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Eastern Libya's Tribes, Jihadism: Did U.S. Consider Its Own Libya Intel?

Our first erroneous assumption is to think that the protesters against Gaddafi are democrats who want to establish an American-style representative democracy. There is a monumental difference between a local popular uprising against a tyrannical ruler and a movement organized to create Western democratic institutions, especially when the country is a Muslim tribal society and none of these institutions exist.

In this regard, the geographical headquarters of the revolt -- located in Eastern Libya in the major cities of Benghazi and Derna -- provides a clue as to who these folks are.

On February 25, 2011, Gaddafi blamed al-Qaeda for the revolt, and because Gaddafi is so self-serving, mercurial, and erratic, the mainstream media seems to have automatically discounted any possibility of Islamist involvement.

On February 15, 2008, however, long before anyone ever considered the possibility of a popular uprising against Gaddafi, the U.S. embassy in Tripoli sent a secret cable to Washington titled “Extremism in Eastern Libya which revealed that this area is rife with anti-American, pro-jihad sentiment.

The cable describes a conversation between embassy officers and a dual U.S./Libyan citizen who provided the embassy with first-hand information about Islamist extremism gleaned from his family and friends in Eastern Libya.

According to the cable, the most troubling aspect of the report:

… is the pride that many eastern Libyans, particularly those in and around Derna, appear to take in the role their native sons have played in the insurgency in Iraq ... [and the] ability of radical imams to propagate messages urging support for and participation in jihad.

Answering why this area is so radicalized, the embassy reported:

[The source] partly attributed the fierce mindset in Benghazi and Derna to the message preached by imams in eastern Libyan mosques, which he said is markedly more radical than that heard in other parts of the country. Sermons in eastern mosques, particularly the Friday “khutba,” are laced with "coded phrases" urging worshippers to support jihad in Iraq and elsewhere through direct participation or financial contributions. The language is often … incendiary and unambiguously supportive of jihad. Direct and indirect references to "martyrdom operations" were not uncommon.

The embassy’s alarming report is corroborated by captured al-Qaeda personnel documents -- called the Sinjar Records -- that came into American hands in 2007 and were analyzed by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The Sinjar Records revealed the country of origin of the foreign fighters who came to Iraq to kill American soldiers. While the majority of foreign fighters came from Saudi Arabia, the report also stated:

Libya was the next most common country of origin, with 18.8% (112) of the fighters listing their nationality stating they hailed from Libya. … Furthermore, Libya contributed far more fighters per capita than any other nationality in the Sinjar Records, including Saudi Arabia … 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 Riyadh’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), Benghazi (21).”

While it is not correct to say that al-Qaeda created and controls the uprising, it is true that al-Qaeda supports the uprising and will do whatever it can to take advantage of the vacuum resulting from the fall of Gaddafi, especially among the Islamist pro-jihad population of Eastern Libya.

At a minimum, our attack of Libya will be grist for al-Qaeda’s information war and will result in increased recruitment and funding.

Demonstrating al-Qaeda’s support, on March 12 Libyan al-Qaeda Commander Abu Yahya al Libi -- who is originally from Benghazi -- appeared in an al-Qaeda video in which he praised the uprising:

O proud people and loyal tribes: move forth taking the help of your Lord, with determined goal, renewing your promise, seeking your aim without hesitation or fear, and throw al-Gaddafi into the dump of humiliation.

The documentary information cited above is not opinion or speculation; it is fact and evidence. With the apparent absence of any plan for post-Gaddafi governance, an ignorance of Libya’s tribal nature and our poor record of dealing with tribes, American government documents that conclusively establish that the epicenter of the revolt is rife with anti-American and pro-jihad sentiment, and with al-Qaeda’s explicit support for the revolt, it is appropriate to ask our policymakers how American military intervention in support of this revolt in any way serves vital U.S. strategic interests.