By John Rosenthal
It is now widely believed that a “rogue” Islamist militia was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi that took the lives of American Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans; whereas a “loyal” Libyan-government-sponsored militia is supposed to have joined forces with American Marines in efforts to rescue American personnel.
But according to a leading French Libya expert, Islamists are in fact pervasive in the official Libyan security apparatus and the line separating “loyal” militias from “rogue” militias is porous at best.
Patrick Haimzadeh is a former French diplomat who was stationed in Tripoli from 2001 to 2004. He is the author of the 2011 book “Au cœur de la Libye de Kadhafi” ["Inside Gadhafi's Libya"].
Haimzadeh points to evidence of prior collusion between Ansar al-Shariah, an Islamic extremist brigade that is suspected of having perpetrated the 9/11 Benghazi attacks, and the Katiba Deraa Libya or “Libya Shield Brigade,” the most powerful of the government-sponsored militias that grew out of the 2011 rebellion against the rule of Moammar al-Gadhafi.
Libya Shield is reported to have provided support to a Marine detachment that was dispatched to Benghazi on the night of the attack against the U.S. mission in the city.
WND reported earlier that Libya Shield units and officials have themselves been known to fly the black flags of jihad and appear to be no less “supporters of the Shariah” – in Arabic, Ansar al-Shariah – than the members of the particular group bearing that name.
Indeed, according to jihadist websites, Libya Shield commander Wisam bin Hamid has declared the upholding of the Shariah to be a “red line” and insisted that the Libyan mujahideen would “not cede one rule of it.”
Haimzadeh notes that only days before the September 11 Benghazi attacks, Ansar al-Shariah attacked a Sufi Muslim mausoleum in the town of Rajma, south of Benghazi. Islamic fundamentalist or “Salafist” groups like Ansar al-Shariah or al-Qaida regard the Sufi as heretics.
The Rajma attack is only one of numerous attacks on Sufi shrines that have taken place in Libya since the fall of Gadhafi. A Libya Shield unit was dispatched to Rajma to restore order. But, according to Haimzadeh’s sources, once at the site of the attack, the Libya Shield unit refused to intervene.
Several people were reportedly killed in clashes between the assailants and Rajma residents attempting to protect the shrine. According to Haimzadeh, moreover, a meeting between the leaders of Ansar al-Shariah and Libya Shield had taken place just one week before the Rajma attack.
An unclassified U.S. diplomatic cable, which was recently released by the House Oversight Committee, shows that U.S. officials were also aware of reports that Libya Shield members refused to stop the Rajma attack or even indeed participated in it.
Nonetheless, the same cable reveals that on September 9 – just one day after that mausoleum attack and just two days before the attack on the U.S. mission – U.S. officials in Benghazi met with none other than Libya Shield commander Wisam bin Hamid. Bin Hamid’s last name is misspelled in the cable as “bin Ahmed.”
The meeting is remarkable not only in light of the evidence of collusion between Libya Shield and Salafist groups like Ansar al-Shariah. It is also remarkable in light of the fact that an unclassified U.S. government report identifies bin Hamid as possibly the head of the al-Qaida network in Libya and comes to the conclusion that his Libya Shield Brigade is one of the main vectors of al-Qaida “infiltration” of the country. The report was completed in August.
Patrick Haimzadeh is skeptical about any direct al-Qaida involvement in Libya. As he puts it, at this point al-Qaida is, in any case, essentially just a “brand-name, like Coca-Cola.” But he stresses that there is a real “ideological convergence” between the Libyan militias and al-Qaida.
He notes, moreover, that many of the militia members are veterans of al-Qaida-led insurgencies against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Haimzadeh accuses Western powers of having “opened a Pandora’s box” by arming the militias during last year’s anti-Gadhafi uprising.
Given the dependence of the Libyan government upon the militias and the presence of Salafists at the interior of the official security apparatus itself, Haimzadeh is doubtful that the government can take effective steps against allegedly “rogue” Salafist militias.
He describes the arrests announced by Libyan authorities in the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks as “pseudo-measures” designed “to please the American government.”
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.