With the Abu Baker al-Siddiq Brigade, Zintan, Libya
A second interview by this observer with Seif al Islam Gadhafi, formerly the heir apparent to his father Moammar, was sought and finally arranged as a follow up to an earlier one focusing of my interest in the Imam Musa Sadr case. That case involves a great crime against a great man and conciliator and his historic cause, and exposes those who betrayed him in Lebanon and two other countries while swearing their personal devotion and shedding crocodile tears over the past 36 years. That research is nearing completion and publication awaits DNA results from body samples more credible than the ones offered by the Bosnia laboratory two years ago and immediately demonstrated to be fraudulent. The story of why that particular lab was chosen and by who goes to the essence of the current stonewalling campaign with respect to informing the public about what exactly happened to Imam Sadr and his partners on 8/3l/1978 in Tripoli, Libya. It also identifies who instructed Gadhafi to kill them over the strong objections from the PLO’s Yassir Arafat who spoke with Gadhafi and tried to save the trio of Lebanese Shia.
But our discussion soon turned to other subject as Seif’s jailers may have taken seriously my joke that if they extended the original 20 minutes I was granted to two hours, I would deliver to them 10 US Visas and they could fill in any names the might choose. Truth told, of course I could not even get myself a passport renewal as former US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman reportedly sneered at a US Embassy Christmas party a few years back, “Lamb will serve ten years hard time in the Feds for hobnobbing with terrorists (Hezbollah in those days…who knows today?) when we get him back home.” I admit that Jeff and I both have a problem with Hezbollah. His is because Hezbollah just may liberate Palestine and mine is that Hezbollah needs to do more in Lebanon and use 90 minutes of Parliament’s time, where it has the power, to grant Palestinian refugees in Lebanon the right to work and to own a home. But that is also another story and Hezbollah continues to report that they are ‘working on the problem but it’s politically complicated.”
Meanwhile, Da’ish (IS) is metastasizing fast in Libya through its main affiliate al Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) and plans to add Tripoli, to its Islamic Caliphate along with Baghdad, Damascus, Amman and Beirut during the coming months and if necessary, years. This, according to Seif al Islam and representatives of the Zintan brigades based southwest of Tripoli as well as two representatives of other tribes and militia moving toward supporting the still vital Gadhafi regime remnants.
Libya may be the lowest hanging ripe fruit within easy reach of Da’ish (IS) and its growing number of affiliates, according to US Ambassador Deborah Jones during a recent visit to the US Embassy in Malta, to discuss her own problems in Libya which include the 8/31/14 take-over by al Fajr Libya (FL) of the US embassy compound barely a month after it was evacuated and moved to Tunisia for the second time since February of 2011. Secretary of State John Kerry reassured the media in Washington recently that “the embassy was not really closed, but had moved out of Libya”. One Religion Professor at Tripoli University joked last week that “Kerry is correct, the US embassy is here but it’s in a state of occultation. We can’t see it but it’s around and watches us.” A Libyan photographer who was at the embassy compound when Al Fajr Libya (FL) arrived reported that the Da’ish (IS) affiliate had moved into buildings inside the embassy complex claiming that they would ‘protect it’ as they carted off boxes of documents for ‘safe keeping.’ FL is described by a former Dean at Tripoli U. as between al Nusra and Da’ish (IS) with a fragile partnership between the two and presenting to the public “ A Good cop-Bad cop tag-team with differences to be worked out once all the infidels are vanquished.
Libya, as with the Arab Maghreb, is on the cusp of a new wave of Islamist groups, and is moving beyond al-Qaeda of Bin Laden, Zawahiri, and Abdelmalek Droukdel, to Baghdadi’s ISIS and its widely perceived logical offshoot ISIM being planted in North Africa and the Sahel. The threat of the Da’ish (Islamic State is already deeply anchored and expanding in the now lawless Libya, according to UN envoy Bernardino León. Several Libyan organizations recently announced their loyalty to IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. This has confirmed a speculation that IS has penetrated Libyan public institutions. The Ansar al-Sharia group, affiliated with ISIS, has declared authority during the last several days over the coastal city of Darna which is located strategically between Benghazi and the Egyptian border – just 289 km (179 miles) and 333 km (206 miles), respectively.
