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Op-Ed: Haftar spokesperson claims oil port attacks linked to Al-Qaeda

The recording broadcast by al-Nabaa TV featured an officer whose identity is unknown together with media tycoon Mahmoud al-Misrati. The officer tells al-Misrati to mount a campaign to smear Haftar’s opponents saying: According to the aired recording, which Middle East Eye could not verify independently, the officer said that Haftar’s forces wanted to spread the message that al-Qaeda militants were involved in taking over the ports in the oil crescent, saying “al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda… they will become in the eyes of the people, al-Qaeda..People have started saying that these are not al-Qaeda…we must plant the idea in people’s thoughts that they are al-Qaeda,”

Al-Misrati phoned the station after the call and said that he had no concern about the content of the call: “Firstly, prove that it’s my voice. Secondly, there is nothing at all in the recording that would hurt me… all of the content in the recording, it is correct that I say it and I write it in my posts, and therefore I have nothing to hide. Yes, I do steer public opinion. I manufacture public opinion and shape it, and we are the ones who guide people.”

The article says that Al-Misrati was a former adviser of the Dialogue team of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR). Although the article does not say so, presumably he is also a spokesperson for Haftar and his Dignity Operation, Ahmed Al-Mismari. Even if he isn’t, Al-Mismari has also reported on connections between Al Qaeda and the attacks: Spokesperson of Dignity Operation Ahmed Al-Mismari claimed on Saturday that some members of the internationally recognized UN-proposed Presidency Council and High Council of State held secret meetings with leaders of Al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood to mastermind the attack on the oil crescent region by Benghazi Defense Brigades. This is a coalition of all terrorist groups in western Libya against the Libyan National Army in the east, No need to have a leaked tape to see the plan in action.

However, the recordings also claim that the former ambassador to the UAE Aref Nayed is doing “great work” in the United States and is supported by Haftar. Nayed addressed the Heritage Foundation in Washington and claimed that the ports taken from Haftar had been captured by Al Qaeda according to the recordings. Mattia Toaldo, a policy fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations said that with Nayed’s Heritage Foundation appearance the campaig to link the BDB attack with Al Qaeda was going full steam. Toaldo noted: It is hard to see how an al-Qaeda-associated group could ever decide to hand over oil terminals to a UN-backed government.” It is possible that this could be done for tactical reasons but given that Haftar appears to associate the PC with Al Qaeda as well, it just amounts to one Al Qaeda group handing the ports over to another one. The BDB do no doubt have some radical Islamist militia groups among the umbrella formation.

The recording claims that Haftar has contacted Egyptian officials and has been promised that Egypt will support a counter-offensive to retake the ports. This might increase the number of Misrata militias coming to the defence of the BDB. The recording also admits that Haftar continues to use mercenaries. Izzed Aqee, a political scientist claimed the recording is not convincing. He does not see Egypt supporting Haftar any longer and having “left Haftar to his fate”. Aqee claims that Haftar had offended Sisi by not meeting with GNA PM Faiez Serraj, a meeting set up by Sisi. Perhaps, Aqee is correct but it seems more likely as another analyst claims that Sisi may be moving away from one-sided support for Haftar. It could be as well that Sisi wanted to punish Haftar for not cooperating with his planned meeting with Serraj. However, Haftar’s bonds with Sisi may be strong enough to survive this setback. Russia appears to want to keep relations with the GNA as well while promoting better relations with Haftar.

There are also passages in the recording that urge Islamic State (IS) operatives in the city of Bani Walid to remain covert and not show their black flags. This seems to confirm the views of some Haftar opponents that he has collaborated with the Islamic State. Haftar was already suspected of allowing IS militants to leave Derna and travel to Sirte and Bani Walid. It could be however that the recording is itself part of a counter-Haftar campaign.

France24 TV channel has reported that Libya National Army (LNA) forces under the command of Khalifa Haftar are mobilizing for a decisive battle to recapture the two oil ports seized by the BDB over a week ago. There are also reports of more militia entering from the west to aid in the defence of the ports. Perhaps this weekend or Monday the counter-attack will begin. There seems no sign of a cease-fire or negotiation as many countries and the UN have advocated.

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