– WHO IS ABDELHAKIM BELHAJ?
* Abdelhakim Belhaj, who was appointed, in early 08/2011, to Tripoli’s rebel military council, was one of the original founders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group – LIFG back in 1995 , which was later designated in 2004 by the USA State Department as a terrorist organization with links to Al Qaeda, according to USA government reports. Ousting Muammar Gaddafi had been the main objective of the LIFG even if some of the fighters believed that meant putting Americans in the crossfire.
Abdelhakim Belhaj was born in 1966 and graduated from university with a degree in civil engineering. He is also believed to have two wives; one Moroccan wife and a second Sudanese wife. Abdelhakim Belhaj immigrated to Afghanistan in 1988 to participate in the Afghan jihad against occupying Russian forces. He is believed to have lived in a number of Islamic countries including Pakistan, Turkey and Sudan. Abdelhakim Belhaj was arrested in Malaysia in 2004, was interrogated by the CIA in Thailand and was extradited to Libya in the same year.
The same man Abdelhakim Belhaj triumphantly led Libyan rebels into Gaddafi’s compound last week. “We proudly announce the liberation of Libya and that Libya has become free and that the rule of the tyrant and the era of oppression is behind us,” a victorious Abdelhakim Belhaj told reporters after the storming of Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound on Wednesday 08/24/2011 (see -Gaddafis Collapse ). Ousting Gaddafi had been the main objective of the LIFG since its inception, even if some of the fighters believed that meant putting Americans in the crossfire.
As relations between the USA and Gaddafi improved in 2003, some LIFG leaders cultivated relationships with top Al Qaeda leaders including Osama Bin Laden and were suspected of funneling fighters to Iraq to carry out operations against USA soldiers. When the LIFG was designated a terror it was meant as a “gesture of solidarity” with the Libyan government, according to a 03/2011 USA congressional report.
The CIA first publicly voiced concern about the connection between the LIFG and Al Qaeda in 2004 when then-director George Tenet testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and listed the LIFG among groups that represented an “immediate threat… [that] has benefited from Al Qaeda links.” In Iraq, Libyans happened to be the largest foreign Sunni Jihadi contingent, only losing to the Saudis.
Contrary to several USA government reports, Libyan rebel ambassador to USA, Ali Aujali, told ABC News that the LIFG was never connected to Al Qaeda and did not carry out terrorist operations. “They were only opposed to Gaddafi during his rule and paid the price for that by being oppressed by the regime,” Aujali said. Aujali also said that former Islamist fighters like Abdelhakim Belhaj must be seen in a different light now that the Gaddafi regime is gone.
By that time, 2004, when Abdelhakim Belhaj had been jailed in Libya where he would stay for years, outside the prison walls, some other LIFG leaders reportedly tightened their relationship with Al Qaeda.
In 11/2007 Al Qaeda’s then-deputy Ayman Al Zawahiri announced a formal alliance between the groups, mentioning Abdelhakim Belhaj personally. “Dear brothers… the amir of the mujahideen, the patient and steadfast Abu-Abdallah al-Sadiq; and the rest of the captives of the fighting Islamic group in Libya, here is good news for you,” Zawahiri said in a video, using Abdelhakim Belhaj ‘s nom de guerre. “Your brothers are continuing your march after you… escalating their confrontation with the enemies of Islam: Gaddafi and his masters, the crusaders of Washington” he said (see – LIBYAN GROUP ).
A leaked 2008 State Department cable and a separate report by the Counter Terrorism Center at West Point noted that an inordinate number of anti-USA insurgents in Iraq came from Libya and the LIFG. Hitting Americans, the fighters believed, was just another way to hit Gaddafi, the cable says.
For his part, Abdelhakim Belhaj waited in jail until 2009 when he and hundreds of other LIFG fighters were freed after negotiations with Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. As part of the deal to earn their freedom, Abdelhakim Belhaj and other leaders penned a lengthy treatise denouncing political violence and terrorism, including Al Qaeda.
A USA official told ABC News it appeared the faction of LIFG that survived in the rebel movement “seems, from their statements and support for establishing a democracy in Libya… to not support Al Qaeda.”
“We’ll definitely be watching to see whether this is for real or just for show,” the official said.
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