John Rosenthal is a European-based journalist covering EU politics and transatlantic security issues. He is fluent in German and French and reads altogether five European languages apart from his native English. He created and edited the international news translation program of the news site World Politics Review, and he has been a regular contributor to such publications as Policy Review, World Affairs, the Weekly Standard and National Review Online. HisMore ↓Less ↑
While Obama administration sources continue to suggest that the Sept. 11 anti-American attacks in Benghazi were the work of a “rogue” Libyan militia with links to al-Qaida, a new French documentary reveals just how thoroughly and openly the mainstream of last year’s Libyan rebellion was inspired by al-Qaida and its founder, Osama bin Laden.
Filmmaker Kamal Redouani’s “The Arab Spring: Springboard for Radicals?” was first aired in late October on the French pay channel Canal+ and was recently rebroadcast by the Belgian public broadcaster RTBF.
The film documents the resurgence of radical Islamic forces in three of the main countries of the so-called Arab Spring – Tunisia, Libya and Syria – as well as in Lebanon.
As part of the film, Redouani traveled to the Libyan city of Derna, some 150 miles east of Benghazi. While Benghazi was the political capital of last year’s rebellion against the rule of Moammar Gadhafi, Derna was in the many ways the military epicenter of the rebellion. It was in Derna that a leading rebel commander by the name of Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi is known to have assembled a battalion of some thousand rebel fighters in the early days of the rebellion.
Al-Hasadi was commonly described in American publications, like the New York Times, as the rebel commander in charge of the “defense” of Derna. The description is odd, since Derna was well behind the frontlines for the entirety of the conflict.
The many European reporters who crossed paths with al-Hasadi during the war discovered a different reality: the rebel commander was using Derna as the staging grounds for offensive forays further to the West. On at least two occasions, for instance, al-Hasadi’s forces seized control of the strategic coastal town of Ajdabiya – namely, after NATO bombing had driven back Gadhafi-loyalist Libyan army troops.
According to Kamal Redouani, Derna is today run by al-Hasadi and his family as an Islamic emirate. On arriving at the outskirts of Derna, Redouani and his team were stopped at a roadblock by armed men making sure that no alcohol or unveiled women entered the city.
Redouani was accompanied into town by none other than Ahmed al-Hasadi, one of Abdul-Hakim’s brothers. Redouani was prohibited from speaking to any women and noted that all the women he saw in Derna were wearing the niqab: a facial veil that merely leaves a slit for the wearer’s eyes.
Ahmed al-Hasadi explained to Redouani that the population of Derna is famous for its piety and, furthermore, that the small city of just over 100,000 inhabitants is the “cradle of jihad.”
As Kamal Redouani puts it, “the political and religious reference point for the al-Hasadi family is the founder of al-Qaida,” Osama bin Laden. As proof, he offers an interview with the Ahmed’s and Abdul-Hakim’s younger brother, Ashraf. Asked what he thinks of bin Laden, Ashraf replies that bin Laden is an “extraordinary person, a real jihadist and a real resistance fighter.” Ashraf notes, moreover, that “without September 11, there would not have been any revolution in the Arab world.”
There is no need to wonder whether Ashraf’s more famous elder brother, Abdul-Hakim, agrees with these sentiments. Already in April 2011, in speaking with Sara Daniel of the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, al-Hasadi described bin Laden and current al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri as “great heroes of the Ummah [the Islamic community].”
He never was “lucky enough” to fight alongside bin Laden, al-Hasadi explained, but he had frequently spent time with al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan. Asked about the aerial support that his forces were at the time receiving from NATO, al-Hasadi replied, “When a man is drowning, he’ll reach out to anyone, even to the devil.”
It is notable that a recent New York Times report portrays al-Hasadi as a moderate in contrast to Sufian bin Qumu, another Derna-based jihadist veteran. Bin Qumu’s name has been repeatedly evoked by the mainstream media in connection with the Benghazi attacks.
But many far more prominent Libyan militia leaders have ties to Islamic extremism that are at least equally clear. These include both al-Hasadi and Wisam bin Hamid, the leader of Deraa Libya or “Libya Shield,” nowadays the most powerful of the Eastern Libyan militias.
Libya Shield operates under the authority of the Libyan ministry of defense. As shown in a prior WND report, its units are known to fly the black flag of jihad. According to a biography that appears in Arabic on the Islamist website al-Fetn.com, Wisam bin Hamid is a veteran of jihad in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
According to the same al-Fetn.com post, in late October 2011 bin Hamid became the head of a newly formed “supreme board of the [Libyan] mujahideen.” In this capacity, he is reported to have declared that the application of the Shariah is a “red line” and that the Libyan mujahideen would “not cede one rule of it.” He also vowed that the mujahideen would use their weapons to protect Libyans from “foreign machinations.”
An unclassified U.S. diplomatic cable, which was released by the House Oversight Committee, shows that U.S. officials met with bin Hamid in Benghazi only two days before the Benghazi attacks. (Bin Hamid is misidentified in the cable as Wisam “bin Ahmed.”) Administration officials and Democratic members of Congress have criticized committee chair Darrell Issa for releasing Benghazi-related diplomatic cables without redacting the names of Libyans who met with U.S. officials. The ostensible grounds for their criticism is that the publication of the Libyans’ names could put them at risk of attack from radical groups.