INTERVIEW-Libyan Islamist commander swaps combat rig for suit
Fri Nov 11, 2011 6:24pm GMT
* Islamist military leader abandons combat rig for politics
* Dismisses suggestions of undue Qatari influence
* No grudges against Western powers who gave him to Gaddafi
* Insists Libyan Islamists democratic, no ties to al Qaeda
By Labib Nasir and Alastair Macdonald
TRIPOLI, Nov 11 (Reuters) - The suit says it all, even if Libya's Islamist
military chief is guarded in talking of his own ambitions as war gives way
to politics after the killing of Muammar Gaddafi.
Sitting for a Reuters interview on Friday clad in a sharp blue suit and
open-necked shirt, many Libyans might need a double-take to recognise Abdel
Hakim Belhadj, now he has shed his trademark military fatigues and wants to
assure his many critics that his Islamist agenda is inclusive and
Declining to be pinned down on his personal ambitions - beyond indicating he
does not want an immediate role as defence minister - he insisted he bore no
grudge against Western powers who he says colluded in his torture under
Gaddafi, dismissed talk of links to al Qaeda and refused to be drawn on
rivals' accusations that he is a pawn in Qatari plans to control Libya.
"What was done to me by the American and British secret services ... was
very unfortunate. I was tortured by the CIA and I was tortured by the Libyan
secret service," said Belhadj, who after fighting with the Afghan Taliban
was captured and sent to Libya in 2004, where he was jailed until last year.
But he added: "I'm not looking for revenge. That isn't my way." He has
lawyers, however, looking to follow his complaint.
"I'm not negative about these nations," he said, offering a view of
international tolerance in Koranic language: "God has created us as tribes
and nations and has commanded us to mingle and will judge us according to
our faiths. God created us different so that we can mingle and build on
Belhadj, as Tripoli military commander for the National Transitional Council
(NTC), grabbed global television attention in announcing the death of
Gaddafi last month. His rise and that of other Islamists - and support for
them from Qatar - has angered secular leaders who rallied against the old
regime and generated anxiety among NATO powers who backed the rebellion.
The NTC's U.S.-educated wartime premier Mahmoud Jibril, long at odds with
the Islamists and now out of office, praised the military and media power of
the gas-rich Gulf emirate -which owns Al Jazeera television - but warned
darkly of Qatar "siding with a faction against the rest of the Libyan
But Belhadj, who is close to the Qatar-based Libyan cleric Ali al-Sallabi,
refused to be drawn on accusations, echoed by Western diplomats, that Qatar,
a U.S. ally which led Arab backing for the NATO campaign, was seeking
influence through him. "Many countries supported the revolution," he said.
But while noting the important role played by Qatar, he insisted that its
support was not limited to the Islamist cause. "Qatar played a political
role, crowned by their early recognition of the NTC ... Qatar sent aid ...
They also gave military support," he said. But he stressed: "This support
came to all the revolutionaries, to all Libyans."
NO ISLAMIST THREAT
Rivals allege that Belhadj, who says he controls 25,000 of the tens of
thousands of former rebels still under arms, has been seeking to be defence
minister in the new transitional government being formed this month by
But he saw no role for himself in a cabinet that is due to give way to an
elected government in mid-2012. "In the transitional period, I don't have a
desire to be part of anything," he said, declining to talk of his plans
"I want to serve my nation with all the power and ability I can offer, but
to choose where and how, it is too early to talk about this now."
Echoing the sentiments of most of Libya's politicians and of diplomats, he
said it was a priority to organise national security forces, taking into
account the need to bring the rebels' weaponry under control, ensure fair
treatment for those who fought and bring those with the desire and the
competence to be part of the army or other forces into a formal structure.
In common with Islamists who have done well from the Arab Spring revolts in
neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, those in Libya reject suggestions they would
stifle democracy or the rights of women and minorities by introducing
Islamic law, as the NTC chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil promised last month.
"There is nothing to fear, there is no extremism in Libya," Belhadj said.
"Libyans are Muslims, they are moderate, their Islam is moderate ... There
is no al Qaeda in Libya and there is no connection between the
revolutionaries and al Qaeda.
"I have no relationship with al Qaeda," he added, addressing questions about
his time with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) in Afghanistan before
the U.S. invasion.
