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Ominous: al Qaeda in Libya



LibyaAQI550.jpg

A disturbing sight, the black flag of al Qaeda was spotted recently flying above a government building in Benghazi:

The flag, complete with Arabic script reading "there is no God but Allah" and full moon underneath, was seen flying above the Benghazi courthouse building, considered to be the seat of the revolution, according to the news website Vice.com.

The flag was said to be flying over the building alongside the Libyan national flag but the National Transitional Council has denied that it was responsible.

Vice.com also reported that Islamists had been seen driving around the city's streets, waving the Al Qaeda flag from their cars and shouting "Islamiya, Islamiya! No East, nor West".

The revelation came just days after it emerged that rebels in Libya have imposed Sharia law in the some parts of country since seizing power.

Critics of the Obama Administration's policy in Libya have been quick to warn that the country will become a staging ground for Islamic radicals in the tumult following Qaddafi's removal, while Westerners with a more sanguine view of the revolution, and even some Libyan clerics, assert (or complain) that the movement is dominated by secularists.

Captured records by Iraqi insurgents document that in the past a disproportionate number of Libyans were funnelled via Syrian ratlines into Iraq to fight for al Qaeda. And while the Benghazi pictures are indistinct, the banner specifically appears to have a globe under the Islamic script, which was a characteristic of the flag of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Truth be told, I'm not sure which strains of Islam will come to dominate the political discourse in Libya, and I think unequivocal assertions from all quarters are premature. Some critics who assert that declarations about the role of religion by Libya's new politicians are proof radicalism will dominate are overgeneralizing. But an empowerment of radicals has always been the concern posed by an unshackled Middle East. Fareed Zakaria laid out the circumstances well in The Future of Freedom: When you combine a massive youth bulge with repressive regimes that can squelch every institution but one - the mosque - the politics of protest gravitate toward Islam.

I wouldn't argue that the threat is a sufficient rationale for supporting genocidal, dictatorial regimes. But the risk, exemplified by the flag of al Qaeda flying over a courthouse, is a real one that bears serious scrutiny. And the National Transitional Council of Libya should work to scrub the revolution's ranks of those swearing fealty to the ideology of al Qaeda, especially its bloodthirsty Iraq branch, lest both NATO Reaper drones and al Qaeda's long knives be retasked to fellow travelers.



READER COMMENTS: "Ominous: al Qaeda in Libya "

Posted by Graham at November 1, 2011 2:11 PM ET:

I'd like to crush this rumor before it gets out of control. That flag was put up there by a small group of Islamists and removed the same day. Here's a bunch of pictures from the court house http://www.flickr.com/photos/64498313@N05/sets/72157628012857508/show/

Posted by Bill Ardolino at November 1, 2011 2:24 PM ET:

Graham -

Your concerns are noted, and some individuals will (undoubtedly are) blow(ing) this out of proportion.

But the facts remain that the flag was flown (not to mention handy), Libya was a font of AQ in Iraq recruits, and some undoubtedly directed their energies into the Libyan revolution.

It bears watching how well the Libyan transitional government will continue to deal with any radical groups who try to assert themselves. As for "Islamists," I would distinguish between Islamists (arguably some high profile Libyan politicians have made some Islamist noises) and a group of ruthless murderers like al Qaeda in Iraq. Regards.

Posted by mike merlo at November 1, 2011 3:33 PM ET:

I've heard multiple comments in the past about the significance of the 'full moon' in the flag. Would anyone mind commenting?

Posted by mike merlo at November 1, 2011 3:33 PM ET:

I've heard multiple comments in the past about the significance of the 'full moon' in the flag. Would anyone mind commenting?

Posted by Bill Ardolino at November 1, 2011 3:44 PM ET:

I recall reading somewhere that it represents the world (signifying global jihad), but I can't recall the source, nor verify that that is correct.

Posted by Ranger at November 1, 2011 4:45 PM ET:

I assume it represents ascendacy, in the context of what Bill said (Dar al Harb v Dar al Islam & all).

Posted by mike merlo at November 1, 2011 4:45 PM ET:

Bill A

Thanks. I wonder if they have a theme song like Deutschland Uber Alles?

