As rebels in Libya rise up against the 40-year rule of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and the country moves towards civil war, al-Qaeda leaders and affiliated organizations have responded by issuing a flood of messages and statements addressing the Libyan people.

While the uprising, begun in February 2011 following popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, is not overtly jihadist in nature, al-Qaeda, and other affiliated jihadist groups have nonetheless been keen to capitalize on the unrest and urge the rebels to adopt a jihadist ideology seeking the establishment of an international Islamic Caliphate. Official calls to wage jihad in Libya have been met with posts on jihadist forums providing primary-source information from Libyan jihadist rebels and inciting forum members to travel to Libya as fighters.

Al-Qaeda's recent outreach to Libyan rebels reflects the organization's historically close ties to, and strategic focus on, Libya as a valuable territory for jihad and one which has been an important source of personnel for movements linked to al-Qaeda. The country – with a relatively small population compared to other Arab countries - has furnished a disproportionate number of senior al-Qaeda leaders. In fact, Libya has produced some of al-Qaeda's most notable leaders including Bagram escapee Abu Yahya al-Libi, a member of the al-Qaeda leadership council; a former al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan, Abu Laith al-Libi; and al-Qaeda scholar Attiyah Allah (Jamal Ibrahim Ashtiwi al-Misrati AKA Abdul Karim al-Libi) who has also served as al-Qaeda's emissary in Iran. Each of these leaders is a veteran of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a United States and United Nations designated terrorist entity operating in Libya founded in the mid-1990s by Libyan veterans of the Afghan jihad. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was officially incorporated into the al-Qaeda network in 2007. The three leaders are pictured below:

{Images, clockwise from top: Abu Laith al-Libi, Attiyah Allah, and Abu Yahya al-Libi}

Among the messages directed to Libyan rebels, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri described the country as a venue for jihad in the fifth entry of his series of lectures on uprisings throughout the Middle East. The speech, titled “A Message of Hope and a Glad Tidings to Our People in Egypt,” was released to jihadist forums on April 14, 2011, and hailed Libya as a land of jihad. Zawahiri's recent attention to Libya is not unique among the statements and writings of senior al-Qaeda and jihadist leadership. During the previous two months, a number of al-Qaeda leaders and affiliated jihadist groups have addressed the conflict in Libya, including the leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) Abu Musab Abdul Wadud; al-Qaeda Shura Council member Abu Yahya al-Libi; al-Qaeda scholar Attiyah Allah; and a member of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq's Shura Council, Abu Ubaidah Abdul Hakim.

Years before the current global attention on the Libyan uprisings, leading al-Qaeda strategists singled out Libya as a desirable battlefield for the global jihadist movement, and particularly as a critical venue to combat western forces and the NATO alliance. Notably, popular displeasure with the region's long-running regimes have been presented in al-Qaeda literature as a feature of North Africa likely to make the region fertile for a jihadist recruitment and a battleground. Calling on Libyan rebels not to forsake jihad for Western democracy, al-Qaeda and affiliated groups are eager to capitalize on the regional revolutions to gain a new platform from which to wage jihad.

One of the ideologues from al-Qaeda who have identified Libya as an important jihadist front is imprisoned strategist Abu Musab al-Suri, who listed Libya and North Africa as the second most important battlefield in the world after the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Suri particularly noted that “the countries of North Africa, from Libya to Mauritania: there are Western interests in this region, especially those of the main European countries allied with America in NATO.”[1] Similarly, other al-Qaeda leaders, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, have focused on the importance of Libya as a staging ground for attacks against NATO forces. The jihadist ideology has made inroads into Libya over the past generation.

Strategic Location

Libya has been a important venue for al-Qaeda since the organization's founding days. In his Global Islamic Resistance Call, influential al-Qaeda strategist Abu Musab al-Suri identified the country as one of the locations where he, and other al-Qaeda founders, developed their understanding of jihadist guerrilla warfare. Describing the training experiences of his generation of jihadists, who often created surreptitious camps in host countries, al-Suri noted that their strategic outlook was strongly influenced by engaging in guerilla warfare in the Levant and North Africa, writing:

“From the experiences of training in houses, the level of the military preparation was relatively low. However, the level of security was very high because this training happened in a very secret and precautionary environment. Also the ideological and moral training was high and it was reflected in the Jihadi ideological and political understanding. It was also reflected in the theory of Jihadi guerilla warfare, especially in our Jihadi experiences in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, and others”[2]

