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According to Western counter-terrorism officials, al-Qaeda terrorists have established a 200-strong fighting force near the Egyptian border in eastern Libya. The creation of the al-Qaeda unit comes at the same time as the Libyan interim government is threatened by a growing internecine conflict among Libya’s myriad group of armed rebel militias.
The al-Qaeda terrorists, who had arrived in Libya in early 2011 at the time Muammar Gadhafi’s regime was rapidly ceding ground to Libyan rebels, were reportedly sent to Libya on personal orders from al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The jihadists are purportedly led by a veteran al-Qaeda fighter known simply as “AA,” a terrorist insurgent who began his terror career fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan before coming to Britain to recruit Muslims for al-Qaeda.
In 2005 “AA” had been detained by British authorities as a suspect in the July 2005 London subway bombing that killed 52 people and wounded more than 700, although he was never charged in that attack. By 2009 “AA” had left Britain to fight coalition forces on the Afghan-Pakistan border.
The efforts by al-Qaeda operatives to recruit Libyans to the jihadist cause were most recently seen in a December 2011 video the terror group posted on jihadist websites that exhorted Libyans to either “choose a secular regime that pleases the greedy crocodiles of the West…or you take a strong position and establish the religion of Allah.”
Of course, al-Qaeda doesn’t require many jihadist pep talks to convince Libyans to flock to its Islamist banner given that eastern Libya — which was described by the US State Department in 2008 as a “wellspring of Libyan foreign fighters” — has produced and exported a significant crop of al-Qaeda fighters over the years.
Most of these insurgents have been members of the al-Qaeda affiliate, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). Founded in 1995 to wage jihad against the regime of then Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, the LIFG officially joined Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network in 2007.
Not too surprisingly then, many Libyans with al-Qaeda ties continue to pepper the leading ranks of Libya’s interim government, the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC). The most notable al-Qaeda alum serving in the NTC is Abd al-Hakim Belhadj, head of the powerful Tripoli Military Council and former emir of the LIFG.
In addition to having to deal with al-Qaeda in Libya, Libya is also plagued by North Africa’s other al-Qaeda terror group, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has used the chaos in Libya to acquire some of the Gadhafi regime’s most powerful and deadly weapons.
Their success in this endeavor has prompted one AQIM leader to boast that AQIM had been “one of the main beneficiaries of the revolutions in the Arab world. As for our benefiting from the [Libyan] weapons, this is a natural thing in these kinds of circumstances.”
While al-Qaeda may have been one of the main recipients of the Libyan uprising to oust Muammar Gadhafi, it is difficult for the NTC to currently make the same claim, given that in addition to battling an al-Qaeda resurgence, it is battling territorial tribal and militia infighting that further continues to destabilize Libya.
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