Slain LIFG commander led Libyan rebel forces

A leader for the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (or LIFG) with close links to the Taliban and al Qaeda commanded a unit of Libyan rebels in Ajdabiyah that is “officially sanctioned by the opposition government.” The recently slain commander, known as Abdul Monem Muktar Mohammed, even directed NATO airstrikes against Gaddafi’s forces. From the Los Angeles Times:

He once lived under the Taliban’s protection, met with Osama bin Laden and helped found a group the U.S. has listed as a terrorist organization. He died in a secondhand U.S. military uniform, ambushed by Moammar Kadafi’s men as he cleared a road after an airstrike by his new NATO allies.

Aides to Abdul Monem Muktar Mohammed say the Libyan rebel fighter was leading a convoy of 200 cars west of this hotly contested strategic city Friday when a bullet struck him on the right side of the chest. He opened his passenger door and jumped out. A rocket-propelled grenade exploded nearby.

And according to the Los Angeles Times, there are many more like Mohammed in the leadership and rank and file:

Rebel leaders are sensitive to criticism by some in the West that Al Qaeda “fellow travelers” are deeply involved in the fight against Kadafi. With some defensiveness, they say Afghan veterans such as Mohammed, 41, were pushed to extremes by Kadafi’s authoritarian rule, and that with freedom, the danger of a homegrown militant extremist threat has faded.

But there are many unanswered questions about Libya’s anti-Kadafi forces, with at least 20 former Islamic militant leaders in battlefield roles, according to the rebel army, and hundreds of Islamists participating or watching from the sidelines. All speak of unity and brotherhood, but in the new state, will they be tempted by a once-in-a-lifetime chance to overpower Libya with a conservative Islamist vision?

The fighters themselves might not even know their answer, caught up in the moment’s revolutionary fervor and vacillating between a longing for peace and their dreams of achieving an Islamic state.

Read the whole thing. This paints a picture vastly different than what was offered weeks ago, when top US intelligence officials claimed there were no Islamist terrorists fighting with the Libyan rebels.

Also see Threat Matrix report, Libyan opposition leader wasn’t held at Guantanamo.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Tyler says:

    The LIFG did publicly renounce Al Qaeda and reject terrorism. The holdouts like Abu Yahya al Libi are all in Pakistan. Trust but verify obviously. But the mere presence of guys who once upon a time fought in Afghanistan or Libya shouldn’t be something that keeps us from intervening to prevent Srebernicza being replicated in Benghazi.
    Perhaps most importantly, look at how these rebels are fighting. Conventional mechanized/light infantry tactics. Up to this point, they aren’t strapping bombs to themselves and walking into Gadhafi rallies. If they were, Gadhafi would no doubt be hyping that fact as proof his enemies are all terrorists.
    There were hardcore Islamist fighters with the Mudzahideen in Bosnia. But the world deciding to intervene and end the bloodshed, militarily and diplomatically, prevented Al Qaeda from exploiting the conflict to establish a base in Europe’s backyard. Bosnia never became another Chechnya, Somalia, or Afghanistan. Acting in Libya such as we are is the first step towards preventing it from becoming a jihadi bastion.

  • Mike says:

    Tyler, you are exactly right. If our foreign policy was to reject talks or cooperation with any person or group that has ever had any ties to or sympathy for Jihadist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, we would find precious few people with whom to talk in the region.
    It is far more important that the West, and the US in particular, finds itself on the right side of history, and protects against massacres by tyrants like Qadafi. The same could be said for the protesters in Yemen and Syria, as well as Bahrain. While the geopolitical concerns there are much different from Libya, and it is impossible to deny al Qaeda’s presence in Yemen and its desire to capitalize on the chaos there, our long term interests (hearts and minds) might be much better served by rolling the dice with the rebels, and working with reasonable people in the aftermath of these revolutions to help build better societies.
    This is a great opportunity to help these home-grown movements grow into more responsive, enduring, and hopefully peaceful, governments in a region that has seen far too much dictatorship and oppression, often with the direct support of US foreign policy. This is the root of militant Jihadism, this combination of hopelessness, poverty, opression, and post-imperial Western policies aimed at securing oil resources, whatever the human cost, and to pass up an opportunity to strike directly at that root would be a terrible mistake.

