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LIBYA: Jihadists Take Over, As Warned

Analysis by Julio Godoy

PARIS, Sep 8 2011 (IPS) - The official euphoria with which the U.S. and European governments celebrated the fall of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya has given way to growing concern that many among the new Libyan leadership are radical Muslims with links to al-Qaeda. Revelations are surfacing also of a close collaboration of Western governments with the deposed dictator.

The overwhelming presence of radical Muslims among the rebel Libyan leadership has been known in Paris at least since early March. But the dangers from this are now beginning to be discussed openly in Western capitals.

On Mar. 8, François Gouyette, ambassador to Tripoli until late February, told a select group of deputies at a closed session of the French parliamentary commission of foreign affairs that the rebellion, especially in the east of the country, comprised mostly “radical Muslims”.

“In the east of the country, especially in the city of Derna, which was taken very easily by the insurrection, there is without question a high concentration of radical Muslims,” Gouyette told the deputies. “Hundreds of Libyan combatants taking part in the international jihad in Afghanistan and in Iraq originate from this region.

“Many of these combatants are back in Libya,” Gouyette warned. IPS has the minutes of the meeting.

Gouyette recalled that some 800 members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) banned by the United Nations after the terror attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, and who were recently released after being incarcerated by the Gaddafi regime for many years, “have joined the liberated areas of the country. They can represent a problem in the future.”

Gouyette recalled that Gaddafi’s regime had “closely cooperated” with “all Western intelligence services in the fight against (Muslim) terrorism represented by al-Qaeda.” Discussions at the meeting were not made available to French media.

Five months after the closed session in parliament, Gouyette’s warnings have been officially confirmed. It is now no longer a secret that four of the military leaders of the Libyan rebellion have had long-term links with radical movements.

On the other hand, secret documents found recently in Tripoli confirm that both the British and the U.S. governments collaborated closely with Gaddafi in the fight against radial Muslims.

The secret Gaddafi files were discovered by researchers from the Washington-based Human Rights Watch in the private offices of former Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa. Koussa fled Libya at the beginning of the insurrection last February, and has apparently found political asylum in Qatar.

Prominent among the radical rebel leaders is Abdelhakim Belhaj, also known as Abu Abdallah al-Sadek, founder of the LIFG, and veteran of the anti-Soviet war of the 1980s in Afghanistan. Following the triumph over Gaddafi, Belhaj is currently military governor of Tripoli.

U.S. secret services had captured Belhaj in Malaysia in 2003. They detained and interrogated him in a secret Bangkok prison until 2004, when he was handed over to the Gaddafi regime. Gouyette confirmed in the French parliament that Gaddafi released him in March 2010.

Among other well-known radical Muslims in the new leadership are Ismail as-Salabi of Benghazi, Abdelhakim al-Hasidi of Derna, and Ali Salabi, member of the Transitional National Council which now controls the Libyan government. All of them are founding members of the LIFG.

Salabi led the LIFG in negotiations with the Gaddafi regime that led to the release of practically the whole of the present rebel leadership from Gaddafi’s prisons.

Hasidi, who has admitted that some of his militia “are members of al-Qaeda…good Muslims and patriots fighting the invader (sic)”, also has a long past as jihadist. Hasidi fought in Afghanistan against the U.S.-led intervention, was captured in 2002 in Peshawar in Pakistan, and handed over to the Libyan government in 2004.

According to the secret Libyan files found in Tripoli, the British MI6 foreign secret service delivered information to Gaddafi on exiled opponents over many years. The files confirm that the CIA captured several Libyan Muslim militants abroad, such as Belhaj and Hasidi, interrogated them in secret prisons, and later handed them to Gaddafi.

Peter Bouckaert, director of the emergencies division at Human Rights Watch, told journalists that the role of the CIA went beyond “abducting suspected Islamic militants and handing them over to the Libyan intelligence. The CIA also sent the questions they wanted Libyan intelligence to ask and, from the files, it’s very clear they were present in some of the interrogations themselves.”

Other evidence of Western collaboration with the former Libyan regime is the discovery of modern German-made machine guns in Gaddafi’s arsenals. The German government, which supposedly has stern controls over export of such weapons, has offered no explanation how the military equipment was delivered to Gaddafi.

Between 2007 and 2010 French President Nicolas Sarkozy regularly courted Gaddafi for military cooperation with France. Among Sarkozy’s plans was the export to Libya of Rafale military aircraft and other weaponry, as well as nuclear technology.

At the beginning of the negotiations in December 2007, then French deputy minister for human rights Rama Yade described Sarkozy’s plans during an official visit by the Libyan leader to Paris as an opportunity for Gaddafi to “wipe the blood off his crimes.” But these deals did not materialise.

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