The emergence of images of a black al-Qaeda flag flying atop the Benghazi courthouse, the symbolic cradle of Libya’s anti-Qaddafi rebellion, has provoked hasty efforts at damage control by defenders of the rebellion and the new Libyan order. The latter, mostly operating under cover of anonymity in online comments sections, have suggested, among other things, that the images were photoshopped, that the flag is not in fact the al-Qaeda flag, and that the raising of the flag was an isolated incident: the work of, as one commentator here put it, a “small group of Islamists.” But pictorial evidence posted on an Arabic-language Islamic Internet forum reveals that the Benghazi waterfront was in fact covered by a veritable sea of al-Qaeda flags last week: both the “classic” black version and a more novel white one.
Large-format, high-resolution versions of the photos are available here on Muslm.net. The selection also includes a grainier video still. Smaller versions of the images are reproduced below.
Note that some of the above images have also appeared in the Western press, though typically without any mention, much less identification, of the flags. For one prominent example, see my “See No Al-Qaeda: The New York Times and Libya” on the Corner. The photos that appeared in the Western press are dated October 28 and attributed to Reuters photographer Esam al-Fetori.
What is commonly known as the al-Qaeda flag was reportedly first used by the late Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq. The Arabic script represents the Islamic shahada or declaration of faith: “There is no god but God [Allah], and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” The script that appears on the Libyan flags is slightly different in style from that on the “original” Iraqi ones. The design is identical.
As the below detail from a screenshot shows, the poster of the photos on Muslm.net uses the original Iraqi al-Qaeda flag as an avatar.
The Middle East Media Research Institute has posted a two-minute-long video clip, dated October 25, that shows a parade of vehicles in Libya flying the al-Qaeda flag. The exact location is not given, but it appears also to be Benghazi. The images of the “vehicle parade” are followed by images of a traditional march in which demonstrators chanting “Allahu Akbar!” can likewise be seen flying the flag.
Were it not for the deficiencies of reporting on Libya in the mainstream Western media, the appearance of al-Qaeda flags in the capital of the anti-Qaddafi rebellion should come as no surprise. As shown by the captured al-Qaeda personnel records known as the “Sinjar Records,” the eastern Libyan heartland of the anti-Qaddafi rebellion was one of the major sources of the foreign recruits that joined al-Qaeda in Iraq to fight against American and coalition forces. (For a discussion, see here.) Abdul Hakim al-Hasadi, a leading military commander of the rebellion on the Eastern front, has admitted to personally recruiting many of the Libyan al-Qaeda members and that some of them returned to Libya to participate in the “jihad” against Qaddafi.