Countless militia are forming, merging, changing names and lying low as perceived interests dictate. Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria was retitled, revitalized and repackaged to enhance its appeal on social media as has the Furqan Brigade of the AQIM in Tunisia. Ansar Al-Sharia is another one becoming very active.The Uqba bin Nafi Brigade, has just declared allegiance to ISIS as has the Islamic Caliphate in the Islamic Maghreb. al-Ummah Brigade, which operates out of Libyan coasts and airports, another is Al-Battar is attracting pro-ISIS elements. Majlis Shura Shabab al-Islam (the Islamic Youth Shura Council), or MSSI. According to Libyan sources and journalist Adam al-Sabiri, writing in Al Akbar, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi asked these elements to deploy to the Libyan front to counter the attacks by the Libyan army led by Khalifa Haftar as part of Operation Dignity seeking to “purge Libya of terrorists.”
Libyan friends, some from three years ago, advise that more people have been killed in the past three years than during the 2011 revolution and they now fear a Somalia-like “failed state” given all the weapons, lawlessness, and growing number of Islamists. The South of Libya has not been spared the lawlessness, as tribal battles continue for control of a lucrative smuggling trade. Friends point out that the country no longer even bothers to celebrate the National Holiday commemorating the 10/23/2011 “total liberation of Libya.” “It’s a cruel joke” my friend Hinde advised as she explains that many Libyans yearn for the stability of the Gadhafi days. “Maybe wanting to turn the clock back is the same in Iraq and Egypt and Syria?” she wondered.
“The rampant regional, ideological and tribal conflicts are worse than the rule of the dictator,” said Salah Mahmud al-Akuri, a doctor in Benghazi. “Some Libyans are looking back to the old regime.”
Amidst all the chaos, Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni claimed last week that groups loyal to the IS, such as al Fajr Libya, are presently in control of the city of Derna and other Libyan towns and have begun summoning townspeople to public squares to witness declarations of fealty to Da’ish (IS), even beginning their signature public executions. Libya’s “government” claims that its “army” is preparing to expel Fajr Libya (FL) and retake the capital, as more militia rush to join FL. Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani’s said in a statement this week that he gave orders to the government forces to “advance toward Tripoli to liberate it and to free it from the grip of al Fajr Libya”. The Libyan embassy in Washington told a House Foreign Affairs committee staffer that they expect that residents in Tripoli will launch “a civil disobedience campaign until the arrival of the army.” Walking around the former “Green Square” this observer saw no signs of this rather he observed citizens stocking up on necessities or packing their cars. Later, Thani added, military forces in the strife-torn country “have absolutely united to also recapture Libya’s second city Benghazi from the local IS affiliate, al Fajr Liyba (FL). Leading one to wonder whether the Libyan “army” will fare better than Maliki’s did in Mosul and Anbar.
According to students and staff at Tripoli University, (known as Fatah University during the Gadhafi decades) a few of whom this observer first met in the summer of 2011, and who lived the political events in their country since while some of their friends and relatives, as in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, are preparing to leave and start a new life somewhere. Hasan, a Gadhafi supporter I was with nearly daily three years ago in Tripoli still curses what, “NATO| did this to our country. The Gadhafi regime was changing as you know Franklin, but the reformers were prevented from making the changes that Seif al Islam and his associates got their father to agree to. Remember when Saif said “My father wants to live in a tent where he is most happy and write a history of the Jamahiriya (land of the masses). He will offer advice but have just a ceremonial role out of politics? You remember that? We believed Seif didn’t we?. Anyhow, khalas!, Libya is finished! NATO gave it to Da’ish just as they gave Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria to Iran.”
