Libyan rebels consider Algeria's welcoming of Qaddafi family an act of aggression.
The Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) is facing its first foreign confrontation after Algeria decided to permit the entry of two of Qaddafi’s sons, his second wife and his daughter. The Libyan rebels have long accused Algeria of taking Qaddafi’s side in the civil war. At the same time, the search for Qaddafi and his other sons continue, with one close associate claiming the dictator fled to the city of Sabha.
There were rumors that Qaddafi and his sons fled to Algeria as Tripoli fell to the rebels. A convoy of six armored vehicles were said to have crossed into Algeria. The Algerian government denied the account. On Monday, the Algerian government confirmed that Safia, Qaddafi’s second wife and his daughter, Aisha, were in its territory. Aisha gave birth to a girl after crossing into Algeria. Two of Qaddafi’s sons and an unknown number of grandchildren also entered the country. Mohammed Qaddafi escaped after having his house surrounded by rebel forces. Hannibal Qaddafi is best known as a playboy who was arrested in Switzerland in 2008 for assault. He was later heard saying, “If I had an atom bomb, I would wipe Switzerland off the map.”
The NTC says it considers the harboring of these Qaddafi family members an act of aggression. The United Nations passed Resolution 1970 on June 24, banning member states from facilitating the travel of Qaddafi and his family and top associates. It specifically named the four members taken in by Algeria. However, the resolution allows for an exception when it “is required to advanced peace and stability.” Algeria will use this exception to justify its decision.
Algeria steadfastly rejects speculation that Qaddafi and his sons are there. The Pentagon believes that they remain in Libya, and a top NTC official said this week, “we have a good idea where he is.” A former bodyguard for Khamis Qaddafi says that he was present at the final meeting between Khamis and his father in Tripoli on Friday. He overheard a driver say that the former dictator was headed to the city of Sabha. It is also possible that Qaddafi is in his hometown of Sirte, where 1,000 regime loyalists are refusing to surrender. The rebels have given them until Saturday to give up.
The bodyguard says he was traveling three cars behind Khamis when the convoy was attacked near Tarhuna on August 27, and he confirms that Khamis’ Toyota Land Cruiser was destroyed. The rebels claim to have killed him, while other reports say his car was struck by a missile from a NATO helicopter. Qaddafi’s former intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, is also believed to have been killed. The U.S. has not confirmed their deaths yet. Another son of Qaddafi, Saadi, has contacted the NTC to negotiate his surrender.
The relationship between Algeria and the Libyan rebels has been hostile since the civil war began. The Algerian government has had close ties to Qaddafi, and opposed the No Fly Zone and NATO intervention that saved the rebels from defeat. Even now, Algeria is the only North African country to not recognize the NTC as the governing authority of Libya. The rebels accused Algeria of secretly aiding the Qaddafi regime once fighting broke out.
It has been alleged that the Algerian government hired remnants of the Tunisian Republican Guard and former President Ben Ali’s security forces to go to Libya. There were at least 22 flights from Algeria to Libya between February 19 and February 26 alone, most of which are thought to have been military aircraft. The total number of flights grew to at least 50 by March. The flights delivered weapons, ammunition and African mercenaries. One former regime loyalist said that 450 mercenaries were transported from Algeria in a single flight. In one clash in Adjabiya, 15 were captured and 3 were killed. The rebels also said that Qaddafi hired Algerian pilots.
French advisors on the ground found out that Qaddafi’s forces were using French military vehicles sold to Algeria. The Emir of Qatar met with Algerian President Bouteflika on May 18 to demand that he stop helping Qaddafi. On June 1 though, the U.S. commander of operations in Africa, General Carter Ham, said he “could see no evidence” that Algeria was helping the Libyan regime.
The Algerian government was apparently motivated by a fear that a successful revolution in Libya would encourage the Arab Spring in its own country. A smooth transition in Libya would also embolden the region’s opposition movements. It is conceivable that the Algerian government will try to destabilize the new Libyan government, and perhaps even allow Qaddafi loyalists on its territory to sponsor violent activity.
At the same time, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has retaliated for Algeria’s support for Qaddafi by carrying out twin suicide bombings last Friday at an Algerian military academy. The attacks killed 18 people and wounded 26. It is possible that radical Islamist elements among the Libyan rebels will look kindly upon such revenge attacks and facilitate them. One of the founders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a terrorist organization linked to Al-Qaeda, is now the military commander in Tripoli.