Qaddafi claims Al Qaeda could overrun Libya. Could it?
While most experts say Qaddafi is grossly exaggerating the influence of Al Qaeda, new questions are being raised about its true scope as Washington debates arming the opposition.
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“We believe they have the power; we believe they have the logistics. Their strategic depth goes from the Libyan-Algerian border to the coast of Mauritania on the Atlantic. This is not a secret,” said Mr. Ibrahim.Skip to next paragraph
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Militants could easily move through the Sahara Desert and “enter Libya in the thousands,” Ibrahim said. “We know how Qaeda operates … so we are expecting to see death on the ground, car explosions, bombs in the streets of Tripoli. It’s the story of Baghdad being played again in Tripoli. If the world cares about civilians … they should not allow Libya to become another Iraq.”
The specter of Iraq also worries US military planners, as they consider arming what they deem to be pro-democracy rebels to finally oust Qaddafi, versus the uncertain outcome of adding firepower to those from areas known for Islamic militancy.
“Al Qaeda in that part of the country is obviously an issue,” a senior US official told The New York Times on Tuesday.
Tripoli has fanned those concerns also, charging that the rebel-held enclave of Misratah, 125 miles east of Tripoli, is a militant hotbed.
In the city, “unfortunately we have hardcore, violent pockets of violence,” says spokesman Ibrahim. “These people – because they are Al Qaeda affiliates – they are prepared to die, they want to die, because death is for them is happiness, is paradise. So they know they are going to die, they want it and they are working hard for it.”
'We want this freedom in Libya'
Among true believers in the rule of Qaddafi, there is little doubt about the danger – and the miscalculation by the West.
“France, the US, and UK in Libya are trying to replace moderate Islam with radical Islam,” says a visibly angry man at a recent funeral ceremony in Tripoli. He would only identify himself as a “citizen.”
“There will be revenge [because] they are providing extremists and Al Qaeda with support. Libya was a moderate country; 90 percent of these people don’t have beards. Now Al Qaeda will extend its presence," he says.
Few on the ground in rebel-held territory of eastern Libya describe an Al Qaeda advance, though there clearly are fighters of an Islamist turn of mind at the front, sprinkled among the less ideologically committed rank and file. But they insist their devotion to their faith has nothing to do with Al Qaeda or international ambitions.
“I’m fighting because Qaddafi wouldn’t let people pray freely, think freely,” said Mohammed Shuwaidy, a young fighter from Derna, speaking outside Ras Lanuf earlier this month. “But we want this freedom in Libya. Qaddafi is the terrorist, with his wars outside the country and his torture of us.”
Staff writer Dan Murphy contributed to this report from Ajdabiya, Libya.