“The Jihadists Go to the Front.” This is the title of French journalist Julien Fouchet’s report from eastern Libya that appears in the latest edition of the French Sunday paper Le Journal du Dimanche (JDD). Whereas American officials have been straining to make out “flickers” of intelligence suggesting a jihadist influence in the eastern Libyan rebellion against the rule of Muammar al-Gaddafi, Fouchet encountered a flagrant jihadist presence and met with participants who talked openly about their dedication to jihad and/or their desire to establish an Islamic state.
On the front near the oil-producing town of Brega, for instance, Fouchet spotted a bearded commander on a sand dune giving orders by satellite phone. The man wore the traditional robe favored by the Salafist current of Islamic fundamentalism and had a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder. “You can’t speak to him,” rebel fighters told Fouchet. “He is not fighting for Libya. If he is fighting today, it’s for Allah.” Fouchet describes seeing imams driving among the ranks of the rebel fighters in a pick-up truck and reciting prayers over a loudspeaker.
Further to the east in Darnah, one of the strongholds of the rebellion, Fouchet met a certain Sheikh Choukri Al-Hasy, the director of the town’s principal mosque: the al-Sahaba mosque. As previously reported on PJM, according to captured al-Qaeda personnel records, Darnah furnished more foreign fighters to al-Qaeda in Iraq than any other foreign city or town — this despite the fact that the town’s total population is only 80,000. According to Fouchet’s account, the mosque contains a mausoleum where some 70 companions of the prophet Mohammed are reputedly buried. Seventeen rebel fighters are now buried nearby. “Those who followed the prophet Mohammed were the first jihadists,” Al-Hasy explained. “So, it’s normal that we are burying our martyrs next to them….”
Photos taken by Fouchet for the French photo agency Abaca Press show a wall of the mosque covered with portraits of the town’s “martyrs.” The captions to the Abaca Press images reveal a detail that is not mentioned in Fouchet’s JDD report. The “martyrs” commemorated at Darnah’s Al-Sahaba mosque also include locals who died fighting in Iraq. (Thumbnails of the Abaca Press photos are viewable here.)
In Darnah, Fouchet also spoke to a rebel commander whom he identifies as “Hakim al-Sadi.” The commander in question is presumably in fact Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi, who, as reported on PJM, has admitted to fighting on the side of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as to recruiting Libyans to fight with al-Qaeda in Iraq. The biographical details attributed by Fouchet to “al-Sadi” correspond to the known details of the biography of al-Hasadi. These include his settling in Afghanistan prior to the 9/11 terror attacks and the subsequent American-led invasion, his detention by American forces in Pakistan in 2002, and his transfer to and imprisonment in his home country Libya.
Interestingly, Fouchet says that he spoke to “al-Sadi” as the latter was “leaving for the front to coordinate operations.” “In the past,” the rebel commander told Fouchet, “I didn’t like NATO. They fired missiles on Afghanistan. Now that they are helping us in Libya, it’s different. But if there are problems with them, if they begin to occupy our country, we can turn on them in the click of your fingers.”
As to his goals, “al-Sadi” explained to Fouchet that he had rejoined the jihad in order to “cut Gaddafi’s throat and establish an Islamic state.” Libyan government claims that al-Hasadi had declared an “Islamic emirate” in Darnah have been widely dismissed as propaganda by Western observers.