Commander who liberated Tripoli was LIFG leader

The commander of the unit that liberated Tripoli from longtime President Muammar Gaddafi and helped storm his compound was a senior military leader in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Ironically enough, the commander, Abd al Hakim Bilhaj, had been freed from custody back in 2010 by Gaddafi’s son, Saif al Islam, as part of an amnesty program. At the time, Bilhaj and more than 200 other LIFG fighters claimed to have renounced the use of violence. From Al-Sharq al-Awsat (a translation from an Arabic version of the article):

Abd-al-Hakim Bilhaj, commander of the revolutionaries’ military council in Tripoli who emerged as the commander of the operation to liberate the Libyan capital at the Bab-al-Aziziyah battle before two days, was the amir of the Islamic Fighting Group [LIFG] which used to be called extremist…

Bilhaj was born in 1966, is a civil engineer graduate, and married to two women, one Moroccan and the other Sudanese. He left for Afghanistan in 1988 to take part in the Afghan jihad at that time and then traveled to several Islamic countries, among them Pakistan, Turkey, and Sudan. He was arrested in Afghanistan and Malaysia in 2004 and American intelligence interrogated him in Thailand before handing him over to Libya in the same year. He was released in Libya in 2008 and announced his renunciation of violence in 2009.

Bilhaj is known among the Islamic trends’ circles as “Abi-Abdallah al-Sadiq” and he turned from being a hunted man in the LIFG into a hero who the revolutionaries handed the banner of liberating Tripoli.

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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8 Comments

  • TarantinoDork says:

    Obviously he’s someone you keep tabs on, but lets be honest here.
    The biggest demands we have for jihadist groups other than Al Qaeda Central are that they renounce terrorism, denounce Al Qaeda, and participate in a peaceful political process. Bilhaj has done A and B, and now its time for him to do C.
    To boot, Bilhaj was the one who got on live TV and called upon all Libyans to refrain from looting and revenge attacks. Outside of Gaddafi’s compound, which is understandable (even Stasi headquarters was ransacked after reunification) the Libyans have sofar done a good job at preventing widescale looting a la Baghdad 2003.
    Incidentally, the ‘sleeper cells’ of the Tripoli uprising that coordinated with Free Libyans in Misrata and the Nafusa mountains were actually operatives of the NFSL…the freedom fighter group backed first by Reagan in the 1980s, their leaders living for a longtime in the DC area after a previous failed attempt at attacking the Bab Al Azizia complex.
    Those who rose up in Libya are far more complex and diverse than to buy into the propaganda of both the far-left and far-right as simply being a bunch of Islamist thugs who’ll usher in sharia law.
    Don’t begrudge all Libyans that, in the desperation to fend off an army of mercenaries, rape squads, and armor…they turned to some people who had a lot of combat experience.

  • Mr T says:

    Yes, a man of his word.

  • Matt says:

    Remember it is not the suits that will decide who runs Libya it is the men with the guns.

  • Soccer says:

    NATO is still pounding Libya with air strikes, including the area of Sirte. Perhaps Bill should report on this; they are hitting a lot of key targets.
    //www.nato.int/nato_static/assets/pdf/pdf_2011_08/20110827_110827-oup-update.pdf
    //www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/71679.htm

  • Soccer says:

    TarantinoDork,
    I don’t believe in the left-right political game, but in my experience, the far-left believes Libya will turn into this ultra-democratic paradise with nightclubs, bars, western resorts, etc with NO Islamists at ALL, while the far-right believes the whole country will turn into an Islamist haven in a few months.
    I think both answers are extreme, and irrational, and that the real truth lies somewhere in the middle.

  • TarantinoDork says:

    Soccer
    Actually, both the Far-Left and Far-right believe that Al Qaeda will be running the show. The Far-Left believe that the CIA & oil companies want it that way, while the Far-Right believe that the President wants it that way.
    The real truth is that by solving this conflict quickly, NATO and her allies have in all likelihood prevented Libya from becoming a jihadist haven like the interminable, intractable conflicts of Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan.
    Jihadists fought with El Mudzahideen against the genocidal Serbs in Bosnia, with Al Qaeda’s long term goal to build a terrorist base in Europe’s backyard. But UN/NATO intervention and the Dayton Peace accords brought lasting peace and stability. The new Bosnia quickly told the foreign jihadists and local Islamists to either leave or return to the quiet life. Bosnia is right now a peaceful democracy, and one of the few Muslim countries where America is truly beloved.
    Yes, Islamists (Libyans who have publicly renounced Al Qaeda and in this conflict refrained from Al Qaeda tactics like suicide bombings) are part of the opposition, and we must keep a close eye on their role in the new Libya. But for the US Navy to have sit offshore and not done anything to prevent Gaddafi (our ‘ally in the war on terror’) from leveling Benghazi would have created the opening for Al Qaeda to make itself relevant again. A new Arab quagmire to galvanize and radicalize Muslims against the apostate dictators and their American benefactors.
    We did the right thing, removed a terrorist dictator who’d killed hundreds of Americans, and it also indirectly served our goal of defeating Al Qaeda.

  • Soccer says:

    “We did the right thing, removed a terrorist dictator who’d killed hundreds of Americans, and it also indirectly served our goal of defeating Al Qaeda.”
    Heh, I don’t know about that. I get suspicious of statements like that when I read on jihadist web sites:
    “2 NATO planes shot down, 14 puppets killed in Misrata.”
    Yes, we might have won a short term victory, but I think it’s too early to jump the gun right now.
    We are losing the propaganda war in the Arab Spring and the Greater World. Even a former CIA boss warned that the Arab Spring has created an intelligence blackhole:
    //www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/aug/28/arab-spring-intelligence-disaster-scheuer
    And, just to point out, it has been confirmed time and time again that Al Qaeda as well as various ‘freelance jihadists’ were already in Libya by the time Gaddafi had taken back Tripoli (in February/March). So I think your point about us having ‘defeated’ Al Qaeda is really a moot point that ignores the realities and situations on the ground.

  • This guy was an active member of a group aligned with AQ. The only reason he ceased being an active member was because he was caught and imprisoned. Everyone of these guys when up against the wall claims he is against violence and a man of peace. Do not believe it.

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