They already have quite a few friends there. Along with the havoc they can wreak within Libya, it would be a handy forward operating base for striking in Europe, noting that one of the major figures named below has already spent time in the United Kingdom. This development may also be a chance to bolster ties with the North African franchise, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. “Source: Al Qaeda leader sends veteran jihadists to establish presence in Libya,” by Nic Robertson and Paul Cruickshank for CNN, December 29:
(CNN) — Al Qaeda’s leadership has sent experienced jihadists to Libya in an effort to build a fighting force there, according to a Libyan source briefed by Western counter-terrorism officials.
The jihadists include one veteran fighter who had been detained in Britain on suspicion of terrorism. The source describes him as committed to al Qaeda’s global cause and to attacking U.S. interests.
The source told CNN that the al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, personally dispatched the former British detainee to Libya earlier this year as the Gadhafi regime lost control of large swathes of the country.
The man arrived in Libya in May and has since begun recruiting fighters in the eastern region of the country, near the Egyptian border. He now has some 200 fighters mobilized, the source added. Western intelligence agencies are aware of his activities, according to the source.
Another al Qaeda operative, of dual European-Libyan nationality, was arrested in an unnamed country on his way to Libya from the Afghan-Pakistan border region.
The individual now trying to establish a bridgehead for al Qaeda in Libya is known as “AA.” His name has not been made public because of UK law on terrorist suspects who are detained but not charged.
“AA” has been close to Ayman al-Zawahiri since the 1980s and first traveled to Afghanistan in the early 1990s to join mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation — as did hundreds of Arab fighters.
“AA” later moved to the United Kingdom, where he began spreading al Qaeda’s ideology to younger Muslims. He was an admirer of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who emerged as leader of al Qaeda in Iraq after the U.S. invasion and who led an especially brutal campaign that targeted civilians and promoted sectarian hatred between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
After the terrorist attacks in London in July 2005, heightened concern about terrorist activities in the UK led to the arrest of a number of Libyans resident in England.
“AA” was detained under what was termed a “control order,” a mechanism used to detain terrorist suspects — usually under home arrest — without charging them. Control orders have been used in dozens of cases where the government does not want to reveal evidence in court for fear of compromising security sources. Those subject to control orders are not named by authorities.
“AA” also spent some time in Belmarsh high-security jail in the UK in 2006-07, possibly because he was seen as a flight-risk. It is also possible, according to the source, that he was resisting legal moves to have him deported to Libya. At the time, relations between the Gadhafi regime and the United Kingdom were improving, and Libyan authorities were seeking the deportation of opponents.
At some point the control order lapsed, and “AA” left Britain late in 2009 and went back to the Afghan-Pakistan border area — taking two teenagers with him. One was subsequently killed.
Western intelligence agencies have voiced concern in public and privately about the potential for Islamist extremists and especially al Qaeda to gain a foothold in Libya….