Geopolitics

Top Libyan Rebel Leader Has Deep Al Qaeda Ties

Abdel Hakim Belhadj, who leads the rebel forces in Tripoli, was a founder of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and is believed to have been close to bloodthirsty head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Belhadj spoke last week to Al Jazeera
Belhadj spoke last week to Al Jazeera
Jean-Pierre Perrin

For U.S. intelligence services, the man who led the rebel assault on Tripoli, and is now the de facto military governor of the capital, is an old acquaintance. The CIA had tracked down the accused jihadist, and eventually captured him in Malaysia in 2003. The agency is believed to have then transferred him, in total silence, to a "top secret" prison in Bangkok.

At that time, Abdel Hakim Belhadj, identified under the name of Abu Abdallah al-Sadek, born May 1, 1966, was already known for his long history as a jihad operative. This career began in 1988 in Afghanistan, like many other Islamist activists.

However if the CIA wanted him, it's first because he was one of the founders, and even the "emir" of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a small highly radical organization, which prior to Sept. 11 had two secret training camps in Afghanistan. The CIA was extremely interested in one of them, Shahid Cheikh Abu Yahya, about 19 miles north of Kabul, where the LIFG welcomed volunteers who had links with Al Qaeda.

Osama Bin Laden's organization had many Libyans among its leading members, including Abu al-Laith al-Libi, one of Al-Qaeda's military chiefs who was killed in Afghanistan in 2008. In 2007, the LIFG was given the seal of approval by Ayman al Zawahiri, then Al-Qaeda's number two, and current successor of Bin Laden at the helm of the network. The LIFG then called on Libyans to rebel against Gaddafi, the U.S. and the other "infidels' of the West.

After Afghanistan, Belhadj traveled to Pakistan and Iraq. In Iraq, where the Libyans are the second most numerous group of Islamist volunteers after the Saudis, he was said to be close to Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda's chief in that country until his death in 2006. In Bangkok, in 2004, after having long been questioned and possibly tortured by the CIA, he was handed over to the Libyan secret services.

From jail to uprising

In 2009, the Libyan regime, under the direction of Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi's son and heir apparent, initiated an unexpected policy of reconciliation with the LIFG. The leaders of the group then published a 417-page document called "the corrective studies' (in French "les études correctrices'), in which they stated that holy war against Gaddafi was outlawed, since it was only allowed in Muslim countries that had been invaded (Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine).

The document may have been a way to avoid further torture. Nevertheless, it eventually allowed Belhadj to get out of prison -- and he didn't keep his word for long. Indeed, he joined the rebel forces and took the lead of the movement in western Libya to lead them to victory in Tripoli.

Has Belhadj distanced himself from Al-Qaeda? It's a thorny question when considering that the man has already perjured himself twice. It's difficult not to see him involved in the recent murder of former Ministry of Interior Abdul Fatah Younis who had rejoined the rebels. According to a Libyan expert, the explanation is rather clear. "Younis used to lead the special forces and he conducted a merciless battle against the LIFG between 1990 and 1995 in eastern Libya."

It is thus no accident that former members of the LIFG now hold the most important military jobs: Belhadj in Tripoli, Ismail al-Salabi in Benghazi, Abdel Hakim al-Assadi in Derna. Among the members of the Libyan National Transitional Council, one can find Ali Salabi. In 2009, on behalf of Saif al-Islam, he was the one who handled negotiations on the release of LIFG prisoners in exchange for them renoucing armed operations. Events in Libya have come full circle indeed!

Read the original story in French
Photo – Al Jazeera via youtube

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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