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By John Rosenthal

BRUSSELS, Belgium – Video and documentary evidence shows that a Libyan-government-sponsored militia that reportedly provided support to American Marines on the night of the Sept. 11 Benghazi attacks is a radical Islamic militia that, like the presumed assailants, flies the black flag of jihad.

Over one month after the attacks – and despite a congressional hearing – the details of what occurred remain murky. But according to several largely concordant reports, certain broad outlines appear clear. It is generally agreed that the American consulate was attacked by Islamic extremists from a local Libyan militia. According to widely publicized speculations, the militia in question is thought to go by the name Ansar al-Shariah. Thus, for example, a recent New York Times article cites an eyewitness account attributing the attack to Ansar al-Shariah and notes that the witness claims to have seen the attackers “waving the black flag favored by such ultraconservative jihadis.”

On the other hand, members of another local Libyan militia, operating under the orders of the Libyan government, are reported to have joined forces with American Marines on the night of the attacks. A unit from the militia is reported to have met a Marine detachment at Benghazi’s airport and accompanied the Marines to a supposedly secret “safe house” where consulate personnel had taken refuge.

The “safe house,” however, would turn out to be neither secret nor safe. Instead, it would become the target of a second attack after the arrival of the Marines with their Libyan escort. Two Americans would die in this follow-up attack. Just how the assailants came to discover the location of the “safe house” is typically treated as a mystery.

Despite citing the commander of the militia unit that allegedly joined in the rescue mission, the New York Times does not give the militia’s name. But both Reuters and the French daily Le Figaro, which provided highly similar accounts of the Benghazi events well before the Times report appeared, identify it as the Libya Shield Brigade. The Libya Shield Brigade is known to operate under the authority of the Libyan government. As it so happens, it is also known to fly the black flag of jihad.

There is abundant evidence of this available in videos posted online by local Libyan sources. The black flag in question is, more precisely, two flags: (1) the solid black flag with the shahada or Islamic declaration of faith written on it in white that served as the original banner of al-Qaida and (2) the more elaborate black flag with a white circle in the middle that was introduced by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq and that is commonly known nowadays as the al-Qaida flag.

The flag pioneered by al-Zarqawi also, of course, features the shahada: “There is no God but God [Allah] and Mohammed is the messenger of God.”

Like many other Libyan militias to have emerged from the last year’s NATO-supported rebellion against Moammar al-Gadhafi, the Libya Shield Brigade has used both black flags. Thus extensive footage of Libya Shield forces deployed around the desert oasis town of al-Kufra earlier this year shows Libya Shield vehicles flying both the new red-black-and-green Libyan national flag and the original version of the black jihadist flag.

Libya Shield forces flying black jihadist flag, near al-Kufra, March 2012

Libya Shield vehicle flying black jihadist flag, al-Kufra, March 2012

The Libya Shield forces had reportedly been dispatched to al-Kufra by the Libyan government. Indeed, the red-and-gold brigade logo visible on the vehicles reads: “Ministry of Defense – Libya Shield Forces.” The footage in question was shot in mid-March, near the outset of the al-Kufra deployment.

A video posted a few weeks later shows Libya Shield spokesman Hafez al-Aquri holding forth about the brigade’s mission in al-Kufra. Al-Aquri is seated at a desk and swivels back and forth on his chair as he talks. Hanging from the bookcase behind him is a large gold-fringed al-Qaida flag.

Libya Shield spokesman Hafez al-Aquri, April, 2012

That Libya Shield forces would fly the black flags of “There is no God but God and Mohammed is his messenger” is hardly surprising.

As recounted in the forthcoming book
“The Jihadist Plot: The Untold Story of al-Qaeda and the Libyan Rebellion,” like the great bulk of the Eastern Libyan militias that formed the backbone of the anti-Gadhafi rebellion, Libya Shield makes no secret of its Islamist principles and devotion to the Shariah. In the literal sense of the term, they are virtually all “Ansar al-Shariah” – which is to say, “Supporters of the Shariah.”

Thus, in June, Libya Shield participated in a massive demonstration of Libyan mujahideen demanding the application of the Shariah. The demonstration included a motorized procession of militia units through the streets of Benghazi and featured not only innumerable al-Qaida flags, but even al-Qaida decals and headbands. Video of the demonstration can be viewed here and here. The red-and-gold Libya Shield logo is clearly visible on several of the militia vehicles.

The second video is embedded here, too:

Moreover, according to Arabic-language Islamist websites, already in October 2011 – just days after the killing of Moammar al-Gadhafi – Libya Shield commander Wisam bin Hamid issued a declaration stating that “The Islamic shariah is a red line, we will not cede one rule of it, and Islam is the only law-giver and not [merely] the foundation [of the law].”

Arabic sources report that bin Hamid commanded the rebel forces that besieged Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte and ultimately captured and killed him. Per a glowing biography of bin Hamid that appeared on the jihadist forum al-Fetn.com, he is a veteran of jihad in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The jihadist inclinations of bin Hamid and his Libya Shield forces are not unknown to the U.S. government. Indeed, a recent study prepared by the research division of the Library of Congress links the Libya Shield Brigade to al-Qaida and even cites speculation that bin Hamid may be the leader of the al-Qaida network in Libya.

But despite a widely cited report on the Long War Journal highlighting the government study, it appears to have escaped notice that the brigade in question is the very one that is alleged to have supported American Marines on the night of the Benghazi attacks. This is perhaps because the Long War Journal report merely mentions the name of bin Hamid’s militia in transliterated Arabic: Katiba Dir’ Libya. But Katiba Dir’ Libya means: Libya Shield Brigade.

John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic security issues. His “The Jihadist Plot: The Untold Story of Al-Qaida and the Libyan Rebellion” is forthcoming from Encounter Books. You can follow his work at trans-int.com or on Facebook. The translations from Arabic are by Maureen Millington-Brodie.

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