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Monday, September 5, 2011

The Tripoli Massacres: A Rebel Terrorist Maestro?

September 5, 2011

This post in The Tripoli Massacres series considers a spooky line of thought about who is in charge of rebel operations in the capitol. There's a high likelihood that these concerns are in reality baseless, but the chance of the alternative is high enough that I feel they're worth tracing out.

Standard Concerns
Newsweek's sort of news site, The Daily Beast, reported on September 2 regarding the rebel TNC's new military chief for the Tripoli takeover, Abdel Hakim Blhaj.
Even some Libyans are worried by Abdel Hakim Belhaj. It’s not that his revolutionary credentials are anything less than impeccable. When victorious rebel forces blasted through the gates at Muammar Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, the 45-year-old commander who led the charge was none other than Belhaj. As a battle-hardened veteran, he had organized and trained many of those rebel fighters in Libya’s western mountains. And now the rebels’ National Transitional Council (NTC) has accepted him as head of the newly created Tripoli Military Council, with control of some 8,000 troops, the biggest fighting force in Libya.

The trouble is that Belhaj’s record as a Gaddafi adversary just might be too impressive. Belhaj is a founding member and former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which is listed by both the U.S. State Department and the British Home Office as an international terrorist organization. Several past or present LIFG members have held prominent positions in al Qaeda, including operations chief Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, who was recently killed in a CIA drone attack. The LIFG is hardly Libya’s only militant Islamist force, but it’s easily the biggest and very possibly the most dangerous.

But Belhaj’s claims of innocence haven’t quelled the world’s fears about what he and his fellow Islamists might do. No one is sure how strong they are or whether they’re plotting to seize power. [...] There’s no need to worry, Belhaj insists: “Our goal is to have a free civilian government. It’s something we’ve never had in more than 40 years.”
Abdel Hakim Belhaj talks strategy.
Photo: Francois Mori / AP
As we can see, the prevailing oncern is that Mr. Belhaj will use his power, along with others, to seize control and make Libya into a dangerous anti-Western outpost. He harbors understandable anger over his CIA-MI6 capture in Southeast Asia in 2004. He was interrogated, injected with truth serum, and tortured, he says. He and his information were then handed over to the Libyans, who eventually freed him (along with others like Abdel Hakim al-Hassadi and Sufyan bin Qumu from Dernah) and are now paying the price.

But for the Westerners, he's venting instead of holding it in, which is a good sign. According to the Guardian, he's demanded an apology, after reading secret documents about his hand-over that his troops have found in Tripoli.

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group Balhaj was once the "emir" of has now, after negotiations with Tripoli and "rehabilitation" of many memebrs, formally sworn off violent Jihad in favor of democratic pursuit of an Islamist state. This seems to have applied to Belhaji, once the LIFG's "emir" - Asharq Alawsat English reported on August 25 "he was released in Libya in 2008, and announced his renunciation of violence the following year." But now he's taken up violence again, and so have they, while changing the name (by dropping "fighting" now that they are again, and going for what they had just been, the Libyan Islamic Movement).

But this relapse is only for within Libya. He says the LIFG was never an international Islamist group, with no gripe against other religions and no mission of global Jihad, just Libyan Jihad for an Islamist state with an emir overseeing it all. Yet he fought with bin Laden's people in Afghanistan in the 1980s and was fighting with someone in Southeast Asia when "arrested in Afghanistan and Malaysia in 2004," according to Asharq Alwasat.

The possible al Qaeda link is more troubling than the clear LIFG one. Their leader Ayman al-Zawahiri now calling for Libyan rebels, some of them former members of the network, to turn their wrath on NATO forces. But as far as I can tell, there's no direct evidence yet that contradict's Balhaj's assertion that he was himself never a member.

My concern at the moment is not a terrorist takeover of Libya's new government, or even some anti-West militancy, now or later. These things are entirely possible, but somewhat unlikely to become a huge problem. Rather, I'm concerned with what tactics a former Afghan Mujahed and relapsed Jihadist, flushed with confidence of NTC and NATO support, will use against the people of Tripoli.

