For self-serving reasons, Col. Muammar Qaddafi has attempted to play up al Qaeda’s role in the Libyan opposition, but in so doing he has made bizarre claims (e.g., Osama bin Laden and drugs are manipulating the rebels). He has also made other allegations that are demonstrably false. For instance, Qaddafi and other Libyan officials have claimed that a former Guantanamo detainee named Abdul Hakim al Hasadi has set up an Islamic emirate in eastern Libya.
Al Hasadi has set up a base of operations in Derna. There’s just one problem: Abdul Hakim al Hasadi was never held at Guantanamo. In his interviews with Western publications, Al Hasadi has denied that he was held at Gitmo. And while that is not necessarily dispositive in and of itself, there is no record of his detention at Gitmo in any of the declassified files that have been produced and released from the military detention facility.
This doesn’t mean that al Hasadi, who says he is in charge of defending Derna, a known hotbed for Islamic extremism in eastern Libya, is necessarily a benign actor, however.
In a recent interview with Il Sole, an Italian publication, al Hasadi explained: “I have never been to Guantanamo. I was captured in 2002 in Peshawar in Pakistan, while I was returning from Afghanistan where I fought against the foreign invasion. I was handed over to the Americans, and held for a few months in Islamabad, delivered to Libya, and released in 2008.”
So, by his own account, al Hasadi joined the jihad in Afghanistan. There’s more. Il Sole asked al Hasadi about the jihadists sent from Iraq to Libya to fight.
“I sent over about 25,” al Hasadi told Il Sole‘s reporter. “Some came back, and today are on the Ajdabiya front; they are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists. I condemn the September 11 attacks, and attacks against innocent civilians in general. But the members of al Qaeda are also good Muslims, and are fighting against the invader.”
This doesn’t inspire confidence. While dismissing his ties to al Qaeda and condemning the September 11 attacks, al Hasadi concedes that he fought in Afghanistan, sent 25 more jihadists to fight in Iraq, and calls al Qaeda members “good Muslims.” And as John Rosenthal noted at Pajamas Media a few days ago, al Hasadi praised Osama bin Laden’s “good points” during an interview with The New York Times.
There is a temptation to see Libya through the “dictator vs. al Qaeda” or “al Qaeda vs. dictator” prism. Qaddafi certainly wants the West to view the conflict that way.
It is more complicated than that, and there is no reason to believe that Qaddafi’s opposition is primarily jihadist/Islamist in nature. That said, according to The Los Angeles Times, the US intelligence community claims that it “has found no organized presence of Al Qaeda or its allies among the Libyan opposition.”
But how can the intelligence community dismiss out of hand the possibility that men such al Hasadi, who may be a member of the Libyan Fighting Islamic Group (a known al Qaeda affiliate), are not agents of al Qaeda or like-minded jihadist organizations? Given al Hasadi’s admitted jihadist ties and double-speak on al Qaeda, we cannot dismiss the possibility.