Democracy on the march. The jihadis are engaging in more wishful thinking than reality, says Meleagrou-Hitchens. But it is an open question right now as to which one is indulging in more wishful thinking: al-Qaeda or Meleagrou-Hitchens. “Libya ripe for jihad’s rallying cries,” by Sally Neighbour for The Australian, April 26:
AS the military and humanitarian quagmire in Libya deepens, a clarion call has gone out to followers of the global jihadist movement in the West.
“Who wants to join the mujahidin? The gates of jihad are open in Libya!” declares a message posted on a pro al-Qa’ida internet forum monitored by Western analysts.
The message – and countless others like it – has set off alarms in counter-terrorism circles in the West, as al-Qa’ida and its allies move to exploit the foment in the Arab world, seizing on the conflict in Libya as a new cause celebre for Islamic militants. And as yesterday’s WikiLeaks release shows, al-Qa’ida suspects freed from Guantanamo Bay are at work in Libya.
A report from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation says internet jihadists are portraying Libya as the newest front in the global jihad against the West, in a policy dictated by al-Qa’ida’s top leaders.
“Senior leadership figures, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, have given a number of sermons concentrating almost solely on Libya and portraying it as the most fertile ground for their global movement,” says the report’s author, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, a research fellow at ICSR. He says Zawahiri’s call has been echoed on English-language jihadist forums.
“The Western Salafi-jihadi movement is attempting to take ownership of the rebellion on behalf of the global jihad, and is portraying anti-Gaddafi forces as mujahidin, while also encouraging Western Muslims to do all they can to reach the country and take part in a supposed jihad.”
The ICSR has monitored a stream of communications on al-Qa’ida run and backed websites and forums since the Arab spring began. A typical post says: “My brothers and sisters, we are facing a global change, Alhamdulillah [praise God]! We will see this uprising continuing in all Muslim countries and soon we will see the banner of Allah everywhere!”
The forums are full of news of the exploits of jihadist fighters who have joined “Islamic battalions” in Libya under names such as the Thunderbolt Battalion and the Islamic Army of Benghazi, and so-called exclusive pictures of fighters purporting to be mujahidin on the front lines, accompanied by messages urging new recruits to join them. They provide directions on how best to travel to Libya, along with this incentive: “The market of paradise has opened and the hoor al ayn [virgins promised to martyrs] are waiting.”…
Another post says: “The only thing we can do at this moment is pray for the brothers and await the official declaration of an Islamic emirate in Libya.”…
“The Salafi brothers in Benghazi have declared the Islamic emirate of Libya. The brothers have captured military tanks, Hummers, heavy-medium-light machine guns,” the commentator reports.
Jihadist ideologues whose posts have been monitored praise the purity of the uprising in Libya compared with other manifestations of the Arab spring, such as in Egypt, which they deride for being secular and pro-democracy.
One post notes “the great thing about this revolution is that the people are only raising the banner of truth and shouting takbeer [God is great], and nobody shouts the name of a secular-democratic party”….
A participant on one forum commented: “I really need some clarification on the current situation in Libya. We see images from kufr [non-Muslim] news sources that the Libyans are requesting help from the kufr against Gaddafi. Could someone please confirm that the mujahidin in Libya are on the straight path.”
Forum leaders have reassured participants on this score, essentially arguing the end – achieving an Islamic state – will justify the means. They liken the situation in Libya to that in Afghanistan in the 1990s, when a range of alliances was forged between rival factions in order to oust the Soviet army, before the Taliban eventually took power. “[In Afghanistan] we had Sunnis, nationalists, Ikhwanis [Muslim Brotherhood], Sufi, Shi’ites and other groups fighting shoulder to shoulder against the Russians.
“What happened after the war? We witnessed a civil war between the groups. The Taliban succeeded in taking 90 per cent of Afghanistan. They declared the Islamic emirate and implemented the Sharia. I think that the same thing will happen in Libya.”
The mainstream Libyan rebel movement has been eager to distance itself from the Islamists who are trying to muscle in on their rebellion. On March 30, the Libyan Interim Transitional National Council issued a statement intended to allay Western fears about an Islamist takeover, stressing its “commitment to the implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions on counter-terrorism [and] sanctions concerning al-Qa’ida and the Taliban”.
The ICSR believes the jihadists’ propaganda is more wishful thinking than reality. “Their claims are unconvincing and there are notable discrepancies between their interpretation of events and the facts on the ground,” Meleagrou-Hitchens reports.
He says despite the rallying cries, there is little concrete evidence of a strong al-Qa’ida presence or serious Islamist activity among the rebels, and their Transitional National Council is “clearly not an al-Qa’ida aligned movement”….
The conventional wisdom on the Islamist forums, according to ICSR, is that “there is enough of a Salafi-jihadi presence to ensure that once Gaddafi is overthrown, Libya will begin to move toward transforming into an Islamic state governed by Sharia“.
One forum leader warns that declaring an Islamic emirate in Libya would prompt a Western invasion, and stresses instead that they should build up their military forces, “educate the people” on the need for an Islamic state, “and then declare the emirate, with weapons, economy and a people ready to fight for Allah.”
A Western invasion against an Islamic emirate in Libya? Pshaw. Who would call for that? Obama? Cameron?