jihad.

It should be noted that on the basis of his possession of the LIFG plan, al-Faqih/“AV” was found guilty by a British court of possessing a document conducive to the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism, in violation of the 2000 UK Terrorism Act. A February 2007 ruling upholding the conviction notes bluntly:

The legislation does not exempt, nor make an exception, nor create a defence for, nor exculpate what some would describe as terrorism in a just cause. Such a concept is foreign to the Act. Terrorism is terrorism, whatever the motives of the perpetrators.

In conjunction with American, French, and other NATO forces, British forces thus intervened in Libya in support of a rebellion whose methods the British courts had found to constitute terrorism.

Nowadays, it is common for Western commentators to bemoan the fact that the “Arab Spring” has been followed by an “Islamist Winter.” But, when viewed in conjunction with all the other evidence of the Islamist roots of the Libyan rebellion, the existence of the LIFG plan leaves little room for doubt: Whatever may have transpired in the rest of the Arab world, the uprising in Libya was the realization not of democratic aspirations, but of the longstanding ambitions of Islamic extremists. It was an “Islamist Spring” that paved the way for today’s “Islamist Winter.”

— John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic security issues. You can follow his work at www.trans-int.com or on Facebook.


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