Jihadist groups are allied with the National Transitional Council anyway. They would not have thrown in their lot with the NTC unless there were something in it for them, and there has been plenty.
This, of course, is the same NTC that won’t extradite al-Megrahi. One can’t help but note that the timing of his turn for the worse is convenient amid the fall of Tripoli and pressure to hand him over. Time is clearly not in his favor where his cancer is concerned, but time will also tell if he is a lucky son-of-a-gun, saved by the bell, as it were, from extradition and prosecution, or how this situation may have been manipulated for a sympathetic photo-op as well. The clock will eventually run out, but he’s been “at death’s door” before, only to play “ding-dong-ditch.”
The prisoners, on the other hand, lucked out. They didn’t even have to call in sick. “Islamic militants among prisoners freed from Libyan jail,” by Nic Robertson and Paul Cruickshank for CNN, August 26:
Tripoli, Libya (CNN) — Hundreds of Islamist militants were among the prisoners freed from a notorious Tripoli prison this week, according to a former Libyan jihadist.
The freed militants had been imprisoned in Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison by Moammar Gadhafi’s regime during the height of the insurgency in Iraq, according to Noman Benotman, once a senior figure in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Benotman said he believes as many as 600 militants may have been among the prison population at Abu Salim.
It’s not known how many prisoners were held in the vast facility. Human Rights Watch said Gadhafi’s prisons “have been filled to the limit in the last few months with thousands of people who were arrested for taking part in the anti-Gadhafi protests, or because of their suspected support for Libya’s democratic opposition.”
The human rights group, which recently had a team visit the prison, estimates that before the uprising, there were a few hundred Islamists held at Abu Salim.
Benotman said many of the militants released are pro-al Qaeda.
“Nobody knows what these released prisoners are going to do next,” he said. “Will they take part in the fighting and if they do will they join pre-existing rebel brigades or form a separate fighting force?”
Benotman, now a senior analyst at the Quilliam Foundation in London, said the freed prisoners are Salafists, embracing a puritanical interpretation of Islam that has gained ground in Libya in recent years.
Gadhafi’s regime imprisoned thousands of suspected pro-al Qaeda militants after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq stoked radicalization in Libya, especially in its impoverished eastern provinces. According to Benotman, those rounded up by the regime included militants who had tried to travel to Iraq and some who had returned from fighting against U.S. forces there. He said many of them had already been released by the Gadhafi regime.
Internal al Qaeda in Iraq records seized by the U.S. military in 2007 indicated that proportionately more Libyans traveled to fight with al Qaeda in Iraq than from any other Arab country. Some saw fighting in Iraq as a “a last act of defiance against the Gadhafi regime,” according to a confidential 2008 State Department cable made public by the website WikiLeaks, because of the rapprochement at the time between Gadhafi and the United States.
Wednesday’s prison release, which occurred as rebel forces took control of the Abu Salim area of Tripoli, comes as Islamists are taking on an increasingly prominent role in the fight against the Gadhafi regime — to the concern of some in the West….