• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

We are inching along, but not as quickly as we (or you) would like. If you have already donated, thank you so much. If you haven’t had a chance, consider skipping the coffee this week and drop CounterPunch $5 or more. We provide our content for free, but it costs us a lot to do so. Every dollar counts.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Islamists at the Heart of the Libyan Rebellion

Tripoli

Rebel militiamen, many of them former prisoners of Muammar Gaddafi, have an iron grip on Tripoli, but wonder who will hold long-term power in Libya. Issam, a bearded Islamist who controls a district of the revolutionary stronghold of Souq al-Jumaa, holds permits which allow him to field 70 local militiamen with arms. “We do not have that number of weapons,” he says. For the moment he does not need them because Gaddafi loyalists “have turned 180 degrees and joined us or they are staying home after we took away their guns”.

A year ago Issam was in jail because the security forces imprisoned anybody they suspected of Islamist tendencies at the time of the anniversary of Gaddafi’s 1969 coup, which was presented as a popular revolution. “They would put me in prison for a month because of my beard which they thought Islamic,” recalls Issam. “I was lucky because many of my friends got two or three months just for being bearded.”

Much of government propaganda on Libyan state TV during the six-month civil war was focused on claims that the rebellion was being led by Islamic militants linked to al-Qa’ida. The aim was to frighten the US and Nato abroad and secular Libyans at home.

But the allegations also had some credibility, since the most militant and experienced anti-Gaddafi organisation was the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). It is Abdul Hakim Belhaj, one of the founders of this group, which fought a ferocious guerrilla campaign against the regime in the 1990s, who now commands the militia units in Tripoli.

Mr Belhaj, 45, a veteran of the Afghan war in the 1980s, is a leading jihadi who was arrested at American behest in Malaysia in 2003, tortured in Thailand and handed over to Libya in 2004. At that time US and Libyan intelligence were co-operating in eliminating Islamists and American officers allegedly took part in interrogations in Tripoli.

Released along with other militants in 2010 by an over-confident regime, Mr Belhaj was well-placed to play a leading role in planning and carrying out the assault that captured Tripoli.

The anti-Western attitudes of Libyan Islamists have been changed by the knowledge that without Nato air strikes Gaddafi would have won the war. The long term aims of the LIFG may not have changed much, but, as with Islamists in most countries convulsed by the Arab Spring, they long ago recognized that they needed to be allied to liberals and secularists to overthrow police states in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. They also needed to distance themselves from al-Qa’ida to avoid being denigrated as  international pariahs, as Gaddafi tried to do.

The Islamists may, for the moment, look stronger than they are because they alone could provide experienced guerrilla leaders and an organized network of sympathizers in Tripoli. These cells could scarcely maintain their existence before the rebellion started on February 15, but thereafter they expanded rapidly.

Abdel Razzaq Targhuni, a Libyan currency exchange dealer with Islamist sympathies living in Dubai, recalls how he came home in late February  and started to organize against Gaddafi in the wealthy Andalus district of Tripoli. “Before that there wasn’t much contact between cells,” he says.

The loyalties and divisions of the new Libyan armed forces remain mysterious but there are signs of trouble ahead. Lt Col Khalid Bilad, an officer in Libyan Special Forces, who defected at the start of the revolution, was captured, imprisoned and tortured before escaping during a Nato raid and then helped plan an insurrection in Tripoli.

His unit, once called the “Tripoli Lions”, is now joining the main militia body and – for reasons the colonel refused to explain – is naming itself after the murdered commander-in-chief of the rebel army Abdul Fatah Younes, Gaddafi’s former Interior Minister, who was probably killed by Islamists.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of Muqtada.

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 22, 2019
Gary Leupp
The Kurds as U.S. Sacrificial Lambs
Robert Fisk
Trump and the Retreat of the American Empire
John Feffer
Trump’s Endless Wars
Marshall Auerback
Will the GOP Become the Party of Blue-Collar Conservatism?
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Trump’s Fake Withdrawal From Endless War
Dean Baker
Trump Declares Victory in China Trade War
Patrick Bond
Bretton Woods Institutions’ Neoliberal Over-Reach Leaves Global Governance in the Gutter
Robert Hunziker
XR Co-Founder Discusses Climate Emergency
John W. Whitehead
Terrorized, Traumatized and Killed: The Police State’s Deadly Toll on America’s Children
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A World Partnership for Ecopolitical Health and Security
Binoy Kampmark
The Decent Protester: a Down Under Creation
Frances Madeson
Pro-Democracy Movement in Haiti Swells Despite Police Violence
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Challenges Logging and Burning Project in Methow Valley
Chelli Stanley
Change the Nation You Live In
Elliot Sperber
Humane War 
October 21, 2019
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Wolf at the Door: Adventures in Fundraising With Cockburn
Rev. William Alberts
Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Sheldon Richman
Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain
Horace G. Campbell
Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What?
Jim Kavanagh
The Empire Steps Back
Ralph Nader
Where are the Influentials Who Find Trump Despicable?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Poll Projection: Left-Leaning Jagmeet Singh to Share Power with Trudeau in Canada
Thomas Knapp
Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates
Brian Terrell
The United States Air Force at Incirlik, Our National “Black Eye”
Paul Bentley
A Plea for More Cynicism, Not Less: Election Day in Canada
Walter Clemens
No Limits to Evil?
Robert Koehler
The Collusion of Church and State
Kathy Kelly
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Charlie Simmons
How the Tax System Rewards Polluters
Chuck Collins
Who is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Trump as the “Anti-War” President: on Misinformation in American Political Discourse
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Where’s the Beef With Billionaires?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and the Violence of Environmental Decline
Paul Street
Bernie in the Deep Shit: Dismal Dem Debate Reflections
Andrew Levine
What’s So Awful About Foreign Interference?
T.J. Coles
Boris Johnson’s Brexit “Betrayal”: Elect a Clown, Expect a Pie in Your Face
Joseph Natoli
Trump on the March
Ashley Smith
Stop the Normalization of Concentration Camps
Pete Dolack
The Fight to Overturn the Latest Corporate Coup at Pacifica Has Only Begun
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Russophobia at Democratic Party Debate
Chris Gilbert
Forward! A Week of Protest in Catalonia
Daniel Beaumont
Pressing Done Here: Syria, Iraq and “Informed Discussion”
Daniel Warner
Greta the Disturber
M. G. Piety
“Grim Positivism” vs. Truthiness in Biography
John Kendall Hawkins
Journey to the Unknown Interior of (You)
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail