Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Al-Qaeda commander calls for Islamic rule in Libya

Al-Qaida Commander Calls For Islamic Rule In Libya
Published online by NPR -
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
(CAIRO - Sunday, 13 March 2011, 09:40 am ET) - A top Libyan al-Qaida commander has urged his countrymen to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi's regime and establish Islamic rule, expanding the terror network's attempts to capitalize on the wave of unrest sweeping the region.

Abu Yahia al-Libi, al-Qaida's Afghanistan commander, said in a video posted on a militant website that after the fall of the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, it is now Gadhafi's turn, as rebel fighters there press a nearly monthlong campaign to oust him.

Those nation's autocratic governments — enemies of Islamic militants — practiced "the worst kind of oppression" with the backing of the West and had failed to heed the lessons of history, he said.

"Now it is the turn of Gadhafi after he made the people of Libya suffer for more than 40 years," he said, adding that it would bring shame to the Libyan people if the strongman were allowed to die a peaceful death.

A transcript of the video was provided Sunday by SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S. organization that monitors militant messages.

Gadhafi has accused al-Qaida of being behind the movement seeking to end his more than 40-year rule, though the rebels have no known links to the terrorist organization. The uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia were similarly driven by widespread popular outrage at corruption, unemployment and limited outlets for political expression, rather than Islamist fervor. Nevertheless, al-Qaida has tried to make gains on the tumult, also urging formation of an Islamic government in Egypt.

Libya's Gadhafi was once demonized for sponsoring various terrorist groups and attacks like the 1988 Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. But in the late 1990s, the Libyan leader began efforts to emerge from international pariah status and stopped sheltering terrorists.

Gadhafi also crushed his country's Muslim militants, including those who fought in Afghanistan alongside Osama bin Laden, and banned clergymen from expressing political opinions in their Friday sermons. Gadhafi has also helped the U.S. track al-Qaida and other terrorism suspects in the region.

Since then, top al-Qaida figures have routinely targeted him in their video and audio recordings.

Al-Libi said ousting Western-backed Arab regimes was "a step to reach the goal of every Muslim, which is to make the word of Allah the highest" and establish Islamic rule.

The al-Qaida commander, whose nom de guerre is Arabic for "the Libyan," rose to prominence in the terror group after escaping from the U.S. military prison at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in 2005.

He is believed by Western and Afghan intelligence to have run training camps for suicide bombers and fighters in eastern Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan. Afghan police said at the time of his escape that his real name is Abulbakar Mohammed Hassan and that he is a Libyan.

The authenticity of his 31-minute video could not be verified, but it was produced by As-Sahab, the media wing of al-Qaida, and posted late Saturday on militant websites.

He also criticized the United States, asking how it could ultimately voice support for the uprisings after having backed the regimes they toppled.

"We have to get rid of our inferiority complex and free ourselves from the West," he said.

His message came days after a North African offshoot of al-Qaida called on Muslims to support the uprising.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb said in a statement posted on a militant website last month that it would do whatever it can to support the revolt against Gadhafi, calling him a "criminal tyrant," but it gave no specifics.

The group, based in neighboring Algeria, may be seeking to capitalize on the revolt to gain recruits or win support among Libyans.
Click on original report to view image from video provided by the SITE Intelligence Group showing Abu Yahya al-Libi, an official in al-Qaeda's Shariah Committee, addressing Libyans in a video speech released on jihadist forums on Saturday, 12 March 2011.
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Al Qaeda Operatives Say They Really Are Trying To Co-Opt The Libyan Revolution
by Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau
Wednesday, 16 March 2011, 9:58
Reprinted at
The terror cell sees Gaddafi’s bloody civil conflict as the perfect chance to swoop in and turn the war-torn country into an Islamic state.

Exiled Libyans with connections to Al Qaeda are racing to find ways to send people home, in hope of steering the anti-Gaddafi revolt in a radical Islamist direction, according to several senior Afghan Taliban sources in contact with Al-Qaeda.

