As Sahab banner announcin the Zawahiri and al Libi tape welcoming the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group into al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda continues to consolidate its organization in Northern Africa. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was officially welcomed into the al Qaeda fold by al Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al Zawahri and al Qaeda in Afghanistan commander Abu Laith al Libi in a statement released on the Internet.
“Today, with grace from God, the Muslim nation witnesses a blessed step,” Zawahiri stated. “Honorable members of the Fighting Islamic Group in Libya announce that they are joining the al Qaeda group to continue the march of their brothers…
Zawahiri called for the overthrow of the governments of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, and named the leaders of these governments in his speech. “O nation of jihad, support your sons so that we defeat our enemies and rid our homeland of their slaves.” Zawahri also criticized Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi for surrendering its nuclear and chemical “weapons and equipment to … crusader masters,” Reuters reported.
Al Qaeda in Afghanistan’s leader, Abu Laith al Libi, who is Libyan, also spoke on the recording. “We announce we are joining al Qaeda as loyal soldiers,” al Libi said. “The tyrant of Libya is pushing the country into a new quagmire … He suddenly discovered … that America the guardian of the cross is not an enemy.”
He also urged Libyans to join the fight against Qaddafi, the United States “and their brothers the infidel of the West.”
Libyan Islamic Fighting Group
The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was formed in 1995 and “is principally compromised of Libyans who fought in the Soviet-Afghan war,” the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base notes. “The Libyan veterans returned to their country with the aim of creating an Islamic state in Libya.”
The terror group “is dedicated to two principle objectives,” the overthrow the Qaddafi and his government, and “to contribute to the international jihadist campaign.”
“It is suspected that certain LIFG [Libyan Islamic Fighting Group] senior leaders maintain positions in al-Qaeda’s senior command structure,” the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base notes. Abu Laith al Libi, already a senior al Qaeda theater commander, stated “we are joining al Qaeda as loyal soldiers” in the tape, indicating he is a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Other senior Libyans in al Qaeda include its influential spokesman Abu Yahya al Libi and Abu Farraj al Libi, who was believed to be al Qaeda’s third in command and is currently in US custody.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb
Al Qaeda has made deep inroads in expanding its network in northern and eastern Africa. The poor countries with restive Muslim populations, oppressive governments, and lawless regions provide fertile recruiting grounds and locations for training camps.
The Algeria-based Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat joined al Qaeda under the name of al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb in the summer of 2006. In Somalia, the defeated Islamic Courts Union continues its insurgency as Shabaab, and has deep connections with al Qaeda.
The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, along with the Moroccan Islamic Combat Group and the Tunisian Combatant Group, essentially rolled into al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb in 2006. The official joining of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group with al Qaeda represents the terror group’s strategy to unite allied Islamist terror groups under a single banner.
To combat the rise of al Qaeda in Africa, the US created a new command on par with US Central Command, or CENTCOM. The US Africa Command, or AFRICOM, was officially created in February 2007. Prior to the creation of AFRICOM, the continent was divided between CENTCOM, European Command, and Pacific Command.
The US has yet to establish a command headquarters for AFRICOM on the continent. Morocco, Algeria and other nations have turned down offers to host the headquarters, and the command is currently based out of Germany.
The US plans to establish five “regional integration teams” in the northern, eastern, southern, central and western regions in Africa. “The regional teams will link to African Union organizations, ‘Africa stand-by force brigade headquarters [and] U.S. AID support hubs,'” Defense News reported in September.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.