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Are Libya's Islamists scary?

Reminders that the Bush administration collaborated with Libya's Qaddafi regime on the detention and interrogation of Islamists makes some afraid. They shouldn't be.

By Staff writer / September 6, 2011

Abdel Hakim Belhadj, Libyan rebels' representatives, arrives for a meeting of chiefs of staff of countries militarily involved in Libya, in Doha in this Aug. 29 photo. Belhadj, is a senior Islamist rebel in charge of controlling Tripoli since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Mohammed Dabbous/Reuters

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Abdel Hakim Belhadj is the man Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) has put in charge of military affairs in Tripoli, the capital. He's one of the few rebel leaders with a military background untainted by service to Qaddafi, and his anti-regime credentials are impeccable: He led a failed insurgency against Qaddafi, the man blamed for ordering the Lockerbie bombing and other terrorist attacks on US interests abroad, in the 1990s.

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But his background has some worried about the future of the new Libya. A former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, he was one of a few dozen Islamist fighters who fled Qaddafi's regime for Afghanistan in the late 1990s, and who were picked up with US and British assistance around the globe after the 9/11 attacks and "rendered" into Libya custody for interrogation, some of which involved torture. Mr. Belhadj was shipped to Qaddafi's Libya by the CIA from Malaysia, via Bangkok, in 2004.

Mr. Belhadj (also know as Abdullah al-Sadiq) says he was tortured while in US custody in Bangkok and spent six years in prison, at least part of that time in solitary confinement in Tripoli's notorious Abu Salim prison. That the CIA sent him and other ex-LIFG fighters like Abdel Hakim Hasadi to Libya for interrogation is taken as evidence by some that they are and were a threat to the US.

But is there any evidence of this?

IN PICTURES: Rebels take Tripoli

While Libyan Islamists found haven in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and some linked up with Al Qaeda – senior Al Qaeda planner Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, killed by the US in Pakistan last month, was ex-LIFG – most fled Afghanistan soon after the 9/11 attacks, wanting nothing to do with the fight Al Qaeda had picked with the US. The group's leaders in exile in Afghanistan also took issue with what they say was Al Qaeda's high-handed treatment of the Afghan Taliban by the Arab fighters. If the US had evidence that men like Belhadj had participated in attacks on US interests, it hasn't shared it, and probably wouldn't have sent them to Libya if they had had any such evidence.

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