Libyan rebel says Osama bin Laden's death won't stop jihadist flow
'Al Qaeda [is] getting more and more organized and bringing people [to Libya] from abroad,' says the rebel, who has been contacted by militants wanting to fight against Col. Muammar Qaddafi.
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Col. Qaddafi has claimed that the entire opposition are Al Qaeda “terrorists,” and feigned wonder that a Western-led coalition has rejected his uncompromising tactics. That firm stance is no different from how the US or Europe deal with Al Qaeda militants attacking their nations, he suggested.Skip to next paragraph
But Qaddafi’s view is “not accurate,” says Naluti, who notes that Qaddafi has long challenged religious beliefs he considered a danger during nearly 42 years of rule. Naluti studied Islamic theology in Yemen for two years in the mid-1990s under moderate sheikhs – at schools, he says, where extremists were expected to either moderate their views or were kicked out.
He was placed on a Libyan government watch list, entered the country illegally from Tunisia using smuggler routes, and then was arrested during a routine check in Tripoli. His beard and short trousers marked him as a Salafist, which prompted 13 days of interrogation and torture – including electric shock treatment to sensitive parts of the body, he says – followed by four years in prison.
But even behind the prison walls, this believer and like-minded moderates had some success in convincing hard-line jihadists – among them mujahideen veterans who fought the US-backed war against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan in the 1980s – to temper their views.
“I [had been] studying with sheikhs who refused this extremism,” recalls the Libyan believer. “This is one of the problems: Anyone who is ignorant goes to some [extremist] and they change their minds. One has to protect himself with good knowledge.”
Those who would not change helped form the seed of Al Qaeda, says the Libyan, in the “house” of Al Qaeda, which was Afghanistan. They were prominent, too, during the Iraq insurgency, according to a trove of documents captured by American troops about foreign fighters crossing into Iraq from Syria. A surprising amount of suicide bombers in 2006-07 hailed from eastern Libya.
Four reasons why Al Qaeda ideology may outlast Bin Laden
How might that anti-Western, anti-infidel jihadist ideology outlast Bin Laden?
“There are several reasons that can make it grow, and it will truly increase if things continue as they are,” warns Naluti. Many of those reasons helped spawn Al Qaeda in the first place, and have only been magnified by the US invasion of Iraq and other events in the decade since.
Top of the list is ignorance of “the true Islam,” which is moderate and respectful, says Naluti.
Second is what is often perceived across the Middle East as the “oppression of the Muslim countries by the West, and stealing their wealth under any umbrella like spreading democracy or eradicating illiteracy or … war on terror,” he adds. From Palestinians to Bosnians, he asserts, “Muslims reject this.”
Third is the “collaboration, whether obvious or hidden, of Arab leaders with the West,” says Naluti, because “the people are moved by emotions.” Although the Saudi-born Bin Laden once helped facilitate CIA and Pakistani support of mujahideen “holy warriors” in Afghanistan, he later made removal of US forces from the Saudi Arabia – the custodians of Islam’s holiest shrines at Mecca and Medina – his top demand.
A fourth reason for Al Qaeda’s continued appeal, says the Libyan, are “double standards by the West,” which incorporate a range of examples like democracy for some – imposed by war in Iraq – but neglected for others like Saudi Arabia or Hamas in the Gaza Strip, to name just two. US support for Israel despite Israeli abuses against Palestinians adds another arrow to Al Qaeda’s recruiting quiver.
Removing these reasons – or at least easing them – will be a key factor in limiting the reach of Al Qaeda in the post-Bin Laden world, suggests Naluti. He doesn’t want foreign fighters to take root in Libya, but knows that some of his countrymen are less scrupulous, and therefore more welcoming, of militants.
“One of the biggest mistakes of the West is Islamophobia,” says the Libyan. “People are fighting, but very few [Westerners] know the true Islam.”
The same holds true for the militants, whose determination is not likely dimmed by the death of one man revered as “Sheikh Osama,” far from this front line.