- The current military attack on Libya has been motivated by UNSCR1973 with the need to protect civilians.
- Statements by Obama, British PM Cameron, French Pres Sarkozy, and other leaders have stressed the humanitarian nature of the intervention, which is said to aim at preventing a massacre of pro-democracy forces and human rights advocates by the Qaddafi regime.
- But at the same time, many commentators have voiced anxiety because of the mystery which surrounds the anti-Qaddafi transitional government which emerged at the beginning of March in the city of Benghazi, located in the Cyrenaica district of north-eastern Libya.
This government has already been recognized by France and Portugal as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people.
- The rebel council seems to be composed of just over 30 delegates, many of whom are enveloped in obscurity.
- In addition, the names of more than a dozen members of the rebel council are being kept secret, allegedly to protect them from the vengeance of Qaddafi. But there may be other reasons for the anonymity of these figures.
- Despite much uncertainty, the UN and its several key NATO countries, including the US, have rushed forward to assist the armed forces of this rebel regime with air strikes, leading to the loss of one or two coalition aircraft and the prospect of heavier losses to come, especially if there should be an invasion.
It is high time that US and European publics learned something more about this rebel regime which is supposed to represent a democratic and humanitarian alternative to Gaddafi.
- The rebels are clearly not civilians, but an armed force. What kind of an armed force?
Since many of the rebel leaders are so difficult to research from afar, and since a sociological profile of the rebels cannot be done on the ground in the midst of warfare, perhaps the typical methods of social history can be called on for help.
Is there a way for us to gain deeper insight into the climate of opinion which prevails in such northeastern Libyan cities as Benghazi, Tobruk, and Darnah, the main population centers of the rebellion? It turns out that there is, in the form of a Dec 2007 West Point study examining the background of foreign guerrilla fighters, jihadis or mujahedin, including suicide bombers, crossing the Syrian border into Iraq during the 2006-2007 timeframe, under the auspices of the international terrorist organization Al Qaeda.
This study is based on a mass of about 600 Al Qaeda personnel files which were captured by US forces in the fall of 2007, and analyzed at West Point using a methodology which we will discuss after having presented the main findings. The resulting study permits us to make important findings about the mentality and belief structures of the northeastern Libyan population that is furnishing the basis for the rebellion, permitting important conclusions about the political nature of the anti-Qaddafi revolt in these areas.
The most striking finding which emerges from the West Point study is that the corridor which goes from Benghazi to Tobruk, passing through the city of Darnah (also transliterated as Derna) represents one of the greatest concentrations of jihadi terrorists to be found anywhere in the world, and by some measures can be regarded as the leading source of suicide bombers anywhere on the planet.
- Darnah, with one terrorist fighter sent into Iraq for every 1,000 to 1,500 persons of population, emerges as suicide bomber heaven, easily surpassing the closest competitor, which was Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
According to West Point authors Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman, Saudi Arabia took first place as regards absolute numbers of jihadis sent to combat the US and other coalition members in Iraq during the time frame in question. Libya, a country less than one fourth as populous, took second place.
- Saudi Arabia sent 41% of the fighters.
- According to Felter and Fishman: 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
- Jordanians 1.9% (11).
This means that almost one fifth of the foreign fighters entering Iraq across the Syrian border came from Libya, a country of just over 6 million people. A higher proportion of Libyans were interested in fighting in Iraq than any other country contributing mujahedin. Felter and Fishman point out: Almost 19% 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. But since the Al Qaeda personnel files contain the residence or hometown of the foreign fighters in question, we can determine that the desire to travel to Iraq was not evenly distributed across Libya, but was highly concentrated precisely in those areas around Benghazi which are today the epicenters of the revolt against Colonel Gaddafi which the US, Britain, France, and others are so eagerly supporting.
As Daya Gamage of the Asia Tribune comments in a recent article on the West Point study:
"Alarmingly for Western policymakers, most of the fighters came from eastern Libya, the center of the current uprising against Muammar el-Qaddafi. 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.
Obscure Darnah edged out metropolitan Riyadh by 52 fighters to 51. Qaddafi’s stronghold of Tripoli, by contrast, barely shows up in the statistics at all. What explains this extraordinary concentration of fighters in Benghazi and Darnah? The answer seems related to extremist schools of theology and politics which flourished in these areas. As the West Point report notes: Both Darnah and Benghazi have long been associated with Islamic militancy in Libya. These areas are in theological and tribal conflict with the central government of Colonel Gaddafi, in addition to being politically opposed to him. Whether such a theological conflict is worth the deaths of still more US and European soldiers is a question which needs urgently to be answered.
Felter and Fishman remark: 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% (52) 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.
- The Libyan uprisings became extraordinarily violent.
Another remarkable feature of the Libyan contribution to the war against US forces inside Iraq is the marked propensity of the northeastern Libyans to choose the role of suicide bomber as their preferred method of struggle. As the West Point study states: Of the 112 Libyans in the Records, 54.4% (61) listed their ‘work.’ Fully 85.2% (51) of these Libyan fighters listed “suicide bomber” as their work in Iraq.
- This means that the northeastern Libyans were far more apt to choose the role of suicide bomber than those from any other country: Libyan fighters were much more likely than other nationalities to be listed as suicide bombers (85% for Libyans, 56% for all others). The specific institutional basis for the recruitment of guerrilla fighters in northeastern Libya is associated with an organization which previously called itself the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). During the course of 2007, the LIFG declared itself an official subsidiary of al Qaeda, later assuming the name of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). As a result of this 2007 merger, an increased number of guerrilla fighters arrived in Iraq from Libya. According to Felter and Fishman: 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 Nov 3 2007.