Posted by Devin Leonard at November 1, 2011 6:07 PM ET:

We encountered and killed alot of Libyans in Iraq when I was there, and therefore I don't all together trust them, but I think the council in Libya is going to do the right thing and not allow any Al Qaida elements to gain hold in the new Libya. I tink Obama did and is doing the right thing, and that he is being carefull and is on top of the situation.

Posted by Gaz at November 1, 2011 6:44 PM ET:

I have read that the 'moon' and inscription is supposed to be the signet ring that was affixed to letters sent out on behalf of Mohamed.

It also seems to have been adopted as the flag of all the Salafist Jihadists across the middle east, have noticed it in protests in Morocco, Jordan, Egypt etc

Posted by mike merlo at November 1, 2011 7:01 PM ET:

Per chance are these 'full mooners(Salafist Jihadists)' into tattoo's? I think I remember seeing one on Zarqawi but I figured it was from his pre-Islamist 'days.'

Posted by Stephanie at November 2, 2011 4:20 AM ET:

Well, it bothers me in the first place that Al-Qaida is strongly in support of the revolutions and are calling for more ... kind of makes me nervous, and it's a big reason why I don't support them: that and the fact that it's more unnecessary death in the world. Having been all over the Middle East - where I currently live - I don't like the attitude I see behind the revolutions which seems anger-driven and hate-driven to me.

Posted by C.Covi at November 2, 2011 6:40 AM ET:

The ominous "full moon" is indeed the seal of Mohammed. The second part of the shahadah ("..and Mohammed is the messenger of God..") is reported inside the seal. Sometimes, stylized seals without inscription in it are seen, though meaning the same. Terrorist groups try to convey further legitimization for the respective group in using this simbol.

Posted by Bill Ardolino at November 2, 2011 8:48 AM ET:

C.Covi -

You may be right. Though here is a reference to AQI employing a globe, with a more detailed flag ...

http://www.adl.org/terrorism/symbols/al_qaeda_iraq.asp

... so unsure what is intended in the flag over the Libyan courthouse or the AQI flags with the plain disk.

Posted by M. Muthuswamy at November 2, 2011 9:46 AM ET:

One can make an educated guess as to what happens when a nation starts out emphasizing sharia as a code of conduct.

One such a nation is none other than the Islamic super power of Pakistan.

http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers42/paper4138.html

Posted by Infidel4LIFE at November 2, 2011 1:11 PM ET:

Only 1 way to deal with them. You eliminate them. The new Libyan Gov wants to get off on the rite foot ID these ppl. They will be caught. Better get a handle on this quick.

Posted by mike merlo at November 2, 2011 4:30 PM ET:

Has this 'full moon' or any other 'symbols' or 'icons' ever been spotted in graffiti in areas other than where one would come to expect it?

Posted by JohnSmith at November 3, 2011 8:21 PM ET:

If sharia becomes the law in Libya can democracy really ever exist ? Sharia provides for a separate set of laws and status for certain groups so you may never see tolerance or justice in Libya if it goes the route of Lebannon, Egypt and Pakistan etc.
Keep watch for ties to the muslim brotherhood and a global ideology.

Posted by Todd at November 3, 2011 11:49 PM ET:

"Per chance are these 'full mooners(Salafist Jihadists)' into tattoo's? I think I remember seeing one on Zarqawi but I figured it was from his pre-Islamist 'days.'"

As a general rule, permanent tattoos would be considered haram in Islam as they are viewed as an alteration of God's creation.

Zarqawi's tattoos came from the pre-Islamist period of his life when, among other things, he also developed a taste for alcohol and petty crime. It's rumored that he later tried to burn them off with acid.

It should be noted that the flag in question was first brought to prominence via Zarqawi's Tawhid wal Jihad rather than al-Qa'ida central. The Arabic script is simply the shahada, which is present on numerous Islamic flags - militant and otherwise.

Posted by Mr. Nobody at November 4, 2011 9:32 PM ET:

It's the fact that we DON'T know that is the argument against intervention in the first place.

Posted by Fatuma at November 5, 2011 1:17 AM ET:

Believe or not, the council in Libya is just figurehead, Qaida is controlling the day to day operation.. The Americans made a Mistake of making the former regime Ghadaffi susceptible to Al-Qaeda..even though, Ghadaffi himself was a bad guy, he was only one bad guy who any way, was cooperative to Western interest in the recent years. from above view, USA somehow, seems to be fueling Qaeda?
I am very skeptic what is going to come out of Libya?