Quilliam has today published a new briefing paper on the Jihadist threat in Libya ,
following the recent popular uprising against the Gaddafi regime and in the light of the recent airstrikes in Libya by the international community.

The paper looks at the potential jihadist threats arising in relation to Libya from:

  • Al-Qaeda Central
  • Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)
  • The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG)
  • Freelance jihadists

Noman Benotman, a senior analyst at Quilliam and a former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, said:

‘Gaddafi has tried very hard to give the impression that the Libyan opposition is controlled by al-Qaeda. This ideas flies in the face of all the evidence. The opposition is a diverse coalition of Libyans from many tribal and political backgrounds. Just because some Islamists support the opposition against Gaddafi this does not make the opposition Islamist.

‘At the same time, there are some extremists who want to manipulate the Libyan conflict for their own ends. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is looking for ways to play a greater role in this conflict. Since the start of the year it has tried to move men and arms into Libya from its bases in Niger and Mali, near Libya’s southern border. At the same time, al-Qaeda’s leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan are trying to portray the international intervention in Libya as a ‘crusader’ attack on Muslim in order to further their own agenda.’

James Brandon, Director of Research at Quilliam, said:

‘Although Gaddafi’s claims that the opposition is an al-Qaeda front are utter nonsense, it is clear that the fighting in Libya has created a vacuum in which extreme groups – including al-Qaeda – may be able to operate. There are signs that al-Qaeda leadership, both in Pakistan and in North Africa, believe that events in Libya could be a chance for them to create a second Iraq. The international community needs to work with the opposition leadership in Libya in order to shut out these extremists before they can hijack Libya’s popular uprising for their own ends.’

‘But while there are significant extremist elements active in Libya, we should welcome the fact that many members of the Libyan opposition movement say they are fighting Gaddafi out of religious conviction. If these people sincerely believe that democracy, human rights and freedom are compatible with Islam, this is all the more reason why we should support them in their struggle. Such people are the best antidote to groups like al-Qaeda that believe that democracy and human rights are incompatible with Islam.

‘The small number of extremists fighting against Gaddafi should not distract us from the fact that most of the opposition – and indeed most Libyan people – aspire to create a modern, democratic and open Libya. We need to distinguish between extreme Islamists who dress up their anti-democratic politics in religious language and mainstream Muslims who express their opposition to Gaddafi through religious language and references.’

The briefing is available as a PDF here.