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Al Qaeda in the New Libya

by John Reed on October 28, 2011

Well, this sure is interesting. Hipster-ey magazine/website, Vice, is doing some firsthand reporting on ‘the new Libya’ that seems to confirm Western concerns about hard core Islamists and members of al Qaeda hijacking the movement to build a new Libya.

Vice reporter Sherif Elhelwa, penned this article showing what may be the al Qaeda flag flying alongside the National Transitional Council’s flag over the courthouse in Benghazi that was long the seat of the rebel movement.

Keep in mind that this is Vice; they admit they’re not trying to be the New York Times or Wall Street Journal with their journalistic standards, so we’ll take the reporting with a grain of salt.

Nevertheless, here’s what Elhelwa writes about post-Gadhafi libya:

Earlier this week, I went to the Benghazi courthouse and confirmed the rumors: an al Qaeda flag was clearly visible; its Arabic script declaring that “there is no God but Allah” and a full moon underneath. When I tried to take pictures, a Salafi-looking guard, wearing a green camouflage outfit, rushed towards me and demanded to know what I was doing. My response was straightforward: I was taking a picture of the flag. He gave me an intimidating look and hissed, “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.”

He followed me inside the courthouse, but luckily my driver Khaled was close by, and interceded on my behalf. According to Khaled, the guard had angrily threatened to harm me. When I again engaged him in conversation, he told me “this flag is the true flag of Islam,” and was unresponsive when I argued with him that historically Islam has never been represented by a single flag. The guard claimed repeatedly that there is no al Qaeda in Libya, and that the flag flying atop the courthouse is “dark black,” while the al Qaeda flag is charcoal black. To many locals, it’s a distinction without a difference. One man approached me with a friendly warning: “I recommend that you leave now; [the Islamist fighters] could be watching you.”

But none of this should be surprising. In Tripoli, Abdelhakim Belhaj, a well-known al Qaeda fighter and founder of the notorious Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), is now leading the rebel “military counsel” in Tripoli. A few weeks ago, Belhaj ordered his fighters to take command of the Tripoli airport, then controlled by a group of Zintan fighters, a brigade of Berber Libyans who helped liberate the capital from Gaddafi loyalists. A few days later, Belhaj gave a speech emphasizing that his actions had the blessings of the NTC, who appointed him to the leadership of Tripoli’s military command.

Comforting, especially when we keep hearing about stockpiles of Gadhafi’s old weapons — including shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles — falling into al Qaeda’s hands.

On that note, happy Friday!

Read the whole article here.

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