“This rebellion is the fresh breeze they’ve been waiting years for,” says an Afghan Taliban operative who helps facilitate the movement of Al Qaeda militants between the tribal area and Pakistani cities. “Some say they are ready to go back at this critical moment.”

The operative, who has just returned from Pakistan’s lawless tribal area on the Afghanistan border, adds: “They realize that if they don’t use this opportunity, it could be the end of their chances to turn Libya toward a real Islamic state, as Afghanistan once was.”

So far, Muammar Qaddafi’s clumsy efforts to blame Al Qaeda for the popular uprising against his dictatorship would be a joke, if only he weren’t using that claim as an excuse for mowing down so many Libyans. In fact, it’s been many years since Libya has seen significant numbers of radical Islamists—or any other organized opposition, for that matter.

Nearly all have been killed, locked up or chased into exile years ago by the regime’s secret police and security forces. Although the country’s most feared insurgent entity, the Al Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (known in Arabic as Al-Jama’a al-Islamiyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya), has been seeking to topple Gaddafi since the early 1990s, it’s unlikely that more than a handful who pledge allegiance to Osama bin Laden remain inside Libya.

Seizing the moment, however, Al Qaeda’s top ranking Libyan, Abu Yahya al-Libi, the movement’s senior Islamist ideologue and bin Laden’s head of operations for Afghanistan, broke his public silence over the Libyan revolt this past weekend. He issued a call to arms to his countrymen in a 30-minute video that was posted on Al Qaeda-linked Internet sites, urging Libyans to fight on and do to Qaddafi what he has done to them over the years: kill him. "Now it is the turn of Qaddafi [to die] after he made the people of Libya suffer for more than 40 years," he said. “Retreating will mean decades of harsher oppression and greater injustices than what you have endured."

He also called for the institution of Islamic law once an Arab nation has cast off its former, Western-supported rulers. Overthrowing these Western-backed Arab regimes, he added, was "a step to reach the goal of every Muslim, which is to make the word of Allah the highest."

Several Libyans have held top roles in Al Qaeda’s leadership. Some traveled to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight the Soviets and stayed, eventually teaming up with bin Laden after his return from Sudan in 1996. Taliban sources estimate there were some 200 Libyans with bin Laden in Afghanistan at the time of the 9/11 attacks. Since then some of bin Laden’s senior-most operational aides have been Libyans. One was Abu Faraj al-Libi, who was captured by Pakistan forces in 2005 and is now a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay; another was Abu Lais al-Libi, his replacement as Al Qaeda’s third in command, who died in a U.S. Predator attack in 2008.

Apart from his hard-line sermons and jihadist exhortations that are widely distributed on DVD and posted on jihadist Website, Yahya may be be best known for his daring escape along with four [make that three other] other Al Qaeda prisoners from the high-security lockup at the American airbase at Bagram in July 2005. Yahya, who is believed to be in his late 40s, is smarter, more charismatic, a more articulate speaker and a more learned Islamic scholar than either Faraj or Lais, according to Afghan Taliban sources.

Now he’s said to be eager to go home, like most other Libyans in the Afghan borderlands. “They desperately want to at least get a foothold in the new Libya,” the Taliban facilitator says. The long, dangerous trip from Pakistan’s tribal areas to Libya—via Afghanistan, Iran, Iraqi Kurdestan and Turkey—can take weeks if not months. Nevertheless, at least one Taliban source says Yahya made the trip two years ago and returned safely, although no one else seems able to confirm that story.

And even if he or other Al Qaeda Libyans manage to get home again, the Taliban facilitator says they know they’ll have a tough time influencing the largely prodemocracy uprising. “They know they must tread cautiously, and not push too hard, for too much, too soon,” he says. Instead, he says, they expect to take a moderate line at first, while quietly trying to persuade rebel leaders that the preservation of Libyan sovereignty against Western “colonialists” depends on taking an anti-Israeli, anti-American line. Any move toward imposing Islamic sharia law, Yahya’s specialty, will have to come later.

