Libyan Rebel Commander Says His Fighters Have Al-Qaeda Links

According to Libyan rebel leader Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, jihadists who fought against the U.S. in Iraq are now fighting with U.S.-supported Libyan rebels seeking to topple  Muammar Gadhafi’s regime. The Daily Telegraph reports:

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, Mr al-Hasidi admitted that he had recruited “around 25” men from the Derna area in eastern Libya to fight against coalition troops in Iraq. Some of them, he said, are “today are on the front lines in Adjabiya”.

Al-Hasidi says that he fought against coalition forces in Afghanistan in the early days of the “foreign invasion” as he calls it. But that stint was cut short when he was “captured in 2002 in Peshwar, in Pakistan.” He was then handed over to the U.S. and held in Libya. In 2008, he was released. Al-Hasidi also said that at the time, he recruited about 25 Libyans to fight against the U.S. in Iraq.

These days, al-Hasidi is commanding a group of rebels in Libya who have al Qaeda ties. Libyan rebels have U.S. and coalition support in that country.

Al-Hasidi says that his group of Libyan rebel fighters “are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists.” He also says that “members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader.” The Telegraph reports that al-Qaeda has openly supported the Libyan rebellion “which it said would lead to the imposition of ‘the stage of Islam’ in the country.”

The Daily Telegraph notes al-Hasidi’s involvement in another Islamist organization, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group:

US and British government sources said Mr al-Hasidi was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, or LIFG, which killed dozens of Libyan troops in guerrilla attacks around Derna and Benghazi in 1995 and 1996.

Even though the LIFG is not part of the al-Qaeda organisation, the United States military’s West Point academy has said the two share an “increasingly co-operative relationship”. In 2007, documents captured by allied forces from the town of Sinjar, showed LIFG emmbers made up the second-largest cohort of foreign fighters in Iraq, after Saudi Arabia.

Byron York’s analysis over at The Washington Examiner is not to be missed:

There is no doubt that the rebels associated with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group are violent extremists.  The Combating Terrorism Center Report found that the Libyans, along with Moroccans, were more likely than others to become suicide bombers once they were in Iraq.  The Sinjar records, plus political developments in the 2007 time period, “suggest that Libyan factions (primarily the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) are increasingly important in al Qaeda,” the report says.

Now, it is not clear what portion of the Libyan rebels, who enjoy the backing and assistance of the United States military, have been associated with al Qaeda and attacks on the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  That one reason critics of the Libya war say that the U.S.-led coalition doesn’t really know who it’s fighting for. But we may learn more in the future, especially if the rebels prevail and some former jihadis find themselves running Libya, courtesy of the United States.