Al-Suri's judgment of the attributes of North Africa that he believes makes the region ripe for jihad was featured in the first issue of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) English-language magazine “Inspire.” The issue, released to jihadist forums in its entirety on July 11, 2010, included a four-page excerpt from al-Suri's Global Islamic Resistance Call encouraging the formation of small cells attacking Western and governmental targets using “urban or rural guerilla warfare” and “individual terrorism jihad.”[3] Presenting North Africa as the third of five regions suitable for the creation of a jihadist front, al-Suri highlighted the region's suitability for jihad, making specific reference to the restive population as providing the preconditions for a revolutionary climate. Moreover, additionally identifying the region as one strategically important for the opposing Europe, he noted the close proximity of Libya to Europe:

“It is also a huge area, with open land borders, long coasts, many mountains and natural fortresses, and an abundance of weapons and necessary resources. It is difficult to besiege because of its many and varied borders....There are large sources of arms in the region, provided from Central and Western Africa, and its sea connection to Europe provides the region with many favorable preconditions. Say nothing of that, in North Africa...the situation means that most of the pre-conditions for a jihadi—revolutionary climate are present. Furthermore, the presence of economic occupation and Western and Jewish control provides a golden key for releasing the spark of jihad.”

{Index of the first issue of Inspire Magazine}

Most recently, Zawahiri's “A Message of Hope and a Glad Tidings to Our People in Egypt” released in April 2011 represents his first public commentary about the Libyan uprisings. During the message, he praised Libyans for withstanding years of torture by Gaddafi and warned them of accepting Western interventions. The hour-long video message, apparently recorded before the NATO intervention in Libya, called on Libyans to attack any NATO forces who might enter the country, stating:

“We must make our brothers in Libya self-sufficient so that the West wouldn’t use their tragedies as a justification to intervene in Libya and occupy it and control its affairs.

I also want to draw the attention of my Muslim brothers in Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and the rest of Muslim countries that if the Americans and NATO forces enter Libya their neighbors should rise in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and the rest of Muslims to fight both the mercenaries of Gaddafi and the crusader NATO.”

{Ayman al-Zawahiri, in the fifth installment of

“A Message of Hope and a Glad Tidings to Our People in Egypt”}

Zawahiri continued the lecture by encouraging Libyans to view themselves as a component of the international jihadist movement, stating:

“I also call upon our people in Libya to have patience, perseverance and to stay put until their goal is fulfilled of establishing a Muslim state in Libya that is ruled by Shariah and accepts counseling from everyone, spreads justice, helps the oppressed and seeks to liberate Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and every occupied span stretch of Muslim lands.”

Describing the Libyan government's repression of jihadists, Zawahiri identified a leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group as among those whom Gaddafi unjustly imprisoned or killed, stating:

“...why didn’t America make a move against Gaddafi before the uprising of the Libya people? Didn’t America hand over detainees to Gaddafi in its war on Islam under the name of terror to be tortured and harassed and killed? Amongst them is the martyr – as we think of him – the Sheikh son of the Sheikh al-Libi and amongst them the leaders of the fighting Islamic Jama’at [Libyan Islamic Fighting Group].”

Abu Yahya al-Libi, a member of the al-Qaeda leadership council; an al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan; and the younger brother of Abdulwahab Mohammed Kayed, a founding member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group also addressed a video message to Libyan rebels after the uprising began. Kayed, Abu Yahya al-Libi's brother, was among the hundred LIFG members freed from prison in mid-February, following the Libyan uprising - Al-Libi, who has close family ties to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, incited Libyans to capitalize on the uprising by stockpiling weapons and transforming Libya into a land of jihad. In an as-Sahab produced video speech released to jihadist forums on March 12, 2011 and titled "To Our People in Libya," al-Libi urged Libyans and other Muslim peoples to dispel their “inferiority complex” before the West. Warning Libyans to maintain their access to weapons and to remain vigilant about those who attempt to subvert the uprisings for purposes other than jihad, al-Libi stated:

“This is a call to what remains of the honest scholars of Libya and its advice-giving callers, loyal intellectuals and passionate youth, to reap from this revolution the sweetest of fruits and not have it fall,after this stubbornness, effort, sacrifice and patience, into the hands of those who tamper - the agents -who only know their own interests, only obey their temptations and only care only for their desires. Do not let another fool come and take your body parts to ascend to power, take advantage of your blood and make you taste torture. Have your weapons in your hands and stockpile what you can of them. Beware of making light of them and giving them up, or think that owning them is a crime. By Allah, those tyrants were only able to humiliate their peoples after taking their weaponry, making them like sheep to be chosen and slaughtered without argument.”