Still, Taliban sources say, if Yahya is successful in reaching rebel-held territory inside Libya, at least he’ll be able to operate with relative freedom, without worrying about Gaddafi’s secret police. There’s one question: will bin Laden grant leave to Al Qaeda’s senior operations man for Afghanistan to undertake such a hazardous journey? The betting among the Taliban is that he will—and he may already have a replacement in mind. “Al Qaeda will not leave this place empty,” says the facilitator.

This post originally appeared at The Daily Beast.
Sami Yousafzai is Newsweek's correspondent in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
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Libyan Forces Rout Rebels as West’s Effort for No-Flight Zone Stalls
By Anthony Shadid
Tuesday, 15 March 2011
(AJDABIYA, Libya) - Behind tanks, heavy artillery and airstrikes, forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi routed a ragtag army of insurgents and would-be revolutionaries who were holding the last defensive line before the rebel capital of Benghazi on Tuesday.

Blasts of incoming fire came every few seconds at the edge of this city straddling a strategic highway intersection, where rebels have bulldozed berms and filled hundreds of sandbags around two metal green arches marking the western approaches to the city.

As the shelling intensified Tuesday, hundreds of cars packed with children, mattresses, suitcases — anything that could be grabbed and packed in — careened through the streets as residents fled. Long lines of cars could be seen on the highway heading north to Benghazi, about 100 miles away.

In Benghazi itself, though, there were no signs of preparations for a vigorous defense, and there were reports on Tuesday night that rebels may have retaken parts of Ajdabiya. Witnesses said that by evening rebel fighters seemed to be patrolling the streets, and there was speculation that loyalist soldiers may have withdrawn to the perimeter after overrunning the city, a pattern they have followed in previous battles.

Amid the conflicting reports on Tuesday night, gunfire — apparently celebratory — could be heard throughout Benghazi, where tracer bullets lit up the sky.

The barrage here offered a loud and ferocious counterpoint to stalled efforts by Western diplomats to agree on help for the retreating rebels, like a no-flight zone, even as Colonel Qaddafi warned the insurgents on Tuesday that they had only two choices: surrender or flee. With the advances made by loyalists, there is growing consensus in the Obama administration that imposing a no-flight zone over Libya would no longer make much of a difference, a senior official said. Just moving the ships and planes into place to impose an effective no-flight zone, the official said, would take until April, too late to help rebels hunkered down in Benghazi.

While administration officials said the United States would not obstruct efforts by other countries to build support for a no-flight zone in the United Nations, President Obama met with his National Security Council on Tuesday to consider a variety of other options to respond to the deteriorating situation.

Among those options are jamming Libyan government radio signals and financing the rebel forces with $32 billion in Libyan government and Qaddafi family funds frozen by the United States. That money could be used either for weapons or relief. The meeting broke without a decision, the official said.

“This is another indication of the constant exploration of different options that we have to increase the pressure on the Qaddafi regime as we go forward,” the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said Tuesday.

But in fact, the administration’s options have narrowed with the dwindling viability of a no-flight zone. The White House is considering more aggressive airstrikes, which would make targets of Colonel Qaddafi’s tanks and heavy artillery — an option sometimes referred to as a “no-drive zone.” The United States or its allies could also send military personnel to advise and train the rebels, an official said.

But given the lack of consensus behind a no-flight zone, these options are viewed as even less likely. It is also not clear that airstrikes would be more effective than a no-flight zone.

“Most of these weapons are no longer stored in ammunition depots; most of them have been dispersed into towns and cities,” said James M. Lindsay, the director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Singling out these weapons individually, he said, greatly increases the chances of civilian casualties.

Moreover, senior officials, notably the national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, have made it clear that the United States does not view Libya as a vital strategic interest.

