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article imageOp-Ed: IS leader in Libya may be hero of campaign against Gaddafi

By Ken Hanly     Apr 1, 2015 in Politics
Tripoli - As the Islamic State expands its operations in Libya western media are paying more attention to this issue rather than the conflicts between military forces of the two rival governments, one in Tripoli and the internationally-recognized regime in Tobruk.
As the appended video shows, one area where the IS holds sway is the city of Derna. It has been a jihadist center for ages even under the Gaddafi regime. However, many jihadist members such as those associated with Ansar al-Sharia, linked with Al Qaeda, are now leaving that organization and pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. The commentator on the video, Catherine Herridge, claims that there are support networks and training camps run by the IS now in Libya. Derna is in an area mostly under the control of the Tobruk government, but IS has also taken control in the city of Sirte, formerly under the control of the Tripoli government. Tripoli has launched military action in the hopes of taking back control.The IS training camps provide fighters for IS in Syria and Iraq as well as for operations in Libya and elsewhere such as Tunisia.
The Director of US National Intelligence James Clapper said :"From an intelligence perspective, we, I think, clearly need to step up our game from an ISR perspective, where we can operate,I think there’s a lot of merit to partnering with the French, who have sort of staked out their claim in the Sahel region of North Africa."
"ISR" stands for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, According to Herridge one of the leaders of IS in Libya is Abdelhakim Behadj. Other reports describe him as the leader of IS in Libya.
Belhadj has an interesting history, becoming at times a hero and good guy and at others a wanted terrorist. He very early grouped with other Islamists to try and unseat Gaddafi but ended up fleeing to Saudi Arabia and then to Afghanistan in 1988 where he fought in the jihad against the Soviet-backed Afghan regime. These groups were supported by CIA funds and when fighting against a regime supported by the Evil Empire were considered freedom fighters. After the Mujahideen took the capital Kabul, Belhadj eventually returned to Libya where he with others formed the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group(LIFG) in 1992. After three unsuccessful attempts to kill Gaddafi, the group was crushed in 1998.
Some sources say that LIFG was linked to Al Qaeda and key members such as Belhadj were members of Al Qaeda. However, Belhadj has denied being a member of Al Qaeda and the leadership of the group had denounced Al Qaeda's tactics and also an announcement they made that LIFG was associated with them. Nevertheless, LIFG was banned worldwide as an affiliate of Al-Qaeda and as a terrorist organization.
In 2002, Belhadj and other leaders of the LIFG fled again to Afghanistan and joined the Taliban. In 2002, after the 9/11 attacks, an arrest warrant was issued for Belhadj by Libyan authorities. By this time, Gaddafi was now on good terms with the west. After the US-led overthrow of the Taliban, Abdel left Afghanistan but was arrested in 2004 as he was leaving Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia with his pregnant wife. He was transferred to Bangkok and placed in the custody of the CIA and retained at a secret prison there. He was then flown on a rendition aircraft back to Libya where he was imprisoned for seven years and allegedly tortured.Belhaj was held in Tajoura prison, near Tripoli, where he says he was chained to a window, deprived of sleep, beaten, hung from the walls and kept in solitary confinement. He claims he was also interrogated by British intelligence officers who visited his cell.
Belhadj was active in the rebellion that ousted Gaddafi and was commander of the Tripoli Military Council following Operation Mermaid Dawn in late August of 2011. After the capture of Tripoli, Human Rights Watch found documents relating to Belhadj from both the CIA and the UK M16. The documents showed that UK intelligence had provided questions for his interrogators. Belhadj launched a suit against the UK government but in December 2013 a High Court judge ruled it could not go forward as it could damage UK national interests.
Neither Belhadj nor the Islamic State in Libya have confirmed Belhadj's status as yet. These reports may simply be designed to brand Belhadj as one of the "bad guys" again and discredit his attacks on the CIA and M16. If he were a commander or leader of the Islamic State in Libya one would think that they would be advertising the fact since he was an important leader in the fight against Gaddafi. One can understand that as an Islamist Belhadj would take up arms against the forces of CIA-linked General Haftar, commander of the Tobruk armed forces, but the Islamic State also is fighting against the rival Tripoli government that has many moderate Islamists in its ranks. If, as he claims, he never belonged to Al Qaeda and indeed disagreed with their tactics, it hardly seems likely he would join with the Islamic State whose violence is even more indiscriminate than that of Al Qaeda.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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