{Abu Yahya al-Libi, in “To Our People in Libya"}

Libya, a Source of Jihadist Fighters

A highly prized location for jihad, Libya has been identified on jihadist forums as being a country that produces a notable number of jihadists, which some view as especially striking because of the country's relatively small population compared to other Arab and Muslim countries. Along with specific jihadist leaders lauded in as-Sahab releases and the lectures of jihadist commanders, jihadist forums have described previous incidents of numerous Libyans departing the country for jihadist battlefields. In one example, in 2007, Muslims in Libya were included a call on a jihadist forum for the establishment of a brigade for Muslim revenge.[4] Throughout the Iraq War, frequent announcements on jihadist forums described Libyans being killed in Iraq, where they were fighting with jihadist groups.

Illustrating the continuous recruitment of Libyan youths for jihad is an October 2010 video issued by the al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), featuring a Libyan fighter using the name Abu Haidar al-Libi who dictated a speech calling the Islamic Ummah in general and the youth in Libya in particular to battle. The lecture, the second in a series titled “They Will Rise with Life,” states that Abu Haidar al-Libi and his mujahideen brothers stand on the frontline of defense of the Islamic Ummah and are fighting the decisive battle between right and wrong. Calling for Libyans to travel to Iraq and fight, he says:

“From here the land of jihad and garrisoning in the Land of the Two Rivers [Iraq], I call upon you ardent youth for the faith of Allah and the honors and sanctities of Muslims, to march out to the Land of the Two Rivers and to stand in one line with your brothers to defend Muslim territories.”[5]

{Abu Haidar al-Libi, in the second episode of “They Will Rise with Life”}

Indeed, two months later, on December 10, 2010, an announcement was posted to the password-protected Shumukh al-Islam jihadist forum- al-Qaeda's primary distribution forum - stating that 28 Libyans had departed for jihad outside of the country. Shumukh al-Islam has become the primary online source for communiqués, statements, and multimedia from al-Qaeda and associated jihadist groups. The December statement reported said that 22 of these men joined the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the al-Qaeda-front in Iraq, and some had carried out operations there. The other six, he said, joined al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The message states:

“In the past few weeks, 28 brothers from the Libyan city of Derna traveled to the arenas of jihad to support the religion, to join the mujahideen, to destroy the headquarters of the unbelievers and apostates, to lift humiliation, and to slaughter the Crusaders, while longing for the houris [maidens of paradise].

“22 of them arrived in the Islamic State of Iraq, and not only that, but some of them carried out operations there.

“6 of them arrived to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

We did not mention the news at the time due to security reasons…”[6]

Online Recruitment of Fighters for Libyan Jihadist Rebels

In addition to messages emanating from the al-Qaeda leadership, jihadists on internet forums have been actively discussing and focusing on the uprisings in Libya. Some members of the jihadist community who have demonstrated close ties to Libyan jihadists have been issuing "exclusive" updates and information about jihadist groups organizing in the region while encouraging prospective jihadists to travel to Libya to participate in the fighting, announcing that “the gates of jihad are open in Libya.”

The administrator of the password-protected English-language jihadist forum affiliated with al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Mujahideen, stated in mid-February that the jihadist “brothers” in Libya had amassed a fighting force of “more than 4000-7000 fighters” while posting primary source pictures of mujahideen there. Although the numbers are likely an exaggeration, they do reflect the jihadists' desire to make Libya an active front for jihad. Additionally, the administrator provided frequent updates with news of battles that Libyan jihadist forces had engaged in, such as a February 21 message announcing military operations in Al Bayda and the recruitment of 72 Libyan soldiers into the ranks of jihadists in Benghazi. Two of the uploaded images distributed through the Ansar al-Mujahideen forum can be seen below:

Throughout the discussion, which has had over 10,000 views and 200 posts since being started on February 20, 2010, the administrator posted updates and incited forum members to join Libyan jihadist groups. One such message is a February 20 statement encouraging members to join the fight by reminding them of the heavenly rewards promised to martyrs, writing:

“...Who wants to join the Mujahideen?

“The gates of Jihad are open in Libya!

“The Salafi brothers in benghazi have declared the Islamic emirate of Libya. I have received exclusive news that the brothers gathered more than 4000-7000 fighters. The brothers have captured military tanks,Hummers,Heavy/medium/light machine guns.

“The market of paradise has opened and the hoor al ayn [maidens of paradise] are waiting

“Where are the shabaab [young men]?

“Allahu Akbar!

“Allahu Akbar!

“Allahu Akbar!

“Our meeting is in Paradise my dear brothers.”

Directing a statement to thread participants who expressed their desire to join the mujahideen in Libya, ANSAR AQIM presented the following message on February 21, 2011, reminding prospective jihadist to be patient and encouraging forum members to make their way to Libya:

“Great news from Libya! ...

