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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 949

Libyan rebellion has radical Islamist fervor: Benghazi link to Islamic militancy:U.S. Military Document Reveals

Daya Gamage – Foreign News Desk Asian Tribune
Washington, D.C. 17 March (Asiantribune.com):

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Well known to the United States policymakers in Obama White House and Clinton State Department along with the National Security Council but not widely known to American mainstream media, the U.S. West Point Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center document reveals that Libya sent more fighters to Iraq’s Islamic militancy on a per-capita basis than any other Muslim country, including Saudi Arabia.

Perhaps more alarmingly for Western policymakers, most of the fighters came from eastern Libya, the center of the current uprising against Muammar el-Qaddafi.

The analysis of the Combating Terrorism Center of West Point was based on the records captured by coalition forces in October 2007 in a raid near Sinjar, along Iraq’s Syrian border.

The eastern Libyan city of Darnah sent more fighters to Iraq than any other single city or town, according to the West Point report. It noted that 52 militants came to Iraq from Darnah, a city of just 80,000 people (the second-largest source of fighters was Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which has a population of more than 4 million).

Benghazi, the capital of Libya’s provisional government declared by the anti-Qaddafi rebels, sent in 21 fighters, again a disproportionate number of the whole.

If the 2007 captured records revealed the Eastern Libyan participation in the anti-coalition forces militancy in Iraq one could imagine the Banghazi-Darnah export of Islamists since then.

“Libyans were more fired up to travel to Iraq to kill Americans than anyone else in the Arabic-speaking world,” Andrew Exum, a counterinsurgency specialist and former Army Ranger noted in a blog posting recently. “This might explain why those rebels from Libya's eastern provinces are not too excited about U.S. military intervention. It might also give some pause to those in the United States so eager to arm Libya's rebels.”

Despite this data and information available to the United Stated government Secretary of State Hilary Clinton met late Monday 14 with a leader of the Libyan rebel movement in Paris privately and without a public statement. Mrs. Clinton met the opposition rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril at her hotel in Paris after attending a dinner with foreign ministers of the countries of the Group 8 who discussed ways to increase pressure on Colonel Qaddafi’s Libyan regime.

The West Point report said “Both Darnah and Benghazi have long been associated with Islamic militancy in Libya.

A significant progress was made by the Libyan rebels when the French President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed a pair of envoys from the Libyan National Council, the rebel leadership, early this month. France indicated that it would recognize the rebel proclaimed provisional government based in Benghazi. Britain also signaled that it may also recognize the rebel authority.

Despite those developments the Obama administration seems to be vacillating having no firm Libyan policy since the rebellion.

If the rebellion succeeds in toppling the Qaddafi regime it will have direct access to the tens of billions of dollars that Qaddafi is believed to have squirreled away in overseas accounts during his four-decade rule.

The once-secret Iraqi “Sinjar documents” which is the basis of the West Point analytical document provide an additional reason for the Obama administration to take a cautious approach in its dealings with the rebels from both Darnah and Benghazi. The document noted that Islamist organizations in both cities led an earlier uprising against Qaddafi in the mid-1990s that was brutally put down by the Libyan dictator.

Colonel Qaddafi renounced terrorism, paid billions of dollars to Lockerby-victim families, allowed the U.S. to remove nuclear facilities and established diplomatic relations with the United States. Qaddafi has continuously opposed the al-Qaeda operations in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

The Asian Tribune provides here the data and information from an analytical document of the U.S. Defense Department.

Al-Qaeda’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq: A First Look at the Sinjar Records is the latest in a series of reports from the Combating Terrorism Center drawing on newly released information from captured al-Qaeda documents maintained in the Defense Department’s Harmony Data Base.

The introduction of the report says:

(Quote) On December 4, 2007 Abu Umar al?Baghdadi, the reputed Emir of al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), claimed that his organization was almost purely Iraqi, containing only 200 foreign fighters.1 Twelve days later, on December 16, 2007, Ayman al?Zawahiri urged Sunnis in Iraq to unite behind the ISI. Both statements are part of al-Qaeda’s ongoing struggle to appeal to Iraqis, many of whom resent the ISI’s foreign leadership and its desire to impose strict Islamic law.

In November 2007, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point received nearly 700 records of foreign nationals that entered Iraq between August 2006 and August 2007. The data compiled and analyzed in this report is drawn from these personnel records, which was collected by al-Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliates, first the Mujahidin Shura Council (MSC) and then the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). The records contain varying levels of information on each fighter, but often include the fighter’s country of origin, hometown, age, occupation, the name of the fighter’s recruiter, and even the route the fighter took to Iraq. The records were captured by coalition forces in October 2007 in a raid near Sinjar, along Iraq’s Syrian border.

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Although there is some ambiguity in the data, it is likely that all of the fighters listed in the Sinjar Records crossed into Iraq from Syria. (Un-Quote)

The Asian Tribune presents here the salient data, information and observations of the Combating Terrorism Center of West Point maintained in the U.S. Defense Department’s Harmony Data Base. The analysis gives an alarming picture of the political shade of the Libyan rebels of Benghazi and Darnah, the eastern stronghold of anti-Qaddafi movement. The observation in this Defense Department document is very revealing.

(Begin Report):

Initial Findings

Country of Origin

Saudi Arabia was by far the most common nationality of the fighters’ in this sample; 41% (244) of the 595 records that included the fighter’s nationality indicated they were of Saudi Arabian origin.

Libya was the next most common country of origin, with 18.8% (112) of the fighters listing their nationality stating they hailed from Libya. Syria, Yemen, and Algeria were the next most common origin countries with 8.2% (49), 8.1% (48), and 7.2% (43), respectively. Moroccans accounted for 6.1% (36) of the records and Jordanians 1.9% (11).

