The effort to paint the Libyan rebels as freedom-loving democrats is visibly faltering, especially in view of the rise of Abdelhakim Belhaj, alias Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq, as the top military commander in Tripoli.
Belhaj’s biography is interesting, to say the least: the founder of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), he traveled to Afghanistan in the 1980s, where he met Osama bin Laden and fought against the Soviet-backed regime. After the war, he eventually returned to Libya, where he founded the LIFG and took the nom-de-guerre Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq. An Islamist revolt in Eastern Libya, led by the LIFG, was defeated by Gadhafi in 1996, and Belhaj fled the country for his old stomping grounds in Afghanistan.
He was welcomed by the Taliban and al Qaeda, where he was especially close to Mullah Omar. LIFG set up two training camps in Afghanistan, one of which was headed up by Abu Yahya, now Al Qaeda’s top ideologue, also a Libyan national. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the LIFG was listed as an Official Terrorist Group and Belhaj was targeted by the US.
The CIA traced him to Malaysia, in 2004, and he was arrested at Kuala Lumpur airport. They shipped him to Bangkok, where he was held in a secret CIA prison, “renditioned” back to Libya, and jailed by the Gadhafi regime, where he says he was tortured. Freed after a seven-year stint in the hoosegow – due to the efforts of Gadhafi’s son, Saif – Belhaj underwent a “deradicalization” conversion – I’m sure the torture helped – and renounced “extremism.” As the Guardian reports:
“The British government encouraged and helped publicize the Libyan ‘deradicalisation’ effort, modelled on what was being done with former jihadis in Egypt. In a program overseen by Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, the LIFG produced a 400-page theological document entitled Corrective Studies explaining its renunciation of violence. Ironically, in an al-Jazeera film in March, Belhaj praised the mediation of Saif al-Islam for his release. Gaddafi’s son said that the men who had been freed ‘were no longer a danger to society.’”