“The Mujahideen fighters in benghazi managed to kill more than 16 gangsters. 10 gangsters were killed by heavy machine gun fire, the others were killed in Zarqawi style. In Tarablus, the Mujahideen fighters managed to capture 12 police stations. The brothers freed the prisoners and took all weapons and munition.

“There are also some reports that some foreign brothers have reached Libya for jihad.

“For the brother who are asking for a way to Libya.

“The brothers are not organized to arrange meetings with the muhajireen [emigrants]. It's better to plan for your self and take the steps.

“Be patient and Allah will open many doors.

“Planning and Qiyaam al lail [night prayers] is the best way to follow.”

In responses to the administrator's updates and incitements, Ansar al-Mujahideen posters praised the Libyan rebels and professed their belief that Libya is a new – and open – land of jihad. One such message, left on February 20, wished that the region's upheaval would presage a global upswing in jihad:

“Now my brothers and sisters, we are facing a global change, Alhamdulillah! We will see this uprising continuing in all Muslim countries and soon we will see the banner of La ilaha ilallah everywhere!”

A member took advantage of the administrator's apparent access to Libyan jihadists and used the Ansar al-Mujahideen forum as a means of sending a message about specific foreigners being held by the rebels in Libya. Writing on February 26, 2011, the member asked for help in transmitting a message encouraging the release of a specific group of hostages, one of whom was the cousin of his neighbor:

“A neighbor here reports that his cousin and some 350 foreign Muslims (not sure if there are non-muslims) are taken as hostage in Misurata/مصراته in Libya. Any Ikhwaan [brothers] from Libya or the admins are requested to PM me and send public key. I'd disclose the necessary details and infos InSha Allaah [Allah willing].”

Carrying a message that the hostages are “in good hands” and had not been tortured, the administrator who served as a connection between Libyan jihadists and the forum responded on the same day, writing:

“[Islamic greetings]

“Don't worry they are in good hands.

“For your information they are not taken hostage or being tortured. The brothers are questioning them because the foreigners couldn't identify themselves.

“We all know that 25000 mercenaries invaded Libya to kill our people.

“Insha'Allah soon the brothers will contact the foreign governments to close a deal.

“[Islamic rejoinders]

“The servant of Allah”

The discussion thread, identified by the forum leadership as “sticky” meaning that it remained at the top of the normally chronological list of discussion threads, continued distributing news and images from Libyan jihadists through April 24, 2011, becoming one of the most viewed discussion threads in a section of the jihadist forum dedicated to news and events. Indeed, the thread, titled “:::Banner of Jihad::: Libya Islamists storm arms depot: 'seize arms, take hostages' (Images)” has received nearly five-fold more views than similarly designated “sticky” threads.

Members of the password-protected Shumukh al-Islam, and other Arabic-language jihadist forums have also been active in inciting your to participate in the Libyan revolution and posting advice for the rebels in how to combat the forces of Muammar Gaddafi.   Among these messages are encouragements to adopt tactics such as suicide bombings and attacking oil wells as well as methods for how to fight aircrafts and minimize losses due to airstrikes.

Conclusion

In conclusion, given the power vacuum in Libya, al-Qaeda views the current situation in Libya as a valuable opportunity to advance its strategy and influence in the region, as was illustrated by recent messages by al-Qaeda's leaders and the recruitment of fighters on jihadist forums. The dramatic attention focused on Libya by jihadist leaders and online supporters reflects many years of al-Qaeda's expectations and hopes that Libya will become one of the countries engaged in open jihad and part of a North African jihadist battlefield. Many of the calls currently aimed at Libyan rebels can be understood as al-Qaeda's attempt to harness the current revolutions and popular anger in North Africa to provide the group with a base of support in the region in order to bring them on step closer to their goal of overthrowing regional powers and implementing of international Muslim Caliphate.

Al-Qaeda's calls to capitalize on the civil war in Libya to establish an additional jihadist front have been reflected in discussions on jihadist forums during which forum members have distributed information about traveling to Libya to fight, provided updates of jihadist recruitment in the region, and posted military and strategic advice for combatants.



[1] Abu Musab al-Suri, “The Global Islamic Resistance Call” Chapter 8. Section 7.

[2] Abu Musab al-Suri, “The Global Islamic Resistance Call” Chapter 8. Section 5.

[3] Abu Musab al-Suri, quoted in Inspire. Issue 1. page 31.

[6] See: SITE Intelligence Group. “Jihadist Says 28 Libyans Departed for Jihad in Iraq, North Africa” December 10, 2010.

 

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