Libya is now moving beyond al-Qaeda of Bin Laden, Zawahiri, and Abdelmalek Droukdel, to Baghdadi’s ISIS and its widely perceived logical offshoot Islamic State in the Islamic Maghreb (ISIM-Damis) now expanding in North Africa and the Sahel. Former rebels who fought against Gadhafi have formed powerful militias and seized control of large parts of Libya in the past three years. Back in mid-august of 2011, the late American journalist Marie Colvin and I stood on the balcony of the Corinthia Hotel opposites the still empty Marriott where some kid was practicing sniping from the roof, at my expense, as I pointed out to Marie a body floating just off the beach of the Mediterranean across the road. We walked over and examined it and decided while it was dressed in religious garb the man may have been an army deserter; there were increasing numbers in those days, because of his military style boots. We alerted some militia guys driving along the corniche who said they would report the body and before long an ambulance did arrive. Two of the militia waded out waist deep and pulled in the bloated body to shore, unlaced his tan leather boots while holding their noses from the stench. They then threw the new boots in the back of their pick-up and drove off with no more than a smiling ‘shukran habibis’ (thanks dears). Later that day Marie and I counted a column of 143 pickups with AK-47 jubilant fist waving rebels entering along the coastal road toward downtown Tripoli having come from battles in the east around Misrata. In the next few days we discussed how there seemed to be countless ‘free-cigarettes, $200 on the first of each month and your personal Kalasnikov’ militia popping up like mushrooms after a summer rain. Three years ago one of their battle cries was “Death to Gadafi—Yes to Freedom!” Today one hears around Tripoli another slogan from the lips of young men many of whom may be the same, chanting, “Death to the kafirs (disbelievers,” or infidels) Yes to Islam!Abas (that’s all!”
Seif el Islam still resides at his cell in Zintan which, even though jail is jail, has been upgraded from when he was captured in the Sahara making his way toward Niger and his finger was cut off as a warning.
Seif, has proposed talks and is ready to participate in bringing together Libya’s warring parties and aiding the transition to what he claims he was working on before the February 17, 2011 uprising in Benzhazi which quickly spread.
Seif’s team would likely include his father’s cousin and confident Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam, former Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kane, long-time Libyan diplomat, the widely respected Omar el Hamdi now is Cairo, and Seif’s sister Aisha, now living with his mother and children in the Gulf.
Seif has no illusions of returning Libya to the past, but argues that elements of the former regime deserved to be heard. “We were in the process of making broad reforms and my father gave me the responsibly to see them through. Unfortunately the revolt happened and both sides made mistakes that are now allowing extreme Islamist group like Da’ish to pick up the pieces and turn Libya into an extreme fundamentalist entity in their regional plans.”
With respect to Seifs trials, whether ins the Tripoli courthouse or at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, the odds of either happening anytime soon, ior at all, are fading as negotiations for an arrangement are reportedly progressing.
A solution is being sought, according to sources at the Justice Ministry in Tripoli because there are many problems with Seifs case which was supposed to begin earlier this year, and the case has been criticized by a number of international actors. Not least for which how Libya and the ICC have handled their cases. For example, Human Rights Watch has accused the Libyan government of failing to provide adequate legal representation and the ICC it has been unable to compel the Libyan government to allow it access — just one of many challenges to the ICC’s legitimacy in recent years. Meanwhile it is likely that Seif’s jailers, who increasing respects and admires him, may have other ideas that would enhance their own standing in Libya. In addition, certain NATO countries are said to be privately discussing with Washington, Paris London and Bonn the idea of finding a role for Seif and certain of his associates and family members in “the new Libya.”
According to Seif, and former regime officials, several NATO countries have sent messages claiming they did not intend for his father to be killed but were searching during the summer of 2011 for a refuge for his father in Africa. Seif does not believe them.
Seif al Islam still has substantial influence among tribes still loyal to Gaddafi as well as former regime officials in the army and government. The delegation Seif could assemble, including Ahmad Gadaff al-Dam, would benefit from the latter’s still strong connections with Arab governments, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as some European countries.
More on this and other subjects related to Seif and the growing international recognition over the need for expulsion of Islamists from Libya, and a possible significant role for Seif, are expected to be discussed publicly soon.
Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.com).