- This merger is confirmed by other sources: A 2008 statement attributed to Ayman al-Zawahiri (here, also here) claimed that the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group has joined al-Qaeda.
The West Point study makes clear that the main bulwarks of the LIFG and of the later AQIM were the twin cities of Benghazi and Darnah. This is documented in a statement by Abu Layth al-Libi, the self-styled “Emir” of the LIFG, who later became a top official of al Qaeda.
- At the time of the 2007 merger: 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.’
- This 2007 merger meant that the Libyan recruits for Al Qaeda became an increasingly important part of the activity of this organization as a whole, shifting the center of gravity to some degree away from the Saudis and Egyptians who had previously been most conspicuous. As Felter and Fishman comment: Libyan factions (primarily the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) are increasingly important in al-Qa’ida.
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 northeast Libya, an area long known for jihadi-linked militancy.
When Clinton went to Paris to be introduced to the Libyan rebels by Sarkozy, she met the US-educated Libyan opposition leader Mahmoud Jibril, already known to readers of Wikileaks document dumps as a favorite of the US (See here).
While Jibril might be considered presentable in Paris, the real leaders of the Libyan insurrection would appear to be Jalil and Younis, both former ministers under Qaddafi. Jalil seems to be the primus inter pares, at least for the moment:
- “Mustafa Abdul Jalil or Abdul-Jalil (born 1952) is a Libyan politician. He was the Minister of Justice (unofficially, the Secretary of the General People’s Committee) under Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. Abdul Jalil has been identified as the Chairman of the National Transitional Council based in Benghazi, although this position is contested by others in the uprising due to his past connections to Gaddafi’s regime.”
- As for Younis, he has been closely associated with Qaddafi since the 1968-9 seizure of power: “Abdul Fatah Younis is a senior military officer in Libya. He held the rank of General and the post of Minister of Interior, but resigned on Feb 22 2011.” (ibid)
What should concern us most is that both Jalil and Younis come from the Haribi tribe, the dominant one in northeast Libya, and the one that overlaps with al Qaeda. According to Stratfor: The Harabi tribe is a historically powerful umbrella tribe in eastern Libya that saw their influence wane under Col Gadhafi.
The Libyan leader confiscated swaths of tribal members’ land and redistributed it to weaker and more loyal tribes. Many of the leaders now emerging in eastern Libya hail from the Harabi tribe, including the head of the provisional government set up in Benghazi, Abdel Mustafa Jalil, and Abdel Fatah Younis, who assumed a key leadership role over the defected military ranks early in the uprising. This is like a presidential ticket where both candidates are from the same state, except that Libya’s ferocious tribal rivalries make the problem infinitely worse.
This picture of a narrow, sectarian tribal and regional base does not improve when we look at the rebel council as a whole. According to one recent version: The rebel council is chaired by the well-spoken former justice minister for Libya, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, and consists of 31 members, ostensibly representatives from across Libya, of whom many cannot be named for security reasons.
- The key players on the council, at least those who we know about, all hail from the north-eastern Harabi confederation of tribes.
- These tribes have strong affiliations with Benghazi that date back to before the 1969 revolution which brought Gaddafi to power. Other accounts agree about the number of representatives: The council has 31 members; the identities of several members has not been made public to protect their own safety.
- Given what we know about the extraordinary density of LIFG and all Qaeda fanatics in northeast Libya, we are authorized to wonder as to whether so many members of the council are being kept secret in order to protect them from Qaddafi, or whether the goal is to prevent them from being recognized in the west as al Qaeda terrorists or sympathizers. The latter seems to be a more accurate summary of the real state of affairs.
Names released so far include:
- Mustafa Abduljaleel;
- Ashour Hamed Bourashed of Darna city;
- Othman Suleiman El-Megyrahi of the Batnan area;
- Al Butnan of the Egypt border and Tobruk;
- Ahmed Abduraba Al-Abaar of Benghazi city;
- Fathi Mohamed Baja of Benghazi city;
- Abdelhafed Abdelkader Ghoga of Benghazi city;
- Omar El-Hariri for Military Affairs;
- Dr Mahmoud Jibril,
- Ibrahim El-Werfali
- Dr Ali Aziz Al-Eisawi for foreign affairs.
The US and European media have not taken the lead in identifying for us the names that are now known, and they above all have not called attention to the majority of the rebel council who are still lurking in the shadows of total secrecy.
We must therefore demand to know how many LIFG and/or al Qaeda members, veterans, or sympathizers currently hold seats on the rebel council.
- We are witnessing an attempt by the Harabi tribe to seize dominance over the 140 tribes of Libya. The Harabi are already practically hegemonic among the tribes of Cyrenaica. At the center of the Harabi Confederation is the Obeidat tribe, which is divided into 15 sub-tribes. All of this might be of purely academic ethnographic interest, were it not for the fact of the striking overlap between the Harabi tribe and the LIFG and al Qaeda.
- The political-religious tradition of northeast Libya makes this area such fertile ground for the more extreme Muslim sects and also predisposes it to monarchism rather than to the more modern forms of government favored by Qaddafi.
The relevant regional tradition is that of the Senussi or Sanussi order, an anti-western Moslem sect.
In Libya the Senussi order is closely associated with monarchism, since King Idris I, the ruler installed by the British in 1951 who was overthrown by Gaddafi in 1969, was also the leader of the Senussi order.
The Senussi directed the rebellion against Italian colonialism in the person of Marshal Rodolfo Graziani and his army in the 1930s. Today, the rebels use the monarchist flag, and may advocate the return to the throne of one of the two pretenders to the Idris line. They are far closer to monarchism than to democracy.
There is much more by Webster Tarpley, 3-24-2011, The Rest @ Niqnaq