On 12th August 2009, Quilliam issued the following strategic briefing:

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a prominent jihadist group allied with al-Qaeda, is planning to issue a 419-page document refuting al-Qaeda’s jihadist ideology. Those involved in these “revisions” say they will be more comprehensive than the refutations of former jihadists to date. As a result, this refutation of jihadist ideology may potentially strike a major blow against al-Qaeda, creating internal divisions in the movement as well as undermining grassroots support for al-Qaeda’s narrative around the world.

Background:

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), whose creation was announced in 1995 by Libyan veterans of the Afghan jihad against the USSR, was established to overthrow General Gaddafi and establish an Islamic state in Libya. The LIFG orchestrated and carried out a number of failed assassination attempts against Colonel Gaddafi in the early 1990s and again in 1998. During this period, the LIFG became increasingly aligned with global jihadist movements such as Al-Qaeda, with many of its members working alongside al-Qaeda in Sudan and Afghanistan. In 2007, an LIFG leader in Afghanistan announced that the group had merged into al-Qaeda (although some other leading LIFG members disputed this). The British government designated the LIFG as a terrorist organization in October 2005.

LIFG’s links to Al-Qaeda:

–    Abu Yahya al-Libi, the spiritual leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb who is also one of al-Qaeda’s main public faces, is a former member of LIFG. His brother, Abdul Wahhab al-Qaid, is a current senior LIFG leader.
–    Abdullah al-Sadeq, the leader or ‘Emir’ of LIFG, and Abu Munder al-Saidi, the group’s spiritual  leader worked closely with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan from the mid-1990s until after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 when they fled to the Far East where they were later arrested.
–    Abu Laith al-Libi, another leader of the LIFG, was a senior member of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. In November 2007, he announced that the LIFG had merged with al-Qaeda. In January 2008, he was killed by a CIA drone in Pakistan.
–    Ayman al-Zawahiri has praised the LIFG and in 2007 made a recording to announce that they had joined al-Qaeda. In a 2009 recording, Zawahiri specifically praised Abu Munder al-Saidi, the LIFG’s spiritual leader.

Group’s revisions:

The Arab media and jihadist websites say that the many of the LIFG’s most senior leaders in Libyan prisons have completed writing a 419-page refutation of al-Qaeda’s jihadist ideology. These leaders include Emir Abdullah al-Sadeq, the LIFG’s leader, and Abu Munder al-Saidi, the group’s spiritual leader. Another co-author is Abdul Wahhab al-Qaid, a former LIFG leader who is the brother of the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda’s North African branch. The revisions come after two years of negotiations between the Libyan government and the leaders of the LIFG (Sources include Al-Sharq Al-Awasat, Middle East Online, Islam Online, Website of London-based jihadist Hani al-Sibai).

The LIFG revisions are reported to include sections regarding:

— What are Islamic rulings on violent activities in Western and Muslim-majority countries?
—The rulings of jihad. i.e. when is it permissible and what are its conditions?
—Who is qualified to make laws and pass judgments?

Dr. Ali al-Salabi, a member of the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood who has acted as the main go-between for the LIFG and the Libyan government has said that the document avoids many of the short-comings of Dr Fadl’s revisions, namely his highly personal attack on his former comrades and his lack of a systematic theological argument. Instead, Al-Salabi says, the LIFG revisions did not use the Egyptian revisions of Dr Fadl but rather aimed to be a theological discussion based on mainstream Islamic texts and sources. The document’s writers have also sent the text to a wide variety of popular Islamic scholars and clerics to gain their public endorsement. These include Wahhabists, Muslim Brotherhood supporters such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi and non-Islamist Muslim scholars. So far two of them, of strikingly different backgrounds have endorsed the revisions. They are: Salman al-Auda, a Saudi wahhabi cleric who was formerly a leading supporter of Osama bin Laden; and Sheikh Ahmed al-Raissouni, Professor of Principles of Jurisprudence and Maqasid al-Shari’ah in King Muhammad VI University in Morocco, a leading moderate thinker. (Source: Islam Online, Islam Today, Islam Today).

The LIFG has not yet announced when its text, provisionally named ‘Correctional studies in the concepts of jihad, planning and judging people’ (Dirasaat tashihiyah fi mafahim al-jihad wa al-jisba wa al-hukm ala al-nas) will be published – although it unlikely to take place until the group has received feedback from the external scholars who they have approached to read it.

Possible implications for global Jihad:

Although the LIFG’s only attacks carried out in its own name have been in Libya, its planned revisions may have a number of important consequences for jihadist movements worldwide:

–    Theological challenge to al-Qaeda’s ideology
The theological basis of these revisions are expected to directly refute important aspects of al-Qaeda’s ideology. Their endorsement by a range of popular and prominent scholars will also give them a great deal of credibility.

–    Embarrassment for al-Qaeda and its supporters.
The leading author of the revisions, Abu Munder Al-Saidi, was recently praised by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Al-Qaeda number two, in his August 2009 video entitled ‘The Facts of Jihad and the Lies of the Hypocrites’. Al-Saidi’s older pro-jihadist writings also appear on a renowned pro Al-Qaeda website that is run by Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the world’s most prominent Al-Qaeda ideologue.

–    Increase the isolation of al-Qaeda
As a result of these refutations, al-Qaeda will be far less able to pretend that it represents a variety of groups and interests from across Muslim communities. The departure of the LIFG from al-Qaeda’s global jihad, if widely publicized, will undermine Bin Laden’s claims to head a worldwide Islamist coalition.

Important challenges remain:

But while the LIFG’s forthcoming revisions may be useful in the struggle against violent extremism, they will not necessarily be useful in preventing non-violent political and religious extremism and intolerance in general.

The revisions’ wider usefulness will depend on how the LIFG approach the following issues:

    -Should state laws be synchronised with any interpretations of Sharia (i.e. should states enforce punishments for what is considered haram)
    -Is political sovereignty “for God” or for citizens? (i.e. are citizens allowed to vote on legislation)
     -What is the definition of ‘civilians’, ‘innocents’ and ‘non-combatants’?
    -What constitutes ‘aggression’ against
Muslims or Islam which can justify jihadist operations?
    -What are correct Islamic attitudes towards minority expressions of Islam?
    -What should be Muslims’ attitudes towards non-Muslims?
    -What are the Islamic rulings on democracy and a secular state?
   – Under what circumstances can Muslims pronounce takfir against others, and what are the implications of this?

Unless the LIFG provides answers to the above points that are relevant to the 21st-century globalised world, then this revision – however welcome in combating al-Qaeda worldview – will fall short of providing a blueprint for peace and harmony between peoples.