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Qaddafi vs. Reality

1:41 PM, Mar 2, 2011 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi just can’t accept the fact that anyone other than al Qaeda wants him gone. CNN reports:

Meanwhile, in another lengthy, rambling speech to supporters, [Qaddafi] continued to claim that there are no peaceful Libyan protests, only al Qaeda-backed efforts to tear the country apart. In the remarks, carried on state television, [Qaddafi] blamed the problems on former prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who were released to Libya and then freed by Libyan authorities after they pledged to reform. He said they turned out to be members of al Qaeda sleeper cells. He insisted his country is "stopping al Qaeda from flourishing," and stopping Osama bin Laden from moving into North Africa.

The only part of Qaddafi’s rant that we know is true is the part about his government releasing ex-Guantanamo detainees. In 2010, the Libyan government cut a deal with Islamist extremists and terrorists as part of a reconciliation effort. Dozens were released from prison, including at least one former Gitmo detainee.

That said, there is no evidence that former Gitmo detainees are leading the charge in Libya. And no one should take the word of a raving madman on this or any other point. Qaddafi’s claim is nothing more than self-serving propaganda. Qaddafi has every incentive to portray this fight as one between his regime and the West’s number one antagonist, al Qaeda. We know that is not true and the media’s reporting on the situation has appropriately cast a skeptical eye on everything Qaddafi says.

And you’ll notice that not once throughout Qaddafi’s various diatribes has he mentioned the fact that he once hired al Qaeda to assassinate Saudi crown prince Abdullah (a plot that was foiled).

Last week, another Libyan official made claims similar to Qaddafi’s, saying that a former Gitmo detainee set up an Islamic emirate in eastern Libya. Khaled Khaim, Libya’s deputy foreign minister, claimed: “Al-Qaeda has established an emirate in Derna led by Abdelkarim al-Hasadi, a former Guantanamo detainee.”

There is no independent evidence that this is true either. It is not even clear which former Gitmo detainee Khaim was referring to as the name “Abdelkarim al-Hasadi” doesn’t match the name of any Libyan ever transferred from Gitmo. (It is possible that a former detainee changed his name, as Gitmo alumni who rejoin the jihad frequently do. But there is no unbiased evidence demonstrating that is the case here.) Al Jazeera also quoted someone named “Abdul Hakeem Al Hasadi” as denying Khaim’s charge, but we can’t be sure who he is either as, again, his name doesn’t match that of any former Gitmo detainee.

Is it possible that former Gitmo detainees may return to jihad in Libya? It certainly is, as former detainees have returned to the fight all over the world. But there is no reason to believe that is the case right now.

And while al Qaeda, or its affiliates, may play some role in the violence in Libya, Osama bin Laden quite obviously did not start this fight, nor is he leading it now.

All of that said, Libya does have an established al Qaeda presence. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a known al Qaeda affiliate, targeted Qaddafi for years. What the LIFG or any other al Qaeda-affiliated parties make of the situation in Libya, however, remains to be seen.

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. 

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