Yes, “terrorists” in Libya rebel ranks

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.

  1. Jihadis in the NTC
    A very illuminating story in The Economist Aug. 27 sheds much light on the anatomy of the NTC’s military forces and the role of the jihadis. It seems the rebel forces were initially organized around largely autonomous brigades called katibas, which The Economist calls “private” because they were generally lead by a local warlord (“businessman”) who funded them. They would coordinate in a war council, but had no formal command structure. This changed following the assassination of the NTC’s nominal military commander Abdul Fatah Younis, who we are told was likely killed by the Abu Ubeidah Ibn al-Jarrah brigade, a force of former political prisoners that included “radical Islamists.” After Younis’ death, the brigade was apparently dissolved, and the NTC “turned him into a martyr, standing for proper military discipline” (despite the fact that it was reported at the time that he had been arrested on suspicion of ties to the Qaddafi regime). At this time, a central command was established, the katibas brought under control, and the jihadists purged.

    Apparently, with a few exceptions.

        1. Juan Cole and CIA
          Predictably vile (and semi-literate) spewings from the perennially vile Counterpunch. However, I would like to hear Prof. Cole’s answer to the charge that he served as an “consultant” to Glenn Carle of the National Intelligence Council and the CIA.

          Prof. Cole?

  2. CIA turned Abdelhakim Belhaj over to Qaddafi
    Algeria’s Ennahar Online informs us Aug. 31 that Abdelhakim Belhaj was “arrested by the CIA before being handed over to the regime of Colonel Gaddafi in 2004.” Another one to file under “Life’s little ironies.”