From the very beginning of the Libyan conflict countries involved in the NATO campaign could not but be aware they were siding with extreme Islamists. Col. Gaddafi warned of the threat from al Qaeda members yet his remarks were dismissed as the ranting of a loon. For those who have followed the Libyan conflict since its inception in Benghazi it will come as no surprise to learn that the flag of al Qaeda now flies above the central courthouse in Benghazi.
As far back as March the Telegraph
“Col Gaddafi has pinpointed the rebels in Dernah as being led by an al-Qaeda cell that has declared the town an Islamic emirate. The regime also casts blame on hundreds of members of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group (LIFG) released since the group renounced violence two years ago.”
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was responsible for brokering the release of members of LIFG that had been imprisoned after returning to Libya from their fighting days in Afghanistan and Iraq. They promised to renounce violence yet were at the forefront of the uprising which began when a lawyer acting for the families of those killed in the Abu Salim prison massacre was detained. They played a key role in pillaging weapons from the Libyan stockpiles, many of which then found their way into the hands of the Saharan based terrorist group al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Benghazi is now liberated and has been the de facto home of the National Transitional Council. Sherif Elhelwa
filed a fascinating report from Benghazi saying
“according to multiple eyewitnesses—myself included—one can now see both the Libyan rebel flag and the flag of al Qaeda fluttering atop Benghazi’s courthouse.” He writes that residents have said “Islamists driving brand-new SUVs and waving the black al Qaeda flag drive the city’s streets at night shouting, ‘Islamiya, Islamiya! No East, nor West.’”
Elhelwa describes the flag as black with a full moon underneath the Arabic inscription “there is no God but Allah.” He said as he took photographs of the flag an Islamic guard approached him and said
"Whomever speaks ill of this flag, we will cut off his tongue. I recommend that you don't publish these. You will bring trouble to yourself.”
One of the founders of LIFG is Abdel Hakim Belhaj
, formerly listed as a wanted terrorist by the U.S. He leads the Salafist fighting brigade which was largely responsible for the fall of Tripoli. He was appointed the head of the military command in Tripoli and a gained a seat on the NTC. He advocates a caliphate state under Sharia law, the first major change which the NTC initiated at the celebrations to mark the beginning of a new Libya. Interestingly Elhelwa writes “One NTC source told me that Belhaj’s fighters are the only rebel fighters who receive a monthly salary.”
Thus despite the vocal claims from the new leadership and from Belhaj himself that a moderate sharia will be introduced and the West should have nothing to fear regarding the implementation of sharia law, it appears that those who were warned about the rise of extreme Islamists to dominance in post-war Libya were correct in their assumptions.
The NTC has not commented on the flag of al Qaeda flying in Benghazi but the fact that it does shows an acceptance of Islamist power. If Belhaj was sincere in his admonishments that LIFG was never associated with al Qaeda and moderation rules the day, it is questionable why he has not used his powerful influence to insist the flag is lowered and tossed into the garbage.