Home inContext Will al-Qaeda Hijack Libya’s Revolution?

Will al-Qaeda Hijack Libya’s Revolution?

Erin Dwyer

Three months after the Libyan rebels brought down Moammar Qaddafi, a report released in January warns policymakers of the rising influence of al-Qaeda in a post-Qaddafi Libya rife with power vacuum opportunities. Titled “A View to Extremist Currents in Libya,” the report emphasizes that some of the Libyan operatives that fought Qaddafi have ties to al-Qaeda, and that al-Qaeda is deeply interested in Libya for its close proximity to Egypt and alleged power to “affect the Jihadist political situation” there.

Specifically, the report takes a close look at the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). Though officially disbanded in 2010, former LIFG members who subscribe to the al-Qaeda ideology, such as Abd al-Hakim Belhadj, are excelling in the post-Qaddafi Libyan political and military leadership. Indeed, the LIFG’s roots can be traced back to the 1980’s alongside Osama bin Laden as he fought the Soviets in Afghanistan. Because of its close ties to al-Qaeda, the LIFG was considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., and the CIA declared it an, “immediate threat… [that] has benefited from al-Qaeda links.”

Leader of Libya’s Tripoli Military Council, Abd al-Hakim Belhadj.

Belhadj, credited as being the founder of the LIFG, is also the leader of the Tripoli Military Council — Libya’s interim government — and is largely considered one of the most powerful and influential militia commanders in Libya. Rebels fear that Islamic extremists with histories similar to Belhadj now have the ability to hijack the revolution — a plausible belief according to U.S. intelligence agencies, who have unveiled strategies on Internet forums by some of the 1,000 jihadists covertly operating in Libya to convert the country into an Islamic state ruled by Shariah law.

While policymakers and analysts continue to follow the events in Libya and al-Qaeda’s intentions in the North African state, one thing is for sure—al-Qaeda’s endorsement of the “Arab Spring” uprisings in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya illustrates that the terrorist movement may seek to use the current turmoil to advance its jihadist and anti-Western agenda.