The Yugoslavia Precedent: False-Flagging for Foreign Friends
Back in the late 1990s, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) of ethnic Albanians sought by violence to separate tiny Kosovo from the crumbling Yugoslavian federation. Even NATO acknowledged at one point that KLA was "the main initiator of the violence" in Kosovo and that it had "launched what appears to be a deliberate campaign of provocation" in its initial and brutal attacks on Serbian civilians in Kosovo. [wikipedia] But eventually, NATO would side their air power with the aggressors, provoked by perceived atrocities to counter Yugoslavia's response to the provocation.

The KLA was supported in this effort by western intel agencies and at the same time famously funded, supported, and staffed by the nascent al Qaeda. As for what they did with this help, the BBC Panorama program (transcript) passed on some interesting tidbits.
Their desperate calculation was to draw the world into Kosovo's feud.

"The more civilians were killed, the chances of international intervention became bigger, and the KLA of course realised that. There was this foreign diplomat who once told me 'Look unless you pass the quota of five thousand deaths you'll never have anybody permanently present in Kosovo from the foreign diplomacy."
Is the talk of dead civilians merely more of the proposed provocation of real responses, or were they willing to fake Serb attrocities themselves? Consider the following episode, related at Emperor's Clothes:
One particular story was repeated often: Albanian refugees would be interviewed and they would say masked Serbian policemen had forced them to leave their homes.

The Serbian forces denied the charge. Now, the Serbs could have been telling the truth, and they could have been lying, but one thing is for sure: they did not want the world to believe Serbian policemen were doing these things, hence the denial.

That being the case - why did they wear both Serbian police uniforms and masks? Given the uniforms, what good could the masks do?
On December 3, 1999, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that UN police and KFOR [that is, NATO] troops found illegal weapons, KLA uniforms, and Serb police uniforms in a house "inhabited by members of the future Kosovo Protection Corps" [the successor to the supposedly-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army or KLA].
Panorama gave some context why such apparent ruses worked with the NATO bloc. "The western world was still haunted by a profound collective guilt: it knew it had waited too long to intervene in Bosnia." And as for that earlier war in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina, as it too tried to break off from Yugoslavia in the early-mid 1990s, we can see similar patterns at work.

Yosef Bodiansky and Vaughn S. Forrest wrote in 1992 for a U.S. congressional committee that Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and other groups had partnered with the Bosnian Muslims, making Bosnia at that time, to the authors, "Iran's European springboard." The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command (PFLP-GC), whose crime of destroying Pan Am 103 was blamed on Libya, "had networks and offices in Yugoslavia that also housed HizbAllah operatives," the report noted.

Whether al Qaeda, KLA, LIFG, or these others, anyone can realize the power of using their own brutality against their enemies (and the enemies of the NATO bloc). Of special interest is the following:
The Iranians had argued that before any escalation in the fighting could take place, it was imperative to either gain the sympathies of the West or, at the least, to ensure that there existed a legitimate excuse that would enable the presentation of any action undertaken by Muslim forces as justifying revenge for Serbian atrocities.

To that end, beginning in May 1992, a special group of Bosnian Muslim forces, many of whom had served with Islamist terrorist organizations, began committing a series of atrocities, including "some of the worst recent killings," against Muslim civilians in Sarajevo "as a propaganda ploy to win world sympathy and military intervention." For example, around June 20, Serbian troops besieging Sarajevo engaged a detachment of Muslim special forces dressed in Serbian uniforms who were on their way to attack the Muslim sector from within the Serbian lines. Such an attack, if successful, would have been attributed to the Serbs. As it was, some of these Muslims troops were killed in the brief encounter and a few were captured.

Moreover, a UN investigation concluded that several key events, mostly strikes against civilians, that had galvanized public opinion and governments in the West to take bolder action in Bosnia-Hercegovina, were in fact "staged" for the Western media by the Muslims themselves in order to dramatize the city's plight. Investigations by the UN and other military experts count among these self-inflicted actions the "bombing of the bread queue" (May 27), the "shelling" of Douglas Hurd's visit (July 17), the "explosion in the cemetery" (August 4), and the killing of ABC producer David Kaplan (August 13). In all these cases, Serbian forces were out of range, and the weapons actually used against the victims were not those claimed by the Bosnian authorities and the Western media.
It worked. Twice NATO bombed Yugoslavia and "the civilized world" demanded the ouster of a war criminal dictator with genocidal intentions. As they (had us) perceived it, anyway. Would they (have us) be burned by such murderous trickery again? Given the chance, yes.

