Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 19


Under increasing pressure from Qaddafi loyalists, the Berbers of the Western Mountains of Libya continue to defy military odds in their resistance to a regime that has denied their very existence.

According to one Berber from the mountain town of Nalut: “We have 80 per cent unemployment in Nalut, there are no good roads, no healthcare and the education system is very poor. We are fighting because for 42 years we have been oppressed” (Irish Times, April 28). Sixty miles east of Nalut is Zintan, which is currently experiencing bombardment by Grad rockets prior to an expected government advance on the town. A massive flight of Berber civilians to Tunisia is under way, with some 30,000 people having crossed the border at the small crossing point of Dehiba (UNHCR, April 29). Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said the regime had proof the refugee crisis was the result of a Qatar-financed campaign to have Berber rebels force family members across the border to prompt NATO air attacks on loyalist forces.

Under Qaddafi’s rule, Berber language instruction in schools was banned, as were many forms of Berber cultural expression. Activists have been subject to detention, disappearance, or public execution. According to the regime, the non-Semitic Berber language is nothing but a dialect of Semitic Arabic. In June 2010 Qaddafi told a gathering of journalists and intellectuals that the Berbers were ancient North African tribes that no longer existed and it was therefore “pointless to use the language of these tribes which have disappeared.” Claims to the contrary were nothing but “colonialist propaganda” (Jana [Tripoli], June 2, 2010).

A 2008 Libyan diplomatic note to the U.S. mission in Tripoli presented the regime’s viewpoint on the Berber question, together with a rather dubious linguistic explanation of why these “early Arabs” had come to be known as “Berbers”:

In Great Jamahiriya, there is nothing called Berber community, and the use of this term denotes lack of true knowledge of the history of the region in general and Libya in particular, and does not reflect the reality and nature of the homogeneous Libyan society.  All Libyans come from Arab origins; they came from the Arab Peninsula by land (Barr) and that’s why some tribes that had arrived earlier in Libya are called "Barbar" (or Berber). [1]

Most Libyan Berbers are members of the Ibadite sect of Islam rather than the Sunni Malikite school of Islamic jurisprudence dominant elsewhere in Libya. Though many Ibadites reject the connection, the sect is largely believed to be a more moderate form of the early Islamic Kharijite movement, whose strict interpretation of Islam and advocacy of jihad to overthrow Muslim rulers accused of ignoring Islamic law led to two centuries of bitter conflict in the Islamic world. The movement’s emphasis on asceticism and egalitarianism attracted both the Bedouin and the Mawali (converts to Islam who found themselves oppressed by Arab Muslims who considered themselves superior due to the Arab origin of Islam). However, the Kharijite injunction to rebel against any ruler who fell short of religious expectations coupled with the tendency of individuals to decide for themselves when a ruler had failed to meet these expectations was not a recipe for political stability.

While the Kharijites (“Those who Secede”) were eventually eliminated and their name turned into a pejorative term for non-Orthodox Muslims, a breakaway group known as the Ibadites (for their founder Abd Allah ibn Ibad) maintained many of the core beliefs of the Kharijites while adopting a greater willingness to live in harmony with other Islamic groups. Today, Ibadites are estimated to number 1.5 million and are found mostly in Oman (1.2 million), with smaller communities in Libya, Zanzibar, the Djerba Island of Tunisia and the Mzab oases in Algeria.


1. U.S. Embassy Tripoli cable 08TRIPOLI530, July 3, 2008, published by the Telegraph, January 31, 2011.

(Part One of this article appeared in the May 5 issue of Terrorism Monitor).


A noted Salafi-Jihadist shaykh who is regularly featured on jihadi internet sites has called for a carefully planned retaliation for the killing of late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by American Special Forces. Shaykh Hussein bin Mahmud’s message, entitled “Osama is Alive!,” suggests the death of Bin Laden is actually a victory for the mujahideen in a mixture of commentary, hadiths, poetry and quotations from both the Quran and Sayyid Qutb (, May 9; the message itself is dated May 3). Shaykh Hussein has also issued statements on the recent Egyptian revolution and ongoing Libyan uprising (see Terrorism Monitor, February 10; Terrorism Monitor Brief, April 7).

Shaykh Hussein’s postings always carry a healthy amount of invective directed towards his targets; in this case he describes President Obama as “you son of an infidel woman!” He continues with a warning: “We say to Obama: we will not cry over Osama. We will not cry over his death. We will accept no condolences for him. We will not eulogize him. We will leave you to celebrate for a few days, and then after it we will continue our Islamic war against infidelity. However, it will not be a war like that of the past.”

The American version of Bin Laden’s death does not meet with the approval of the shaykh, who suggests other alternatives were more likely: If you killed him face to face, he has sped the journey of some of your troops to Hell, and if not, you struck the house from afar with your aircrafts as you did with Zarqawi, the body of whom you could not dare approach until hours after his death, may Allah have mercy on him and accept him among the martyrs.” The shaykh also mocks the United States for spending ten years and “a trillion dollars” in its efforts to find Bin Laden.

Shaykh Hussein calls on the mujahideen to avoid hasty acts of revenge and to select their targets with more care than has been practiced in the past. “We do not want sporadic operations of vengeance. Rather, we want special operations which are properly planned out, with wisdom and patience, so that it can… make America forget the attacks on Washington and New York, and say goodbye to the good old days. This is an extremely important matter, as individual and random operations of vengeance usually have negative effects.”
Shaykh Hussein discusses the assassinations of a mix of Islamic figures such as the second, third and fourth Caliphs and a variety of more recent political and military Islamist leaders such as Hassan al-Banna, Abdullah Azzam, Omar al-Baghdadi, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, Ibn al-Khattab and Shamyl Basayev, asserting that in each instance these commanders were ably replaced. In conclusion he reminds his readers that the Prophet Muhammad himself died, yet jihad went on. “Jihad did not stop with the death of the highest commander of the Muslims, so how can these idiots hope that Jihad will stop with the killing of a mere soldier from the soldiers of Islam, which will remain in existence?”