The obvious discrepancy between previous studies of Iraqi foreign fighters and the Sinjar Records is the percentage of Libyan fighters. (See Appendix 1 for a brief summary of previous foreign fighter studies.) No previous study has indicated that more than 4 percent of fighters were Libyan. Indeed, a June 2005 report by NBC quoted a U.S. government source indicating that Libya did not make a top ten list of origin nationalities for foreign fighters in Iraq.9 As late as July 15, 2007, the Los Angeles Times cited a U.S. Army source reporting that only 10 percent of all foreign fighters in Iraq hailed from North Africa.10 The Sinjar Records suggest that number is much higher. Almost 19 percent of the fighters in the Sinjar Records came from Libya alone. Furthermore, Libya contributed far more fighters per capita than any other nationality in the Sinjar Records, including Saudi Arabia.

The previous reports may have collectively understated the Libyan contribution to the fight in Iraq, but the relative synchronization of earlier analyses suggests that the pattern of immigration to Iraq has simply shifted over time. In an admittedly small sample, 76.9% (30) of the 39 Libyans that listed their arrival date in Iraq entered the country between May and July 2007, which may indicate a spring “surge” of Libyan recruits to Iraq. If the numbers cited by the Los Angeles Times in July 2007 are any indication, even the U.S. Army may have underestimated the Libyan contingent in Iraq.

The apparent surge in Libyan recruits traveling to Iraq may be linked the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’s (LIFG) increasingly cooperative relationship with al-Qaeda, which culminated in the LIFG officially joining al-Qaeda on November 3, 2007.

City/Town of Origin

Of 591 records that included the country of origin of the fighters, 440 also contained information on the home city/town the fighters hailed from. The most common cities that the fighters called home were Darnah, Libya and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with 52 and 51 fighters respectively. Darnah, with a population just over 80,000 compared to Riaydh’s 4.3 million, has far and away the largest per capita number of fighters in the Sinjar records. The next most common hometowns? in real terms? listed in the Sinjar records were Mecca (43), Beghazi (21), and Casablanca (17). City/town of origin for Saudi Arabia, Libya, Morocco, Algeria, and Syria are broken out in greater detail below.

Libyan Hometowns

The vast majority of Libyan fighters that included their hometown in the Sinjar Records resided in the country’s Northeast, particularly the coastal cities of Darnah 60.2% (53) and Benghazi 23.9% (21).

Both Darnah and Benghazi have long been associated with Islamic militancy in Libya, in particular for an uprising by Islamist organizations in the mid?1990s. The Libyan government blamed the uprising on “infiltrators from the Sudan and Egypt” and one group—the Libyan Fighting Group (jama?ah al?libiyah al?muqatilah)—claimed to have Afghan veterans in its ranks.14 The Libyan uprisings became extraordinarily violent. Qaddafi used helicopter gunships in Benghazi, cut telephone, electricity, and water supplies to Darnah and famously claimed that the militants “deserve to die without trial, like dogs.”

Abu Layth al?Libi, LIFG’s Emir, reinforced Benghazi and Darnah’s importance to Libyan jihadis in his announcement that LIFG had joined al?Qa’ida, saying:

‘It is with the grace of God that we were hoisting the banner of jihad against this apostate regime under the leadership of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which sacrificed the elite of its sons and commanders in combating this regime whose blood was spilled on the mountains of Darnah, the streets of Benghazi, the outskirts of Tripoli, the desert of Sabha, and the sands of the beach.’

Like other governments in the region, Libya appears concerned about the possibility of jihadi violence within its borders. In May 2007, the Libyan government arrested several Libyans on the grounds that they were planning a car bomb attack similar to an April attack in Algeria.17 And in July 2007, a group calling itself al-Qaeda in Eastern Libya announced a suicide attack in Darnah.18 Libya’s leader Muammar Qaddafi has taken measures to mitigate the threat from such groups, and has reportedly released over 80 Muslim Brotherhood activists in the hope that they will moderate the views of more violent Islamist activists.

If LIFG is funneling Libyans into Iraq, it may exacerbate rumored tensions between LIFG elements over whether or not to concentrate on militant activity within Libya’s borders.20 Such debates are common among national jihadi movements shifting focus to global issues. This sort of debate disrupted both Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Egyptian Islamic Group in the 1990s.21 Reports suggesting that LIFG’s decision to join al-Qaeda was controversial may be exaggerated, but they probably reflect a contentious debate over LIFG’s future.22 LIFG’s support for al-Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate has probably increased its stature in al-Qaeda’s leadership, but complicated its internal dynamics.

Recent political developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the prevalence of Libyan fighters in Iraq, and evidence of a well?established smuggling route for Libyans through Egypt, suggests that Libyan factions (primarily the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) are increasingly important in al-Qaeda. The Sinjar Records offer some evidence that Libyans began surging into Iraq in larger numbers beginning in May 2007. Most of the Libyan recruits came from cities in North?East Libya, an area long known for jihadi?linked militancy. Libyan fighters were much more likely than other nationalities to be listed as suicide bombers (85% for Libyans, 56% for all others).

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’s unification with al-Qaeda and its apparent decision to prioritize providing logistical support to the Islamic State of Iraq is likely controversial within the organization. It is likely that some LIFG factions still want to prioritize the fight against the Libyan regime, rather than the fight in Iraq. It may be possible to exacerbate schisms within LIFG, and between LIFG’s leaders and al-Qaeda’s traditional Egyptian and Saudi power?base. (End Report)

- Asian Tribune -

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