Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 5 Issue: 26
LIBYAN ISLAMIC FIGHTING GROUP TO RENOUNCE VIOLENCE FROM PRISON?
As part of a dialogue and reconciliation process, imprisoned leaders of Al-Jama’ah al-Islamiyah al-Muqatilah (The [Libyan] Islamic Fighting Group – LIFG) appear ready to renounce political violence (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 6). Although the LIFG was closely tied to al-Qaeda and responsible for several assassination attempts on Libyan President Muammar Qadhafi in its struggle to establish an Islamic state in Libya, the ongoing dialogue is sponsored by the president’s son, Sayf al-Islam Qadhafi, who played an important role in the release of over 90 members of the LIFG from Libyan prisons last April.
A former member of the LIFG Shura Committee, Nu’man Bin Uthman (a.k.a. Noman Benotman), is playing a leading role in the dialogue with former members of the Shura Committee held in Tripoli’s BuSalim Prison. Now a London-based political activist, Bin Uthman is a veteran of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan and was based in Sudan with Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda and LIFG operatives in the 1990s. Bin Uthman claims that Bin Laden specifically forbade the LIFG from mounting attacks in Libya or attempting to assassinate its leaders.
Participants in the dialogue include some of the leading members of the LIFG, such as the group’s amir, Abdullah al-Sadiq (a.k.a. Abd al-Hakim Belhaj), arrested in Thailand in 2004; Abu Hazim (a.k.a. Khalid al-Sharif), held in Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base Prison by U.S. forces until his deportation to Libya two years ago; Afghanistan veteran and religious leader Abu al-Mundhir (a.k.a. Sami al-Sa’di), arrested in Hong Kong in 2004; Shaykh Miftah al-Duwwadi (a.k.a. Abd al-Ghaffar); Mustafa Qanfid (a.k.a. Abu al-Zubayr), military leader of the LIFG; and Abd al-Wahab Qayid Idris, the older brother of senior al-Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi. According to Bin Uthman, some LIFG members have been sentenced to death, but these sentences may be reviewed in light of “the American onslaught on the Islamic world while focusing on the importance of preserving security and stability in Libya.”
Libyan security authorities are reported to be most interested in the dialogue as a means of averting further acts of militancy within Libya. The participation of Libyans such as Abu Yahya al-Libi (Muhammad Hassan Qayid) in the anti-Coalition jihad in Afghanistan was not raised in the talks (for Abu Yahya, see Terrorism Focus, July 31, 2007; August 14, 2007; July 1, 2008). The jailed LIFG leaders gave Bin Uthman a message to pass along to those Libyans still active in al-Qaeda. Though the LIFG once had hundreds of active members, it is now largely non-operational.
FATAL AMBUSH OF UN PEACEKEEPERS IN DARFUR RAISES QUESTIONS ON FUTURE OF UNAMID
The July 8 ambush of a United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) patrol came amid growing tensions in Sudan generated by the International Criminal Court’s indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes, military maneuvers around Khartoum and declarations from Darfur’s strongest rebel movement that it intends to repeat its long-distance May assault on the national capital.
The deadly ambush occurred near the village of Umm Hakibah, roughly 100 km (60 miles) southeast of Darfur’s provincial capital of al-Fasher. The dead included five soldiers from Rwanda (probably the most effective detachment now in UNAMID) and two policemen, one from Ghana, the other from Uganda (Sudan Tribune, July 13; New Vision [Kampala], July 13). A further 19 were wounded and three UNAMID armored cars destroyed during a two-hour gun battle. The identity of the attackers has not been confirmed, but the accounts of survivors describing men on horseback wearing Sudanese Army-style fatigues suggested the attack was the work of the Janjaweed, a largely Arab militia sponsored by Khartoum. A later UNAMID statement claimed the attackers were carried on 40 vehicles (presumably pick-up trucks) equipped with heavy machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons and recoilless rifles (Sudan Tribune, July 11). Jean-Marie Guehenno, the UN’s head of peacekeeping operations, described the ambush as a “well-prepared” operation in a government-controlled area that used weapons and equipment not usually employed by rebel groups (AFP, July 11).
Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army – Unity (SLA-Unity) condemned the ambush in a statement (Reuters, July 11). The two rebel movements dominate the Darfur resistance through a military alliance. Elements from both forces were believed to be behind the massacre of 10 African Union peacekeepers at Haskanita last September. A Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman claimed that the Umm Hakibah attack was the work of SLA-Unity, but a statement on a website believed to be close to Sudanese intelligence services described the attackers as “an armed group loyal to the Justice and Equality Movement” (Sudanese Media Center, July 10), a claim quickly denied as “government propaganda” by a JEM spokesman (Sudan Tribune, July 10).
UNAMID differs little in size, composition or capability from the 9,000-man African Union force it replaced at the beginning of the year. Only a few hundred of the projected 17,000 additional troops that were to form UNAMID have actually arrived. African Union troops have repainted their helmets in UN blue, but still lack basic transportation equipment as well as vitally needed helicopters (for the problems with UNAMID, see Terrorism Monitor, November 8, 2007). Australia suspended its UNAMID deployment of a small force of military specialists in the wake of the Umm Hakibah attack (Sydney Morning Herald, July 13). Political activists led by actress Mia Farrow are now calling for the deployment of controversial U.S. private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, notorious for their free use of weapons in Iraq, including a 2007 massacre of 17 civilians in Baghdad that led to an FBI investigation (Financial Times, June 19; BBC, October 8, 2007).