Mountain Practice, Urban Execution
This Libyan Civil War has seen a steady stream of questionable incidents like these, brutal and logic-free attacks, real or "reported," on civilians, women, children, and the elderly, that demonstrate again and again why Gaddafi must go. Many of these are covered elsewhere at this site, but for now my focus is on the theater Mr. Belhaj worked before being appointed to run the invasion of the capitol.

The Daily Beast mentioned how Mr. Belhaj "organized and trained" his forces in the Nafusah (western) mountains, south and west of Tripoli. The rebels there are based in their stronghold of Az Zawiyah, later spreading control to other towns in all directions as NATO steadily ground down their opposition. By training and by practice, the rebels there might have been learning more than classic combat techniques.

The Nafusah region has witnessed at least two known but unsolved massacres in recent months, during the rebel expansion. First, six government soldiers, one beheaded, were found in a water basin by American journalist C.J. Chivers in early July. This was just outside Qawalish, which rebel forces had just taken, capturing many black men, suspected mercenaries, along the way. The rebels insisted Gaddafi's men had dumped their own murdered soldiers in the well, but Chivers and most everyone else remained unconvinced.

Then on August 5 a video surfaced of a mass grave of 34 victims dumped in what seems to be one of two tree farms also just outside Qawalish. The victims here are a hodge-podge: about 50% are black suspect mercenary types, with a few possible soldiers, and several local  civilians, Arab and Black, in traditional clothes, some apparently just teenage boys. This time, the rebels took the initiative, releasing the video through their conduits with a built-in claim they were again government victims, since the video was found on a captured soldier's mobile phones (they say).

The rebel violence had become known in the region to the point that when Qawalish fell, the civilians fled en masse, preferring not to be around as the "Freedom Fighters" liberated them. The military stayed and largely died, and as the tree farm mass grave suggests, some of the locals also weren't quick enough. Was Mr. Belhaj training his forces how to slaughter their captives, military and civilian, and pin the blame on their enemies?

After leading his forces north through several other cities to az Zawiyah and then Tripoli, commander Balhaj finally led the attack on the Bab al-Aziziya compund, and the surrounding holdout neighborhood of Abu Salim on August 25. Just outside the gates of Gaddafi's stronghold were discovered twelve bound and executed black men, long dead and trucked in just to dump there, the maggots and advanced decay suggest. It was blamed by rebels on Gaddafi's men, and when the rot is noticed, people might buy that, if they presume they were killed in Tripoli well before the rebels got there.

Right next to those old corpses, a medical tent where five loyalists, clearly civilians, plus about seven others nearby, were slaughtered freshly at some point on or near August 25. There's no specific blame yet, but it stands to reason whoever planted the black men there offed these witnesses, apparently by cutting their throats.

At the same time, Abu Salim trauma hospital, about one km south, had its staff just disappear around the time rebels took it over, blood spatters consistent with a head shots appeared on the floor, and a nearby canal suddenly hosted at least one floating doctor (see link). The "hospital" was then turned to a morgue, stuffed with over 100 dead bodies, primarily black men by the look of it, and some wounded. One body dumped outside, discolored with rot, has the flesh stripped from its forearm, elbow to wrist.

17 bodies, said to be of rebel supporters killed by the government, turned up in a morgue, hands and feet disfigured with torture. One body at least with eyes gouged out has been found. About 18 decaying bodies were found by a dry river bed nearby, a pile of at least five of them partly burned.

Several prisons wound up hosting blasted prisoners all of a sudden as rebels took them over, and up to 153 people, suspected rebel supporters it's said, were gunned down and blown up with grenades by the Khamis brigade in a shed near their HQ. 53 of the bodies were found charred to anonymity inside the shed on August 26 or 27, as the rebels allowed outsiders to have a look at the fleeing regime's brutality.

Someone is taking some vile idea to a bit of an extreme here.

A Cleansing Dialectic? 
The rebels have two main problems vis-a-vis the West's liberal vision they're expected to fulfill in Libya. There's the Gaddafi regime and its scattered loyalists on the one hand, and the hardcore Islamists in their own ranks on the other.