For the rebels, the battle was strategically critical, because Ajdabiya controls access to the highways that would permit loyalist forces to encircle and besiege Benghazi in a campaign for cities whose names evoke the World War II battles of Rommel and Montgomery.

Yet, after swearing in recent days to make a last ditch, do-or-die stand here, the rebels offered little resistance. Within an hour of the opening salvos, they began falling back from the city’s approaches as the shelling came closer to their positions.

Some still spoke valiantly about drawing a line in the desert sand, but the superior firepower and numbers of the loyalist troops suggested otherwise. The crash of heavy ordnance almost drowned out the cries of a muezzin from the minaret at a mosque on the frontline: “God is great and to God, praise.”

A billboard from the days before the uprising began in mid-February proclaimed: “Ajdabiya — land of jihad and sacrifice.” By midafternoon, the slogan had taken on an ominous new meaning.

“I swear to God I am expecting a battle in the streets. Qaddafi has already shelled us with artillery and planes, and I suspect the army is coming,” said Mohammed Abdullah, a 50-year-old resident among a group of people peering at the sky as a loyalist spotter plane circled the city, illustrating how little restraint the loyalist forces feel about deploying their unchallenged air power as diplomacy falters.

By day’s end, however, the loyalist army seemed to be in complete control, its tanks standing outside the gates and its soldiers moving through the town at will during the day. After nightfall they seemed to withdraw, and rebels reappeared to claim control that seemed tenuous.

In what might have been a lone break in the dark clouds gathering around the rebels, an opposition Web site reported that a 1970s-era MIG-23 fighter plane and a helicopter from the rebel forces hit at least one government warship as it bombarded Ajdabiya from the sea, Reuters and other news agencies reported. The accounts could not be independently confirmed.

The grim news from Ajdabiya was met with anger, anguish and tears by rebel leaders in Benghazi. On Tuesday afternoon, many of them privately acknowledged that an attack on the seat of rebel power was inevitable, if not imminent, and they again pleaded for Western intervention.

Iman Bugaighis, a professor who has become a spokeswoman for the rebels, lost her composure as she spoke about the recent death of a friend’s son, who died in battle last week. Her friend’s other son, a doctor, was still missing. Western nations, she said, had “lost any credibility.”

“I am not crying out of weakness,” she said. “I’ll stay here until the end. Libyans are brave. We will stand for what we believe in. But we will never forget the people who stood with us and the people who betrayed us.”

There were mixed signals about the prospects of Western military help. After a meeting of the Group of 8 foreign ministers in Paris, the French foreign minister, Alain JuppĂ©, said he had been unable to secure agreement on the imposition of a no-flight zone. “If we had used military force last week to neutralize a certain number of airfields and the dozens of airplanes” available to Colonel Qaddafi, “perhaps the reversals suffered by the opposition would not have happened,” he said. “But that is the past.”

The United Nations Security Council was discussing a resolution that would authorize a no-flight zone to protect civilians, but its prospects were uncertain at best, diplomats said. In Cairo, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States stood ready to help, though she did not mention a no-flight zone.

“We understand the urgency of this,” she said at a news conference in Cairo, where she is visiting before heading on to Tunisia. “And therefore we are upping our humanitarian assistance. We are looking for ways to support the opposition.”

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Giornale, published on Tuesday, Colonel Qaddafi expressed disappointment with his onetime European partners — particularly Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, formerly his closest Western ally — and again depicted his adversaries in Libya as terrorists steered by Al Qaeda.

Asked if he was prepared to open a dialogue with them, he replied: “Dialogue with whom? The people are on my side.”

As for the rebels, regrouping toward their eastern stronghold in Benghazi as loyalist troops claimed advances, Colonel Qaddafi said: “They have no hope. Their cause is lost. There are only possibilities: to surrender or run away.”

Reporting was contributed by Alan Cowell from London; Kareem Fahim from Benghazi, Libya; David D. Kirkpatrick from Tripoli, Libya; and Mark Landler from Washington.
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