From ABC News, Aug. 29:
The same man who triumphantly led Libyan rebels into Gadhafi’s compound last week first came to the attention of the U.S. intelligence community years ago—as a the founder of a terror group. Abdelhakim Belhaj, who was recently appointed to Tripoli’s rebel military council, was one of the original founders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an anti-Gadhafi group which was later designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization with links to al Qaeda, according to U.S. government reports.
The group carried out operations against the Libyan government including at least four suspected assassination attempts against Gadhafi in the 1990s and was also believed to be connected to a series of suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco, in 2003, the U.S. State Department reported. As relations between the U.S. and Gadhafi improved in the mid-2000s, some LIFG leaders cultivated relationships with top al Qaeda leaders including Osama bin Laden and were suspected of funneling fighters to Iraq to carry out operations against U.S. soldiers.
When the LIFG was designated a terror organization in 2004, it was meant as a “gesture of solidarity” with the Libyan government, according to a March 2011 congressional report.
Note the implicit if unintentional cynicism of this account—a virtual admission that who is a “terrorist” is determined by political considerations, not any objective criteria. A few short years ago, when Qaddafi was “our son of a bitch,” Abdelhakim Belhaj was a “terrorist” and “linked to al-Qaeda.” Now Qaddafi has outlived his usefulness to the empire—and, presto-change-o! He’s a freedom fighter!
Expect Qaddafi’s useful idiots on the “left” (sic!) in the West to seize on this as evidence that the “rebels” (quotation marks seemingly obligatory for this set) really are all “terrorists,” like the dictator said when the rebellion was launched. Never mind that Qaddafi later flipped the script, trying (unsuccessfully) to woo the jihadis into his camp, and threatening suicide attacks against European capitals. (Also never mind that before Qaddafi became “our son of a bitch” not a decade ago, he was in cahoots with all sorts of terrorists—although, as the Council on Foreign Relations notes, generally of the old-school secular type like the IRA, ETA and Red Brigades, not jihadis.)
As we noted back in March:
[T]he Libyan opposition does indeed seem to be a “hodge-podge”: In one corner, a small coterie of aspiring bourgeois-democratic technocrats (now in ascendance thanks to deals being quietly made in Paris and Washington); in the other, a few fanatical cells of jihadi types…and in the middle, a very large swath of very angry Libyans who have no particular ideological commitment but basically secular and progressive instincts. These are the people we must root for.
This assessment has not changed.
See our last post on the struggle in Libya.