International governments are sending millions of dollars to Libya’s National Transitional Council to assist with efforts to find and destroy weapons. At the same time it is has been alleged that extremist factions within the NTC fighters are receiving unauthorized arms shipments from abroad. Tripoli’s NTC military commander, Abdel Hakim Belhadj is the alleged recipient, an accusation he denies.
On Tuesday the deputy leader of the NTC, oil and finance minister Ali Tarhouni, warned that illegal arms shipments of weapons and money must stop. He announced
“It’s time we publicly declare that anyone who wants to come to our house has to knock on the front door first” the Wall Street Journal reported. “I hope this message will be received by all our friends, both our Arab brothers and Western powers.”
Although Tarhouni fell short of naming the suspected culprit the WSJ reported that an NTC official confirmed that Qatar was “without any doubt” the guilty party.
Qatar provided the most assistance of any Arab nation to the NTC during the civil war. It plays home to Islamic cleric Sheikh Ali Al-Salabi
, who was influential in negotiating between Qatar and the NTC. Al-Salabi is also a close friend to Abdel Hakim Belhadj
Close ties between the then rebels and Qatar were evident during the months of conflict. Eman al-Obeidi, the alleged rape victim who announced her attack in the Rixos Hotel, Tripoli, was offered sanctuary in Qatar following her escape to Tunisia. However she was abruptly returned to Benghanzi when the NTC demanded it, despite not wishing to return.
The Gulf country also violated international arms sanctions imposed on Libya by providing weapons to the rebels during the conflict. In April the New York Times
reported that General Younes said
“his forces had received weapons supplies from unidentified nations that supported their uprising.”
During an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer
in April, Emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said that Qatar was prepared to arm the rebels. When pressed if Qatar had in fact already provided weapons the Emir responded
“It might be arrived to them during the last two days. It's possible.”
In July the Gaddafi government confirmed they had intercepted arms shipments from Qatar. Gaddafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said that assault rifles and ammunition had been intercepted and
“Several of the ammunition boxes were marked in English as coming from the armed forces of Qatar.”
The NTC claims it is now trying to control the proliferation of weapons in Libya but does nothing to disarm the gunmen that are on the loose throughout the country brandishing their weapons. Belhadj has categorically denied that he has received any unauthorized weapons, saying
“We do not receive any help, military of non-military from any entity. I challenge anyone to prove otherwise.”
Interestingly Belhadj has been implicated in the murder of Gen. Younes, who first disclosed illegal weapon shipments to Libya during the conflict. Belhadj denies any involvement in the death of Younes. If weapons are being sent from Qatar they could well fall into the hands of Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
which has already profited from pillaging weapons stolen and sold from Libya when the first prisoners released at the start of the conflict joined the uprising.