Shortly after unrest broke out in eastern Libya in mid-February, reports emerged that an “Islamic Emirate” had been declared in the eastern Libyan town of Darnah and that, furthermore, the alleged head of that Emirate, Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi, was a former detainee at the American prison camp in Guantánamo. The reports, which originated from Libyan government sources, were largely ignored or dismissed in the Western media.
Now, however, al-Hasadi has admitted in an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore that he fought against American forces in Afghanistan. (Hat-tip: Thomas Joscelyn at the Weekly Standard.) Al-Hasadi says that he is the person responsible for the defense of Darnah — not the town’s “Emir.” In a previous interview with Canada’s Globe and Mail, he claimed to have a force of about 1,000 men and to have commanded rebel units in battles around the town of Bin Jawad.
“I have never been at Guantánamo,” al-Hasadi explained to Il Sole 24 Ore. “I was captured in 2002 in Peshawar in Pakistan, while I was returning from Afghanistan where I fought against the foreign invasion. I was turned over to the Americans, detained for a few months in Islamabad, then turned over to Libya and released from prison in 2008.”
Al-Hasadi’s account is largely confirmed by investigations conducted by Praveen Swami, the diplomatic editor of the British daily The Telegraph. Swami originally wrote about al-Hasadi’s background in the Afghan jihad in a March 21 column. In response to a query from the present author, Swami was able to obtain confirmation of al-Hasadi’s arrest and transfer to Libya from what he describes as a “senior source” in the Afghan government.
According to a separate UK intelligence source contacted by Swami, al-Hasadi was released by the Libyan government as part of a deal that was struck with the al-Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIGF). The LIGF has long opposed the rule of Muammar al-Gaddafi in Libya.
On February 25, al-Hasadi had issued an ambiguous statement claiming that he had been a “political prisoner” and accusing the “Dictator Gaddafi” of spreading “lies.” Al-Jazeera provides an English translation of the statement here. (Scroll down to “12:46pm”.) A video of al-Hasadi reading his statement is available here.
In his more recent remarks to Il Sole 24 Ore, al-Hasadi admits not only to fighting against U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but also to recruiting Libyans to fight against American forces in Iraq. As noted in my earlier PJM report here, captured al-Qaeda personnel records show that al-Hasadi’s hometown of Darnah sent more foreign fighters to fight with al-Qaeda in Iraq than any other foreign city or town and “far and away the largest per capita number of fighters.” Al-Hasadi told Il Sole 24 Ore that he personally recruited “around 25” Libyans to fight in Iraq. “Some have come back and today are on the front at Ajdabiya,” al-Hasadi explained, “They are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists.” “The members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader,” al-Hasadi added.
The revelations about al-Hasadi’s involvement in the anti-American jihad are particularly troubling in light of clear evidence that Western forces are coordinating their attacks on Libyan government targets with rebel forces.
Reporting from the outskirts of Ajdabiya on Wednesday, Antoine Estève of the French news channel i-Télé noted that just “minutes” after rebel positions had been hit by artillery fire from Libyan government forces, the Libyan government positions were then bombarded by coalition aircraft. (Estève’s report can be viewed here.) In a March 19 dispatch from Benghazi for the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, correspondent Lorenzo Cremonesi cites rebel leaders as saying that they were given the opportunity to provide NATO with a map indicating enemy targets that they wanted bombed.
Editor’s note: Also read “Gaddafi and Corruption: WikiLeaks vs. WikiLeaks” at the Tatler.