Jihadis who fought U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan now enjoy American support in Libya 

Evidence is emerging that United States forces are waging war in Libya on behalf of rebels whose ranks include jihadis who fought against the U.S. in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.

Britain's Daily Telegraph reports that Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, a leader of U.S.-supported rebel forces in the fighting around Adjabiya, went to Afghanistan in 2002 to fight against the "foreign invasion" -- that is, U.S. troops who invaded Afghanistan in retaliation for the September 11 attacks.  The Telegraph says al-Hasidi told an Italian newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore, that he was captured in 2002 in Peshawar, Pakistan.  "He was later handed over to the U.S., and then held in Libya before being released in 2008," the Telegraph reports.  Al-Hasidi also told the Italian paper he recruited about 25 Libyan men to fight against U.S. forces in Iraq.

Al-Hasidi's story is consistent with evidence presented in a 2007 report published by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point.  That report, by professors Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman, examined records of an al Qaeda-affiliated organization found after an October 2007 raid near Sinjar, Iraq.  The records contained biographical information about nearly 700 foreign terrorists who came to Iraq to fight against the United States between August 2006 and August 2007.

Felter and Fishman found that the largest portion of foreign fighters, about 41 percent, came to Iraq from Saudi Arabia.  The second-largest source of foreign fighters, at nearly 19 percent, was Libya. "Libya contributed far more fighters per capita than any other nationality in the Sinjar records, including Saudi Arabia," the authors conclude. Since previous studies had indicated far fewer Libyan fighters in Iraq, the authors suggest there may have been a "surge" of Libyans into Iraq in the spring and summer of 2007.  "The apparent surge in Libyan recruits traveling to Iraq may be linked to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group's [LIFG] increasingly cooperative relationship with al Qaeda, which culminated in the LIFG official joining al Qaeda on November 3, 2007," the report say.

The Telegraph, citing U.S. and British government sources, reports that Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi was a member of the LIFG.

The Combating Terrorism Center reports says that Darnah, Libya -- al-Hasidi's hometown-- supplied more foreign fighters to Iraq than any other city, including Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a city far larger than Darnah. Benghazi, Libya, now a rebel stronghold, was also a major source of Libyan fighters traveling to Iraq. "Both Darnah and Benghazi have long been associated with Islamic militancy in Libya, in particular for an uprising by Islamist organizations in the mid-1990s," the authors report.  "The Libyan government blamed the uprising on 'infiltrators from the Sudan and Egypt' and one group -- the Libyan Fighting Group -- claimed to have Afghan veterans in its ranks. The Libyan uprisings became extraordinarily violent. [Libyan strongman Moammar] Gadhafi used helicopter gunships in Benghazi, cut telephone, electricity, and water supplies to Darnah and famously claimed that the militants "deserve to die without trial, like dogs."  In the current fighting, Gadhafi has said that the rebels fighting against him are affiliated with al Qaeda, but his claims have found little acceptance.

There is no doubt that the rebels associated with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group are violent extremists.  The Combating Terrorism Center Report found that the Libyans, along with Moroccans, were more likely than others to become suicide bombers once they were in Iraq.  The Sinjar records, plus political developments in the 2007 time period, "suggest that Libyan factions (primarily the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) are increasingly important in al Qaeda," the report says.

Now, it is not clear what portion of the Libyan rebels, who enjoy the backing and assistance of the United States military, have been associated with al Qaeda and attacks on the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  That one reason critics of the Libya war say that the U.S.-led coalition doesn't really know who it's fighting for. But we may learn more in the future, especially if the rebels prevail and some former jihadis find themselves running Libya, courtesy of the United States.

About The Author

Byron York


Byron York is the Examiner’s chief political correspondent. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays. He blogs throughout the week at Beltway Confidential.

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