The Corner

‘Only’ 15 Percent of Libyan Rebels Are Islamic Extremists

In an interview published today in the French daily Le Figaro, a spokesman for Libya’s National Transitional Council acknowledged that Islamic extremists figure among the rebels fighting to overthrow the rule of Muammar al-Gaddafi. But the spokesman, Mahmoud Shamman, insisted that the “radical elements” represent only a “tiny portion” of the rebels: namely, “no more than 15 percent.” Shammam also acknowledged that members of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group form part of the opposition.

Here is a translation of the full exchange:

Le Figaro: Some in the West are worried about al-Qaeda infiltrating the rebellion. Is there reason to fear extremism?

Shammam: Libyan society is Muslim, but not fundamentalist. One cannot deny the presence of radical elements. Nonetheless, they only represent a tiny portion, not more than 15% of the rebels, and, in our view, do not constitute a threat. Members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, who were released by Gaddafi before the revolution, form part of the opposition. We believe that it is their right – like the other components of the opposition – to participate in the politics of the future Libya. But if they do not play by the rules of democracy, I can assure you that Libyans will reserve for them the same fate as Gaddafi.

It is interesting to note that Reuters also reported today on Shammam’s interview with Le Figaro, but failed to find his admissions concerning the presence of Islamic extremists in the rebellion worthy of mention.

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

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