The Islamists will be sidelined eventually, but until now they've been pandered to with the NTC promise of Islamic Sharia law in Libya, in return for their help in the fighting. They have been useful, full of zeal and courage, willing to be martyred, and willing to commit unspeakable horrors on their enemies, sowing terror in their path, causing people to flee whole cities

Now I think the new rebel regime has decided to pit these two problems against each other, to use the Islamists against the loyalists and hope they kill each other off to some extent. Such a purgative bloodbath might only be capable in a place as deep and wide as Tripoli, and beyond that there's the looming battles for Sirte, Sabha, and other holdout cities providing more battlegrounds to smash these problems together.


  1. Fine story, this is actually really a good clue.
    The simple (and probably only) reason why Belhadj never could be an al-Qaida member is, that he was imprisoned when the LIFG joined the network in November 2007.


    But he had to leave Afghanistan after the US.-invasion in 2001 - and he was probably not there for holydays. CNN interviewed him about that two days ago:


    I do completely agree about the parallels to the Kosovo war, that's a good point. But my feeling is, that the influence of the islamist is bigger than you expect. I think it's clear that they played the main role at the beginning of the armed uprising and I think they care not to loose control since that. Is there any military commander within the rebels forces who was not in the LIFG before? I don't know, but I think not. Fatah Younis was not, but that was most probably the reason, why he had to disapear. At least if we trust his fellow officers:


    I think the NTC has no power at all without the former LIFG fighters. And these guys know of course, that their western allies and parts of the NTC wants to sideline them one day, so they are surely prepared. I think already the killing of Fatah Younis war a part of these preparations.
    I don't know who finally will be the others usefull idiots - The LIFG or the NATO? Both sides probably think they are smart enough to win the game. The loosers are in any case the people of Libya.

  2. Thanks again for the great job you're doing here once again. Im going to France for two weeks holiday now, so I probably will not have much opportunity to follow or give any assistance.
    If I'm not brainwashed by the mass media in the meantime, I will be glad to read your further postings then;)

  3. I might well be under-estimating the danger of an extremist takeover. In pert, it's to be different, to snub the "standard concerns." If I'm proven wrong, well, that's just another problem this goddamn war has created.

    France is lovely in spots. You should go and enjoy. But before you do, if you haven't already, you should look at the new photo (the lower one of the hospital floor) I added to the trauma hospital post. What do you make of that? Comment there, not here, if you have any immediate thoughts.


  4. More about the LIFG here in this 2009 blogpost ...which lists at least 9 prominent LIFG members in the UK. The writer is mistaken in his speculations about member AF, subject to a control order (where evidence is too sensitive to come to court) although they are the same age (AF and Faraj Faraj Hassan Al-Saadi (identified as AS subsequently)
    The control order was subsequently lifted on AS at the end of 2009.
    Subsequently, the plot thickens, because after a protest outside the US embassy, AS mysteriously died 12 hours later on 16 August 2010 in a motorcycle (a black Kawasaki ZX6R Ninja as here!) crash near his home. Faraj also had a VW Golf at some stage, as documented here when another Libyan Ziyad Ali Hashem had his control order revoked in January 2010, The circumstances to my eye were odd to say the least...within seconds two doctors, one with a stethoscope (!) were on the scene. The press photo shows no damage to the car. A man with a rare muslim sounding name Mohamed or Mohammad Fumoule, was due to come to trial in June 2011 at Barnet, but hasn't and I don't see any report of the inquest being reopened. a local press report is here , the body was apparently returned to Libya and there is YouTube coverage of the victim (!) See this blogpost from Money Jihad, 18 November 2010 where the blogger writes "I always take a digital camera to funerals so I can document just how dead my friends and relatives are. Then I like to publish the video online so that everybody, including sanctioning authorities, also know about the death. It’s all perfectly normal and raises no eyebrows.

    It’s remarkable how quickly Treasury verified the death–presumably obtaining a copy of the the police report and death certificate from British authorities first–and delisted Hassan in only one month. That’s quicker than an average American can obtain a passport!

    it is all very strange. See also this article,in Crescent Magazine by Fahad Ansari, British hyprocisy over Libyan refugees. I don't see any online judgement on DD. DD was namechecked in this September 4 2011 article,captured in a thread, on Belhadj and the Madrid bombings. (translation from original Spanish article)
    Certainly, from his biography in the judgment of the control order lifting of AS had made some interesting contacts in some interesting countries.


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