  • blert says:

    OBL was so paranoid that no one could meet with him without extensive vetting.
    Of primary concern was politics: one must be a Salafist to meet OBL.
    That means imposing Sharia and all of the rest that follows.
    Each additional Sharia state is a problem for the West.

  • David says:

    While I appreciate your optimism, I think it is misplaced in Libya. There are plenty of countries with oppressive regimes that the United States has not intervened in (Somalia, et al). The United States and NATO are in Libya to secure the oil and make sure that it keeps going to Italy and other European countries whose petro-chemical corporations have a presence in Libya.
    As hard as it is for some of us to grasp, there are many in the Middle East who want a strict, religious based system of government. You do not have to look any further than Palestine to see what can happen when people are given the choice to choose their own government. Organizations like Hamas come to power, and do so through purely democratic means.

  • Tyler says:

    Hamas took complete control over Gaza in a violent coup after sniffing out an attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government by Fatah.
    The violence cost Hamas all influence in the West Bank.
    But more importantly…the elections in the Palestinian territories were something that were heaped upon the Palestinians by outside forces, namely Bush. There was no movement for democratic change by the Palestinians themselves. And the only people they had to choose between were the old terrorists who’d stolen from them for decades, and the younger terrorists who’d not yet had the opportunity to steal from them.
    The democratic zeal that was missing in the Palestinian territories is very much alive in Egypt and Libya. We’d be on the wrong side of history to step aside and watch Gadhafi bombard that zeal into dust. The Taliban was born out of the Soviet carpet-bombing of Kandahar. Al Qaeda’s influence in Northern Iraq first flickered after the gassing of Halabja. The Hamburg Cell was first motivated to jihad by the scenes of the shelling of Grozny. Our future enemies would have crept out of the ashes of Benghazi had we let Gadhafi continue. We’d have been blamed.

  • Bungo says:

    I was discussing the potency or non-potency of this “no-fly-zone” action with a Lebanese contact. I told him I thought it was a useless military move and that I did not understand why the West or thr U.N. stepped-in on Libya but in no other Mid-East country experiencing demonstrations or revolt (i.e. Iran, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan etc.) He said, “Bungo, the reason the West is involved in Libya is because of one thing, and one thing only : Oil”. I couldn’t argue with him. It made more sense than anything I’d heard in a Long time.

  • Tyler says:

    Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain. As violent as the crackdowns in these countries have been…its not risen to the level where the regime was using airstrikes, artillery bombardments, helicopter gunships.
    They have in Libya. Thats why its different.
    Gadhafi was our buddy before all this started. Who was happily selling us oil and giving the oil companies free reign to develop his resources. The West gave him weapons (including advanced cluster munitions now raining on Misrata) cash and legitimacy in return. Wasn’t anything like Saddam’s Iraq where the reserves were untouched by Western oil companies.
    ‘Blood for Oil’ would have been if we’d just let him finish off Benghazi.

  • Charu says:

    @Tyler, concur fully. At this time the goal is to neutralize and/or eliminate Gadhafi and sons. The Libyans have not been radicalized (as yet) and I doubt that they would easily embrace the talibanization of their society. However, we must be prepared for AQ to attempt a putsch should Gadhafi fall, and we should not sit back at that crucial time like we did in Afghanistan when we allow the Taliban and the ISI to take up the vacuum; the consequences of which we are still paying

  • DANNY says:

    David wrote “Organizations like Hamas come to power, and do so through purely democratic means.”
    maybe they cracked the door open through elections but Hamas took control of Gaza through violent means, and overthrew the elected government. So to hint that they were really elected is a farce, they stole power and enslaved Gaza. Killing anyone who stood in their way. They should be crushed for doing so. Just a bunch of dumb thugs!

  • James says:

    Concerning the Libyan rebels, why can’t they be trained “off-site” (i.e., like at NATO installations in Europe).
    Of course, they’d have to be thoroughly vetted to make as good of an attempt as possible to make sure there are no AQ agents among them.
    They may be “rag tag,” but at least they wage battle against other soldiers and fight on battlefields like real soldiers should.
    I agree though that we should not under any circumstances put our “boots on the ground” there (meaning no conventional or ground troops being committed there).


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