Libya: An Islamist Terrorist Takes Command of Main Rebel Forces

Finally, we have evidence that Islamists and even al-Qaeda supporters will play a central role in Libya’s new regime. Up to now there has been reasonable speculation that the U.S. government and NATO might be installing an anti-Western, Islamist government in Libya. Now there’s proof that this is so.

The actual government remains in the hands of non-Islamists, technocrats, ex-regime officials, and moderates. But the armed rebels who actually made the revolution have voted and their idol al-Qaeda guy. Political power, said Mao Zedong, grows out of the barrel of a gun and in Libya's case this seems a very reasonable expectation.

According to Al Jazeera, the network recommended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as fair and balanced, Abdul al-Hakim al-Hasadi, also known as Abdelhakim Belhaj, has been named commander of the Tripoli Military Council. He was formerly head of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate. Moderates are understandably nervous.

In 1999, the group’s spokesman praised Osama bin Laden (remember him?) and said: "The United States no longer relies on its agents to constrict the Islamic tide; it has taken this role upon itself." One of its former leaders worked to plan the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, resulting in massive loss of life. In 2003, members were involved in an al-Qaeda terror attack in Morocco.

In November 2007, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced that the two groups were merging. True, a number of the group’s activists in prison denounced terrorism and made a deal with the Gaddafi regime in order to be set free. But since the organization broke its pledge to Gaddafi in order to overthrow him, presumably that deal no longer stands.

At any rate, the group was still designated as terrorist by the U.S. government. Here it is on the terrorism list (number 26, in alphabetical order) released by the State Department last May.

Of course, the appointment of one leader in an al-Qaeda affiliated group does not an Islamist regime make. But it is an omen and, again, the people who control the guns are more important than those who control the desks. We will have to see how things develop.

But another indication is that there’s more. Who put him in this post? The armed rebels chose al-Hasadi as their commander, not leaving that selection to the NATO-backed Transitional National Council government. Remember, I pointed out that the guys with guns don’t care what the guys in suits say. Some council members complained that al-Hasadi is sponsored by Qatar, which gave a lot of the money and whose rulers like to play radical sheikhs who often align themselves with Iran.

In fact, we can quote on this point Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who told a U.S. official in 2007 -- as we now know thanks to Wikileaks-- "He was extremely worried about Qatar and its continued support for Hamas and other Islamist organizations in the West Bank and Gaza...claiming that they provide ‘more support to fundamentalists than Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.’”

U.S. policy has given no sense that it is aware of this problem.