He dismissed the recent appearance of a black Islamic flag, of a kind
sometimes associated with al Qaeda, in eastern Libya as an "expression of an
individual", and also criticised the smashing of several tombs at mosques by
groups who view ornate gravesites as an offence against austere Muslim
"Such actions only serve to weaken the social fabric," he said, noting that
leading clerics had condemned the incidents.
His brand of Islamism would sit well with democracy, he said, noting the
success of Muslim Turkey in providing for its people: "We hope for a
democratic environment and part of that is having different points of view."
Belhadj did not confirm his involvement with a project, highlighted by
Sallabi in Qatar this week, to establish a new Islamist party to contest
elections, though an aide described the plan as in the very early stages.
The long-established, Egyptian-founded Muslim Brotherhood also has members
"We aspire to build a modern nation, a nation of law that will have justice,
equality and freedom for all. These are the standards that we missed under
Gaddafi's rule," Belhadj said, echoing a much expressed hope that the
solidarity shown by many Libyans against Gaddafi can provide a bulwark
"All Libyans marched together. No one tried to rush past anyone to raise
their own banner or to belittle another banner, and this is one of the
characteristics of this revolution."
Some fear that may be a vain hope, as a multitude of groups and factions vie
for position in Keib's new government and for a share of Libya's potential
oil wealth. The presence of thousands of armed men on the streets has raised
concerns of an Iraq-style breakdown in order, but so far violence is
Belhadj played down occasional incidents and armed confrontations in the
capital and denied talk that one of these had been an attempt to assassinate
him last week.
"The security situation is fine," he said, sitting back comfortably in his
civilian clothes at a luxury Tripoli hotel - which is guarded by his
uniformed supporters. "There are a lot of rumours about assassination
attempts but they are baseless." (Writing by Alastair Macdonald)
IMAYA Libya Nov 11 (Reuters) - At least two people were killed in fighting
between militias outside Libya's capital Tripoli, troops in the area said on
Friday, in a sign that armed groups are vying for power in the absence of a
At a makeshift road checkpoint 30km (19 miles) west of Tripoli, fighters
from the coastal town of Zawiyah told Reuters clashes erupted overnight
after a rival militia set up roadblocks, started confiscating their weapons
and smashing cars.
Fighters who helped overthrow Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi in a
eight-month uprising have since set up roadblocks across the country, saying
they are guarding oil facilities and providing security.
Three weeks since the National Transitional Council (NTC) declared Libya
liberated, analysts are warning that violence might erupt as armed factions
struggle for influence.
"We came 10km from Zawiyah to protect the area," said fighter Morad Ali,
sitting in his pickup truck with a rocket launcher fixed to the back.
"Members of the Wershifanna tribe kidnapped fighters from Zawiyah," he said,
adding that heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades were used in
the battle that lasted through the night and into the morning.
Fighters from Zawiyah at the roadblock in the rural area of Imaya accused
the Wershifanna of supporting Muammar Gaddafi and of setting out to seek
Fighters from Bani Walid, one of Gaddafi's last bastions, have also moved
into the area, they added.
"The Wershifanna say they are rebels, but they are not rebels. We found
Gaddafi's green flag around the area," Ali said. A Reuters team found torn
rags of the green flags along roads nearby but could not confirm who placed
Zawiyah Militiamen said they were preparing to free their kidnapped
colleagues from the armed Wershifanna fighters hiding in the area. Elders
from both sides were first trying to negotiate a compromise, they added.
"The council of elders is speaking. If they don't agree, we'll go in," a
militiaman said. Fighting had not resumed by Friday night.
About 100 fighters from Zawiyah, many of them firing into the air as a show
of force, gathered under a bridge during ther day checking cars for weapons
and making arrests.
NO TIMETABLE FOR ARMY FORMATION
Libya's incoming prime minister Abdurrahim El-Keib has promised to disarm
militias and set up a national army, but has yet to announce a concrete
timetable or form a government.
"It is not an issue of just saying 'OK, just give us your gun, go home.'
This is not the approach we take," Keib told Reuters on Wednesday.
"We will look at the issues, evaluate and come up with programmes to take
care of them and help them and make them feel important," he added.
Abdel Hakim Belhadj, the head of the NTC's Military Council, told Reuters on
Friday that the fighting was an "isolated incident".
"It is a sad situation that took place between two groups ... an old feud
that was renewed. And today we will work on establishing a peacemaking
committee between the two tribes, and we hope they will have success," he
said. (Editing by Andrew Heavens)
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Fri Nov 11 2011 - 18:25:01 EST