In Libya, al-Qaida so far has done a better job than their ISIS-linked counterparts as it has strong connections between local armed groups, political parties and foreign actors. These connections have been renewed across succeeding generations and many of the powerful revolutionary militias that formed during the 2011 uprisings against the regime of Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi had strong links to global jihadi networks. One of the prominent groups linked to al-Qaeda in Libya was the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), also known as Al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya, involved in the Libyan Civil War as member of the armed coalition Libya Shield Force and then part of the National Transitional Council after Gadhafi’s overthrown in 2011. The LIFG was founded in 1995 by Libyans who had fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. It aims to establish an Islamic state in Libya and views the Gadhafi Government as oppressive. The group claimed responsibility for a failed assassination attempt against Gaddafi in February 1996, which was in part funded by MI6 according to David Shayler, and engaged Libyan security forces in armed clashes during the mid-to-late 1990s. The LIFG links to Al-Qaeda hail from Afghanistan, where hundreds joined Al-Qaeda. High ranking LIFG operatives inside Al-Qaeda, are the leader of the insurgency Abdel-Hakim Belhadj, and the recently killed Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, who was killed in a CIA drone strike, and Al-Qaeda’s Abu Yahya al-Libi. The Telegraph also revealed that senior Al Qaeda members Abu Yahya al-Libi and Abu Laith al-Libi were LIFG members. One of al-Qaeda’s most senior members, Atiyah Abdul-Rahman, was purportedly a member of LIFG as well.
Another group linked to al-Qaeda is Ansar al-Sharia Libya (ASL) which was able to take advantage of the insecurity, instability and lack of institutions that has plagued Libya since 2014, making them able to establish jihadi statelets in several locations. They achieved this for the most part by tapping into existing local power structures, focusing on local concerns. Their narrative always used the political division in the north-African proposing themselves as a legitimate actor to protect democracy and civil state from the possibility of military State, representing the LNA commander Khalifa Haftar as the new dictator. Many members of ASL and al-Qaeda still be members of Tripoli armed groups aligned with UN backed Government of National Accord (GNA) fighting today against Haftar in southern Tripoli outskirts. ASL also sought to make itself more attractive by rebranding itself as a local group with local interests, Ansar al-Sharia removed ‘brigade’ from its name in order to present itself as a movement rather than an armed militia, consistently denied any links with al-Qaida, and championed local struggles. The most important example of this is ASL’s participation in the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC), a coalition of powerful Islamist militias primarily formed as a response to the anti-Islamist Operation Dignity launched in May 2014 in Benghazi by the Libyan Army led by general Khalifa Haftar.
Thanks to their international links, especially in Turkey and Qatar, where many leaders of al-Qaeda are living today, the group was able to collect funds in favour of humanitarian causes that actually hid military operations and terrorist activities, attracting to them thousands of Libyan adolescents ready to fight for money more than for the extremist ideology. Al-Qaeda linked groups in Libya also received a continued logistic and weapons support from outside. ‘Nordic Monitor’ revealed last January a series of classified intelligence documents showing how the jihadist Ben Ali group led by Abdaladim Ali Mossa Ben Ali, a Libyan citizen with close ties to al‐Qaeda, took part in the transfer of foreign fighters and weapons from Libya to Syria through Turkey. A Turkish police intelligence report, drafted for internal circulation, also exposed close links between the members of Libyan jihadist Ben Ali group and then-Prime Minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Group leader Ben Ali worked closely with Fedaa Majzoub, who was in touch with Erdogan’s then-chief advisors İbrahim Kalın – now presidential spokesperson – and Sefer Turan -now chief presidential advisor – while arranging the movement of foreign fighters and the supplying of weapons. Al-Qaeda in Libya killed thousands and thousands of Libyan citizens conducting attacks against State institutions included oil installations and terminals, banks, airports, universities, police stations and military base in the attempt to prolong the chaos and obstruct the political process toward stability.
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