Connections Between Al Qaeda And Libyan Rebels Run Deep
Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, the Libyan rebel leader, has said jihadists who fought against allied troops in Iraq are on the front lines of the battle against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, Mr al-Hasidi admitted that he had recruited “around 25” men from the Derna area in eastern Libya to fight against coalition troops in Iraq. Some of them, he said, are “today are on the front lines in Adjabiya”.
Mr al-Hasidi insisted his fighters “are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists,” but added that the “members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader”.
His revelations came even as Idriss Deby Itno, Chad’s president, said al-Qaeda had managed to pillage military arsenals in the Libyan rebel zone and acquired arms, “including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries”.
Chad, of course, lies to Libya’s south, and there are fears that a collapse of the central government in Tripoli could allow groups sympathetic to al Qaeda to set up camp in the vast deserts of Southern Libya:
The fall of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi might see the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic terrorist groups filling up the void, US analysts have said.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that was branded by the US as a terrorist organisation in May 2010 has been operating from its base in Algeria, and has now extended its reach to the borders of Mauritania, Niger, Mali, Chad and Libya, Fox News reports.
Gaddafi had earlier not only provided intelligence on the terrorists’ operations to the US, but has also publicly spoken out against them.
Branding the group members as ‘bad Muslims’, Gaddafi said: “The security forces found a mosque in al-Zawiya. In a mosque! Weapons, alcohol, and their corpses – all mixed up together.”
Now that the Libyan dictator has gone into hiding, many analysts have raised concerns whether southern Libya will become a magnet for jihadist groups.
Cully Stimson, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense who is now a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said that the al-Qaeda affiliate might turn out to be an adaptive enemy.
“AQIM has found their niche. They are going to exploit that to the degree they can. They have the ability in the strategic interest in moving and being adaptable. One of the most high-profile cases was a British hostage Edwin Dyer, who was murdered after lengthy negotiations for his release stalled,” Stimson added.
If post-Gaddafi Libya turns into an al Qaeda haven on the very doorsteps of Europe, we may have traded one insane dictator for a far more serious problem.