Al Qaeda’s black flag was recently spotted flying atop the Libyan city of Benghazi’s courthouse, according to news reports and video footage posted on the Internet.
Libya’s governing National Transitional Council said they had no knowledge of who hoisted Osama Bin Laden’s standard, although it was seen flying next to the Libyan government’s new banner. The Benghazi-led rebellion abandoned the former Gaddafi government’s flag in favor of the colors flown by Libya’s former king.
News of the terrorist pennant adorning the courthouse building, said to be the symbolic site of the anti-Gaddafi uprising, was first reported by New York-based news and cultural website Vice.com.
While the Libyan rebellion, which grew out of the Arab Spring, is composed of diverse Islamic, secular and ethnic tendencies, Al Qaeda operatives were – and are – in the mix.
Notwithstanding the all-too-easy dismissal of Muammar Gaddafi’s early warnings to President Obama regarding their presence in the rebellion, U.S. political and financial circles were already aware of it.
“None of this should be surprising. In Tripoli, Abdelhakim Belhaj, a well-known al Qaeda fighter and founder of the notorious Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, is now leading the rebel military counsel in Tripoli. A few weeks ago, Belhaj ordered his fighters to take command of the Tripoli airport, then controlled by a group of Zintan fighters, a brigade of Berber Libyans who helped liberate the capital from Gaddafi loyalists,” Vice.com reports.
Apparently Belhaj had the support of the new civilian authority.
“A few days later, Belhaj gave a speech emphasizing that his actions had the blessings of Libya’s National Transitional Counsel, who appointed him to the leadership of Tripoli’s military command,” the website says.
Belhaj was also a former prisoner, once held at the infamous Guantanamo Bay military prison.
A recent Wall Street Journal article details the infighting between various factions jockeying to fill the power vacuum, and identifies Belhaj as “a former Guantanamo Bay detainee and veteran anti-Gaddafi fighter.”
The WSJ says efforts to find a new secular defense minister has led to power blocks scrambling to curb “Islamist militias that emerged mainly in Libya’s eastern region during the early days of the revolt and that now identify” with commander Belhaj.
Ominously, a top contender to head a new defense ministry is one Khalifa Heftar. Heftar is a “controversial ex-Libyan military officer who spent more than 20 years in exile in the U.S. and is said to be close to the U.S. intelligence and military agencies, according to three officials familiar with the discussions,” the WSJ reports.
Reacting to the Al Qaeda’s flag incident, Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio called for an end to U.S. military involvement in Libya and other places.
Kucinich asked, “What is going on in America? On the one hand, we have soldiers dying in Afghanistan fighting Al Qaeda, and on the other hand we just helped a group of people take over Libya and the Al Qaeda flag is flying over their capital city.”
The congressman concludes, “It’s time for America to get its priorities and its story straight.”
Of further concern are the hundreds of competing militias now patrolling the country’s streets with little or no central control. And, warned United Nations envoy Ian Martin, huge stashes of weapons have gone missing from Libyan weapon depots.
African diplomats involved in efforts to negotiate a cease-fire during the Libyan civil war fear that these weapons are now the hands of terrorists. “Libya and north Africa will make Iraq look like child’s play,” one diplomat declared.
Needless to say, should right-wing Islamist tendencies with ties to Al Qaeda gain ascendancy Libyan democratic hopes will be dashed. NATO involvement, in an attempt to gain Western dominance of the Libyan oil fields, could lead to another despotic government.
Photo: The Al Qaeda-linked flag was said to be flying over the Benghazi courthouse building alongside the Libyan national flag. (Youtube)